(New York Jewish Week) — In 2017, Deborah Veach went back to Germany, looking for the site of the displaced persons camp where she and her parents had been housed after World War II. They were in suspension, between the lives her parents led in Belarus before they were shattered by the Nazis, and the unknown fate awaiting them as refugees without a country.
To her dismay, and despite the fact that Foehrenwald was one of the largest Jewish DP centers in the American-controlled zone of Germany, she found barely a trace. A complex that once included a yeshiva, a police force, a fire brigade, a youth home, a theater, a post office and a hospital was remembered by almost no one except a local woman who ran a museum in a former bath house.
“It was sort of an accident of history that we were there in that particular camp in Germany, of all places, with no ties, no extended family, no place to call home,” said Veach, who was born at Foehrenwald in 1949 and lives in New Jersey. Now, “they renamed it. They changed the names of all the streets. There is nothing recognizable about the fact that it had been a DP camp.”
Veach is part of a now-aging cohort of children born or raised in the DP camps, the last with a first-hand connection to the experience of some 250,000 Jewish survivors who passed through them at the end of the war. To make sure memories of the camps survive them, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the United Nations Department of Global Communications have staged a short-term exhibit, “After the End of the World: Displaced Persons and Displaced Persons Camps.”
On display at U.N. headquarters in New York City Jan. 10 through Feb. 23, it is intended to illuminate “how the impact of the Holocaust continued to be felt after the Second World War ended and the courage and resilience of those that survived in their efforts to rebuild their lives despite having lost everything,” according to a press release.
Among the artifacts on display are dolls created by Jewish children and copies of some of the 70-odd newspapers published by residents, as well as photographs of weddings, theatrical performances, sporting events and classroom lessons.
The exhibit is “about the displaced persons themselves, about their lives and their hopes and their dreams, their ambitions, their initiatives,” said Debórah Dwork, who directs the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity at the Graduate Center-CUNY, who served as the scholar adviser for the exhibition.
“There’s no point where the residents of these DP camps were just sitting around waiting for other people to do things for them,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “They took initiative and developed a whole range of cultural and educational programs.”
As early as 1943, as the war displaced millions of people, dozens of nations came to Washington and signed onto the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Authority. (Despite its name, it preceded the founding of the U.N.) After the war, the British and U.S. military were in charge of supplying food, protection and medical care in hundreds of camps throughout Germany and Austria, and UNRRA administered the camps on a day-to-day basis.
Early on, Jewish Holocaust survivors — some who suffered in concentration camps, others who had escaped into the Soviet Union — were put in DP camps alongside their former tormentors, until the U.S. agreed to place them in separate compounds. Unable or unwilling to return to the countries where they had lost relatives, property and any semblance of a normal life, they began a waiting game, as few countries, including the United States, were willing to take them in, and Palestine was being blockaded by the British.
Abiding antisemitism was not the only reason they remained stateless. “Jews were [accused of being] subversives, communists, rebels, troublemakers, and the world war quickly gave way to cold war, and with it the notion that Hitler had been defeated and what we have to worry about is the communists,” David Nasaw, author of “The Last Million,” a history of the displaced persons, told the New York Jewish week in 2020.
In 1948 and 1950, Congress grudgingly passed legislation that allowed 50,000 Jewish survivors and their children to come to the United States. The rest were eventually able to go to Israel, after its independence in 1948.
The U.N. exhibit focuses less on this macro history — which includes what became another refugee crisis for the Palestinians displaced by Israel’s War for Independence — than on life in the DP camps.
“The exhibition illustrates how the displaced persons did not shrink from the task of rebuilding both their own lives and Jewish communal life,” said Jonathan Brent, chief executive officer at YIVO, in a statement.
Among those rebuilding their lives were Max Gitter and his parents, Polish Jews who had the perverse good luck of being exiled to Siberia during the war. The family made its way to Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, where Gitter was born in 1943. After the war ended, his parents returned to Poland, but repelled by antisemitism sought refuge in the American zone in Germany. They spent time in the Ainring DP camp, a former Luftwaffe base on the Austrian border, and at a small camp called Lechfeld, about 25 miles west of Munich.
“I was there until we came to the United States when I was six and a half, so I have some very distinct memories and some hazy memories,” said Gitter, emeritus director and vice chair of the YIVO board. One story he hasn’t forgotten is how his father and a friend were walking through the camp when they came upon a long line of people. “They were from the Soviet Union, so they knew that when there’s a line that it might be of interest.” It turned out to be a line for the lottery that would allow them to get into the United States under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948.
The family came to the United States in 1950, to “pretty shabby lodgings” in the Bronx, before his father bought a candy store and moved to Queens. Max went on to attend Harvard College and Yale Law School, and became a corporate litigator.
Gitter’s brother was born in one of the camps, and the exhibit includes a poster depicting the population increase between 1946 and 1947 at the Jewish DP center Bad Reichenhall. The birthrate in the camps has often been described as evidence of the optimism and defiance of the survivors, but Dwork said the truth is somewhat more complicated.
“There was a very high birth rate among the Jews in DP camps. This is the age group of reproductive age, at 20 to 40,” she said. “However, this image of fecundity hides what was rumored to be a significant abortion rate, too. And women had experienced years of starvation. Menstruation had only recently recommenced. So many women, in fact, miscarried or had trouble conceiving to begin with.”
“There is no silver lining here,” she added. “People live life on many levels. On the one hand, DPs look to the future and look with hope; at the same time, they carry tremendous burdens of pain and suffering and trauma and trepidations about the future.”
Veach, a member of the YIVO board, hopes visitors to the exhibit understand that such trauma is hardly a thing of the past.
“I think the real lesson is that history keeps repeating itself,” said Veach, growing emotional. “Basically we have DPs on our border with Mexico, you have DPs from Ukraine. I don’t think people realize the repercussions for these people who are trying to find a place to live. These are good people who are just placed where they are by history.”
Gitter, who like Veach will speak at an event Jan. 24 at the U.N. marking the exhibit, also hopes “After the End of the World” prods the consciences of visitors.
“A lot of the countries, a lot of places, including the United States, would not accept Jews after the war,” he said. “The issue of memory, the issue of statelessness, the issue of finally there was some hope for the Jews in their immigration to Israel and the United States — that part of the story also needs to be told.”
“After the End of the World: Displaced Persons and Displaced Persons Camps” is on view from Jan. 10-Feb. 23, 2023, at the United Nations Headquarters, 405 E 42nd St, New York, Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Entrance to the United Nations Visitor Centre in New York is free, but there are requirements for all visitors. See the United Nations Visitor Centre entry guidelines.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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