Tsu a Nay Lebn (To a New Life)

Post-WWII DP Camp Stories

When we originally planned this newsletter theme around displaced-persons (DP) camps a year ago, we had no idea the relevance it would have in April 2022. We are filled with despair to see Ukrainian refugees fleeing war and violence, in places whose names are familiar from stories in our collections. In this feature, we examine Jewish resilience through the culture and communities built in DP camps in occupied Europe after World War II. Life in DP camps was intended to be temporary and transient, but these survivors transformed the camps into sites of social, cultural, and educational activity. There are so many stories worth sharing from this period; we included selections that highlight the range of experiences in DP camps. While these stories are undeniably born out of the wreckage of war, they are also imbued with joy and humor, showcasing our shared humanity even in the darkest of times.

Rebuilding Jewish Community, Including a Yiddish Newspaper, in a Berlin DP Camp

Mordechai Dunetz, teacher, Yiddish writer, and activist for Yiddish language in Israel, describes life in a DP camp in the American zone of Berlin after World War II, including how he founded a Yiddish newspaper, Tsu a Nay Lebn (To a New Life).

Watch his full interview in Yiddish with English subtitles.

A Displaced Wedding

Esther Feder Lesell, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1950, describes her wedding to her first husband when she was in a displaced-persons camp in Germany after World War II.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

Father’s Involvement in the Black Market

Max Levine, son of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors from Poland, shares stories of his father’s involvement in the black market during his years in a displaced-persons camp in Germany.

Watch his full interview and excerpts.

Fleeing Poland: A Journey to Samarkand

Israel Milkow, a retired IT professional, recounts his family’s journey from Slonim to Samarkand as refugees, and the difficulties they encountered in the displaced-persons camp in which they settled.

Watch his full interview and excerpts. 

Learning to Speak Yiddish

Lola Paley-Byron recalls how she learned to speak Yiddish while living in a displaced-persons camp in Foehrenwald, Germany.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.

Escaping Anti-Semitism in Postwar Kalisz, Poland

Michael (Mendl) Szmerling, a former actor in the Melbourne amateur Yiddish theater, explains why his family left Kalisz a second time. They had been back for only a few months after the end of World War II, but prevailing anti-Semitism made Kalisz a dangerous place to be. They ended up in a displaced-persons camp outside of Hoff, Germany.

Watch his full interview and excerpts.

“Shik Mir a Shtral” (“Send Me a Ray of Sunshine”): Yiddish Songs After Liberation

Sidney Zoltak, who survived the Holocaust as a child, talks about learning songs from his grandmothers in the displaced-persons camps and sings “Shik Mir a Shtral.”

Watch his full interview in Yiddish with English subtitles. 

Jewish Life in a DP Camp

Polish-born mathematician and Yiddish speaker Irwin Kra recalls Jewish community organizations that sprung up in displaced-persons camps after World War II.

Watch his full interview and excerpts.

Religious and Cultural Life in an Austrian DP Camp

Dana Szeflan-Bell, a Holocaust survivor, talks about life in an Austrian DP camp immediately after World War II and how she discovered her Jewish identity.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.