23 October 2009

Germany: DP camps film premieres

It has been 61 years since three Jewish Displaced Persons camps in Germany (Schlachtensee, Tempelhof and Wittenau) were closed, but filmmaker Gabriel Heim has produced a 52-minute documentary on those who passed through these camps.

“Jewish Transit Berlin: From Hell to Hope” premiered Monday at the Berlin Jewish Museum. It relates the unusual albeit brief history of the DP camps set up in postwar Berlin, according to the JTA story.

The Swiss-born filmmaker calls them “the last Jewish shtetls on German soil," and found individuals (all aged 80 or more) to share their stories.

Rich with archival footage and contemporary interviews, the film goes a long way toward painting a picture of their odyssey, which begins with the migration of some 350,000 exhausted Jewish refugees and survivors from Eastern Europe. About 100,000 made their way to bombed-out Berlin, according to Heim. Most landed in other German cities and later emigrated.

“There were thousands of people who were liberated and were displaced in Berlin,” said Rabbi Andreas Nachama, a historian who directs the Topography of Terror archive and heads the Department of Holocaust Studies at Touro College in Berlin. “You had Jews and non-Jews, slave workers and those who were repatriated.”
There were some 6,000 Jews (2,300 were children) still homeless in Berlin by January 1946, according to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, resulting in the three camps for survivors.

Heim said that Gen. Dwight Eisenhower (the US Army chief of staff) decided to create the camps for Jews following clashes in other camps populated by both survivors and non-Jews recognized as murderers.

“It was a magnificent rebirth, a re-creation of people who were so down and came to life,” recalled Rachel Abramowitz, 81, whose father had been deported by Stalin to Siberia from Poland before the war. Afterward, with no one left in Poland, her family made its way to Germany.

They arrived by truck in Berlin in the middle of the night. As children jumped out of the truck, they were met by a U.S. Army chaplain, Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz, who also had arrived in Berlin that day.
Rachel and the rabbi later married on November 23, 1947, in Berlin. They live in Florida and have three children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

The rabbi created a school and summer camp for the 2,300 children, and the Jewish DP camps also featured Yiddish newspapers, radio stations and theaters, while there were also many marriages and many babies.

The camps closed in 1948, and most Jews had left by June, flown out on the same airlifts that had unloaded emergency food and supplies during the Soviet blockade of Berlin. Most went to the US, Israel, Canada or South Africa, although about 500 stayed in Berlin.

The film was co-produced by ARD and Yad Vashem, and co-directed by Ronnie Golz.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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