"We emerged from the camp stripped, robbed, emptied out, disoriented-and it was a long time before we were able even to learn the ordinary language of freedom. Still today, we speak it with discomfort and without real trust in its validity."
Jean Amery, At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and it's Realities, 1980
Refugees, still in prison uniform, on deck of the
"Henry Gibbins" en route to New York, 1944. CL:Ruth Gruber
Liberation from camps did not mean liberation from persecution, antisemitism, loneliness, and overwhelming sadness. For many Jews there was nothing left to return to; no homes, no friends, no community. Those who did return to their homes often experienced intense antisemitism and persecution
Over 35 million people had died in World War II, over half of them civilians One out of every 22 Russians was killed; one out of every 25 Germans; one out of every 150 Italians; one out of every 200 Frenchmen. But in the Nazis' war against the Jews, two out of every three European Jews had been murdered. Any hope for rebirth seemed distant in 1945.
"What makes this inquest significant is that those prisoners represent sinister influence that will lurk in the world long after their bodies have returned to dust. they are living symbols of racial hatreds, of terrorism and violence, and of the arrogance and cruelty of power." Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, U.S. Chief Counsel, Nuremberg, 1945
The defendants at Nuremberg, 1946. CL.NARA
On November 1, 1943, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin signed the Moscow Declaration warning the "Hitlerite Huns" that they will be held accountable for their crimes and pursued to "the uttermost ends of the earth." On August 8, 1945, after the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, the four Allied Powers signed the London Agreement creating the International Military Tribunal for the trial of the major Nazi war criminals and the leading Nazi organizations. This Nuremberg Trial served as the model for subsequent proceedings against thousands of less prominent Nazi war criminals.
Despite the efforts of Simon Wiesenthal and others, decades would pass before the world's attention would again focus on bringing Nazi criminals to justice.
Tens of thousands of Nazi war criminals escaped any form of justice. Many found refuge in the West. Altogether the three Western Allies convicted more than 5,000 Nazis, sentencing over 800 to death, and executing almost 500. Although no accurate figures are available, the Soviets probably convicted even more Nazi criminals.
"The Jews suddenly faced themselves....They saw that they were different from all other inmates of the camp. For them things were not so simple. To go back to Poland? To Hungary? To streets empty of Jews, towns empty of Jews, a world without Jews. To wander in those lands, lonely, homeless, always the tragedy before one's eyes...and to meet again a Gentile neighbor who would open his eyes wide and smile, remarking with double meaning 'What, Yankel! You're still alive.'" Meyer Levin, Author, 1946
Fresh bread for the first time in years, Bergen-Belsen D.T. camp, 1945. CL:World Federation, Bergen-Belson Survivors
By the end of the war there were 10 million "D.P.'s," displaced persons. The roads of Europe were clogged with these homeless, who were attempting to reestablish shattered lives. The United Nations and Allied armies established camps for these D.P.'s. By 1946, over 2QO,OOO Jewish survivors were also placed in these camps. Many were not, or could not, return home.
Post-war D.P. camps were models of bureaucratic rigidity, confusion, and Allied bickering. Food, clothing and medical supplies were in short supply, and thus for many survivors, their war-time suffering continued. Noteworthy, however, were the efforts of Army chaplains and the Jewish Brigade (Palestinian Jews serving in the British Army) who organized food shipments, hospital treatment and political action to solve the D.P. problems.
"Liberated but not free--that is the paradox of the Jew. In the concentration camp. his whole being was consumed with the hope of salvation. That hope was his life, for that he was willing to suffer. Saved. his hope evanesces for no new source of hope has been given him. Suffering continues to be his badge." Rabbi Abraham Klausner, U.S. Army Chaplain, June 1946.
"I consider it almost the task of my life to rebuild the house in which my father and my mother--may they rest in peace--have stood, the house in which I was confirmed the house in which my sister and brothers worshipped for decades. And to rebuild it again as it was. I consider it my life work to rebuild this house for the sake of the dead, for those who shall not return anymore. and for those who were able to leave this country in time, so the word of God may spread all over the world." Jack Matzner, Survivor, 1949
"People like me don't need houses. We lost more than houses. We lost more than families--we lost belief in humanity, in friendship. in justice, and without these, I could not begin anew." Simon Wiesenthal, 1945.
Undocumented immigrants to the land of Israel
on board the "Exodus." 1947. CL:BPK
Individually, survivors of the Holocaust had to rebuild their lives and also rediscover their very reason for living; so much was gone, missing and shattered by the Holocaust. Culturally, the Jewish people had lost a vital part of their heritage. The elders and rabbis, the culmination of thousands of years of tradition, were gone. And the youth, the inheritors, were also gone. While two out of ever three European Jews had been murdered, children and the elderly were especially vulnerable and few had survived. The American and Israeli Jewish communities became the choice, hope and future for most survivors.
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly, by an overwhelming majority, recommended the partition of Palestine. And on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. Arab opposition resulted in the Israeli War for Independence. 6,500 Israeli Jews died before an armistice ended the war in early 1949. By 1951, more than half of the Jewish "D.P.'s" had emigrated to the new State of Israel.
Never think there is an easy way to make an end to such bitter memories...Never think there is a way to forgive the hate in the human heart...or an easy way to believe that the worst has occurred and is past. Only know that hope lives when people remember." Simon Wiesenthal
It requires courage to remember the Holocaust: to squarely face the images of such remorseless evil; to ache for the unconsoled grief of children and parents; to experience the emptiness and loss; to read the unimaginable testimonies to the twisted, vicious inventiveness of the human mind; to move into that shadow of doubt that the Holocaust continues to cast across the morality of all people and nations.
But if the lost lives of these millions are to have an enduring meaning, we must remember and be vigilant. Then the ashes and unmarked graves of these victims can become the sanctified ground from which human hope, tolerance and moral courage will rise.
"Take heed...lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen, and...teach them to your children and to your children's children." Deuteronomy 4:9