Rebirth After the Holocaust: The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, 1945-1950

On View:

September 9, 2002 – July 3, 2003
Opening Reception: Sunday, October 6, 3-5 pm

Rebirth After the Holocaust:

Josef Rosensaft addressing a mass demonstration at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp when the “Exodus” ship, filled with thousands of Holocaust survivors, was intercepted by the British off the shore of Eretz-Israel and forcibly returned to Germany in September, 1947.

The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, 1945-1950 will be presented at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum from September 11, 2002 – July 3, 2003. The photo-documentary exhibition illuminates the inspiring and untold history of Holocaust survivors in the years immediately following their liberation from the Nazis.




Thousands of survivors in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp demonstrated when the “Exodus” ship was intercepted by the British off the coast of Eretz Israel and its survivor passengers were imprisoned in Germany.

Bergen-Belsen, a wartime concentration camp, became the largest displaced persons (DP) camp in Germany, at a time when over 250,000 displaced, homeless Jewish survivors sought to recover from the destruction of their families and communities, regain their physical health, and gather the strength and hope to create new families and new homes in new lands. For five years, Bergen-Belsen became a self-governed Jewish community with political, cultural, religious, educational, and social activities that renewed Jewish life and a vibrant center of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and rebirth.


The first twins to be born in the Bergen-Belson Displaced Persons Camp, July 14, 1946.

“This exhibition honors the valiant story of brave men and women who emerged from destruction with a boundless determination to rebuild their lives. Their fortitude in overcoming terror and their vision for rebirth is a source of inspiration for all who are struggling with the aftermath of terrorism in our own time,” noted Jean Bloch Rosensaft, Director of the HUC-JIR Museum and co-curator of this exhibition.


Within six weeks of liberation, the first Jewish school was established in Bergen-Belson for the orphaned children who had survived the Holocaust. The elementary class at the Bergen-Belson Displaced Persons Camp.

Rebirth After the Holocaust begins with liberation when, amidst the unburied corpses and open mass graves, British soldiers encountered tens of thousands of camp inmates, suffering from starvation, typhus, and tuberculosis. Yet, within three days the Bergen-Belsen survivors had elected their own, self-governing Jewish Committee, and soon after formed the Central Jewish Committee of the Liberated Jews in the British Zone of Germany. The Committee lobbied the British on behalf of the political, social, and cultural causes of displaced persons, including the struggle for emigration to Palestine.

The display chronicles the survivors’ earliest efforts to memorialize their murdered families and their quest for justice as witnesses in the Bergen-Belsen Trial in 1945, the first military war crimes trial, predating the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. The development of the community is described – from the religious needs served by a rabbinate to the rebirth of family life. The establishment of schools, vocational training, and provision for health care and rehabilitation are detailed as well.


Teenage Holocaust survivors departing from the Bergen-Belson Displaced Persons Camp for Eretz-Israel

The show highlights the flourishing press, including Unzer Shtimme (Our Voice), the first newspaper to be published by survivors after liberation, which initially was declared illegal by the British Military Administration. There is also a close look at the publication of books and memoirs in Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and English, and the establishment of libraries and exhibitions by survivor artists. As the largest Jewish population center in the British-occupied zone of Germany, the Bergen-Belsen camp played a historic role in supporting the creation of Israel through illegal, as well as legal, immigration to the remainder of British Mandated Palestine. In 1947, the camp would serve as a clandestine training center for the Haganah (the Jewish military force in Palestine), preparing displaced persons for immigration. Until 1948, the British forbade any free departures from the camp to Palestine. The exhibition highlights the outrage among Jewish DPs interned at Bergen-Belsen, reported throughout the world by international press and newsreels


The Katzet (Concentration Camp) Theater of the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, comprised of survivors who were actors, directors, set designers, musicians and dancers, performed plays about the Holocaust and classics of Jewish theater in a tent theater that seated 800 survivors at each performance, and toured throughout Europe.

The exhibition concludes with the closing of the camp in 1950, by which time most of the survivors had emigrated to Israel, the United States, Canada, and other countries. It records the ensuing 52 years of political activism, publications, and commemorative activities through which the Bergen-Belsen survivors have continued to demonstrate their commitment to perpetuating Holocaust remembrance and education for future generations.




One of the more than 2000 Jewish children born in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp celebrating Hanukkah.

To bring this traveling exhibition to your community, please contact:

Rebirth After the Holocaust has been organized by the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Associations in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibition and conference, “LIFE REBORN: Jewish Displaced Persons, 1945-1951.”