Displaced Persons

“As if what gave the experience its importance was the form of torture one had endured, rather than the loss of everything, mother, father, family, culture, language. The preferred violence- the gory details as Lola would say- to grief. Or perhaps people simply liked tales that matched with the pictures they had already seen.”

What happens to survivors after the Holocaust? How do they get back to the life they were meant to live? There are countless stories about what happened inside the concentration camps, but we never hear the stories after liberation. Ghita Schwarz gives insight into the life of displaced persons through several individuals who become intertwined in their attempts to move on after the war. The book is broken into periods of time, and follows the characters through businesses, marriages, children, retirement, and death. I am amazed at the author’s ability to write such a moving novel, without dwelling on the historical content. She focuses on what survivors must have felt emotionally, physically, and mentally and how they coped to their surroundings The simple things such as returning to school for children, learning a new language to communicate, or finding a new dwelling to call home are taken for granted by people who have never lived through something so horrific. I wonder how I would have coped. How would I feel about leaving my homeland? Giving up my language? Staring at a tattoo every day that wasn’t of my choosing? As an American, our freedom of choice and religion are so easily taken for granted.

We all hear about the brutality, but one story gripped me with full force. After the Germans came to a small town, they ordered each family to bring one young male to the square to be hanged. The head of the family had to choose, and families were required to watch the hanging. They turned the victims into killers. An impossible choice, but necessary to protect the rest of the family. As a father, how could you live with this choice? A parent is supposed to be able to protect their child.

It is important to note that after the war, many people turned a blind eye and never spoke of what occurred. I think this is a very big distinction made by Schwarz. As a child of the 80’s, I never knew a time where it was not discussed. There are people who claim it never happened, people who admire Hitler, and people who just want to know more about it. There is an abundant amount of resources now about the Holocaust that didn’t exist for the survivors for many decades. There was a time when survivors could not speak of it, and felt ashamed and embarrassed. They did not want to be near friends, because they only saw what happened to them instead of their future.

 I will never fully understand what it took for these people to move on with their lives, fortunate to have survived. I urge everyone to read, research, watch what is available and learn. I am so thankful this book found its way into my book sale bag. Schwarz leaves a lasting impression, and a new perspective to a topic that is so widely researched.

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