- Holocaust Survivors: Resettlement, Memories, Identities, ed. by Dalia Ofer, Françoise S. Ouzan, and Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz
The essays assembled in this volume address a question for the most part neglected in Holocaust scholarship: How did survivors re-settle in their new countries in the aftermath of World War II? The Jewish displaced persons crisis in postwar Europe, culminating in the creation of the state of Israel, is traditionally seen as the chronological boundary of the Holocaust era. By exploring how Jewish survivors rebuilt (or did not rebuild) their lives in the first postwar decades, this volume modifies not only the timeframe of Holocaust history but also its geography: although much has been written about Holocaust survivors in Israel and the United States, there is a significant [End Page 517] research gap with regard to Europe, South America, and Australia. This discrepancy can be explained in terms of the large proportion of survivors who emigrated to Israel or to North America, the two main destinations of postwar Jewish migrants. But Jews who survived the Holocaust without displacement or deportation (the case of France is addressed twice in the volume), or who returned, even if temporarily, to the country they left, also faced the challenge of normalization. In addition, survivors came to terms with their traumatic experiences in cities such as Buenos Aires, Warsaw, or Melbourne. This volume’s main merit, then, is that it considers various trajectories of Jewish migration and settlement from an international comparative perspective.
The “dynamics of Holocaust identities” (p. 2), however, started in the temporary universe of Displaced Persons (DPs) camps located mainly in the American Zone in occupied Germany. Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz’s essay follows three “camp sisters” who eventually settled in the Netherlands, Israel, and the United States. Contrary to other studies focused on the “Surviving Remnant” as a collective, she concentrates on the role of gendered and personal identity in the rehabilitation of Jewish DPs. Four essays on Holocaust survivors in Israel propose arguments challenging commonly held beliefs. Hannah Yablonka contends that Zionism neither muted nor marginalized the voice of survivors. During the early years of Israel, they took an active part in the building of the state and in the dissemination of Holocaust memory. In a study of Holocaust commemorations in various kibbutzim, Micha Balf further confirms that survivors served as vital agents of memory within Israeli society. Dalia Ofer’s micro-study of orphaned German teenagers absorbed into kibbutzim establishes that survivors did not passively internalize a new Israeli identity to erase traces of a traumatic past. They instead adapted to the new state “without completely giving up their personal autonomy” (p. 159). In other agricultural settlements, such as frontier moshavim, argues Ada Schein, survivors were not merely “absorbed.” Rooting the rootless on the land entailed an active encounter between settlers and the Moshav movement in which “each side needed the other” (p. 228).
The theme of agency is also prominent in parts of the volume dedicated to Holocaust survivors in Europe. In an essay devoted to religious and educational reform in postwar France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, David Weinberg describes the multiple challenges faced by rebuilding Jewish communities, with their “synagogues and schools in ruins” (p. 89). To counter decline in attendance, religious leaders modified rituals and appealed to an otherwise “nihilistic” youth through a wide range of new activities, including a West European version of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) movement. Jean-Marc Dreyfus makes a different claim: France did not recognize the specificity of Jewish wartime victimization, or its role in abetting it, but this lack of Holocaust consciousness did not offend survivors. In general, French Jewish survivors did not wish to be singled out. What France did particularly well, argues Dreyfus, was to reintegrate French Jews swiftly within the realm of Republican [End Page 518] legality and rights. The story of Jewish children rescued by Christians in Poland and claimed by their biological parents with the help of Jewish...