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The New Life

Jewish Students of Postwar Germany

Jeremy Varon

Publication Year: 2014

Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) survived in concentration and death camps, in hiding, and as exiles in the Soviet interior. After liberation in the land of their persecutors, some also attended university to fulfill dreams of becoming doctors, engineers, and professionals. In The New Life: Jewish Students of Postwar Germany, Jeremy Varon tells the improbable story of the nearly eight hundred young Jews, mostly from Poland and orphaned by the Holocaust, who studied in universities in the American Zone of Occupied Germany. Drawing on interviews he conducted with the Jewish alumni in the United States and Israel and the records of their Student Union, Varon reconstructs how the students built a sense of purpose and a positive vision of the future even as the wounds of the past persisted. Varon explores the keys to students’ renewal, including education itself, the bond they enjoyed with one another as a substitute family, and their efforts both to reconnect with old passions and to revive a near-vanquished European Jewish intelligentsia. The New Life also explores the relationship between Jews and Germans in occupied Germany. Varon shows how mutual suspicion and resentment dominated interactions between the groups and explores the subtle ways anti-Semitism expressed itself just after the war. Moments of empathy also emerge, in which Germans began to reckon with the Nazi past. Finally, The New Life documents conflicts among Jews as they struggled to chart a collective future, while nationalists, both from Palestine and among DPs, insisted that Zionism needed “pioneers, not scholars,” and tried to force the students to quit their studies. Rigorously researched and passionately written, The New Life speaks to scholars, students, and general readers with interest in the Holocaust, Jewish and German history, the study of trauma, and the experiences of refugees displaced by war and genocide. With liberation nearly seventy years in the past, it is also among the very last studies based on living contact with Holocaust survivors.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This project originated in the double take I did when I first learned of the Jewish university students of postwar Germany years ago. What? Holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe studying in German universities, immediately after the war? The questions multiplied as my curiosity swelled: Who were these young Jews, and what were they doing in Germany? How, after all they endured, could they think to study at university and focus on their academic work? And how could they bear to have Germans as professors ...

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pp. 1-18

The war had finally ended, and Germany was in ruins. More than two million of its soldiers and one million civilians had died. Years of battle had sapped its once mighty resources and left whole cities in rubble. But if Germany was hollowed out by the war, it was also filled anew: by the armies of four occupying powers; by the military and civilian authorities administering life in the American, British, Soviet, and French “zones” into which Germany...

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1. “I Knew One Thing—I Have to Study”: Early Education and Dreams of the Future

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pp. 19-46

In 1998 leaders of the “Jewish University Alumni in Germany” wrote to its members worldwide, asking for reflections on their backgrounds, their time in postwar Germany, and their lives since. Rita Schorr, a native of Poland and student in Munich, responded: “January 1945 I was liberated in Oswiecim [Auschwitz] facing a present full of uncertainties, a past too painful to face and deal with, and a future with no roadmap or parachute to land. . . . August...

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2. “You Survive Because You Survive”: Occupation, Exile, and the Holocaust

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pp. 47-76

When asked to start our interview where and when he was born, Felix Korn joked, “It’s so long ago that I don’t remember.”1 Later struggling to recall the details of his childhood and its place in the nearly vanished world of Jewry in Poland, he broke away from his narration to say, “It’s like a dream.” Korn’s responses evoke more than how the mists of time may cloud the memory and seem different from the kind of quip any seventy-five-year-old might make about a distant youth. Instead, they signal the overwhelming rubbing out of...

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3. “We Create”: The Origins and Evolution of the Jewish Students’ Union

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pp. 77-130

Whether spun as legend or presented as history, stories of social origin are often steeped in personality and place: a charismatic founder seizes the opportunities of a particular setting to create a community that attracts, defines, and empowers many others. In this way a contingent event born partly of chance takes on the aura of destiny....

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4. “The New Life”: Education and Renewal in Occupied Germany

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pp. 131-180

The Jewish students continued to thrive, as evidenced by the growing numbers in their unions. Membership in Munich increased from approximately 250 students in October 1946 to 405 by February 1947, hitting as many as 460 by the fall.1 Unions also formed in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Marburg, and Erlangen, bringing the number of Jewish students in the American Zone to more than 650 in the summer of 1947.2 In a parallel development, Jews entered, though in comparatively tiny numbers, German...

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5. “Surviving Survival”: Living with the Holocaust and among the Germans

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pp. 181-222

Mark Hupert, who studied civil engineering in Munich from 1947 to 1952, was liberated from Dachau on April 29, 1945, suffering from malnutrition and tuberculosis so severe that he spent a year recovering in Gauting hospital. Dachau was the end of a grueling line of persecutions and sorrows, which included his digging graves at Plaszow, internment in Buchenwald, and the deaths of his mother and sister. He arrived in Dachau by means of a ten-day...

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6. “Pioneers, Not Scholars”: The Jewish Students and Zionism

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pp. 223-262

For two weeks in August–September 1947, a delegation of students from the American Zone traveled to Brighton, England, to participate in the Second International Student Camp of the Paris-based World Union of Jewish Students. Never before had Union members travelled outside the American Zone to meet an international body of their peers, which included students from the United States, Italy, England, France, Switzerland, and Poland. As with all Student Union activities, the trip was a struggle; their journey was...

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pp. 263-282

The students’ staggered exit from Germany took place against the backdrop of the demobilization from late 1947 on of nearly the entire Jewish DP world, referred to by Jewish organizations as the “liquidation [Liquidierung] of the She’erith Hapleitah.” Jews left Germany in droves. As of April 1948, just before the declaration of the state of Israel, 165,000 or so Jews remained in the American Zone. By September there were perhaps only ...


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pp. 283-328


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pp. 329-338


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pp. 339-358

E-ISBN-13: 9780814339626
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814339619

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 23
Publication Year: 2014