Rebirth After the Holocaust: The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, 1945-1950 - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Rebirth After the Holocaust: The Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, 1945-1950

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Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Museum
One West 4th Street (between Broadway and Mercer Street), Manhattan

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

Rebirth After the Holocaust:

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.

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. 

"This exhibition honors the valiant story of brave men and woman 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.

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.

The show highlights the flourishing press, including Unzer Shtimme (Our Voice), the first newspaper to be published by survivors after liberation, and 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 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 perpetuate Holocaust remembrance and education for future generations.

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."