The often distressing stories about Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust





They came to New York as “displaced persons” in the early 1950s, Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust. Today, in film and story, such survivors are treated with a kind of awe, and their arrival in America is considered a happy ending. But a very different picture, with an oddly contemporary twist, emerges from the yellowing pages of social service records now being rescued from oblivion at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan.

The files, from a major Jewish resettlement agency that handled tens of thousands of cases, show that many of these refugees walked a gantlet of resistance and distrust: disapproval of their lack of English and need for health care, threats of deportation, and agency rules shaped by a suspicion of freeloading.

An unschooled 19-year-old hoping for an education was scolded for dreaming and sent to work in a factory. A newlywed couple who arrived with four pieces of baggage, “mostly books,” were soon forced to choose whether the husband would keep his job or keep the Jewish Sabbath. An ailing, jobless father of three, facing immigration laws that called for deportation of those who sought public aid, told his caseworker, as her notes put it, that “he was more concerned and more disturbed now than he had ever been in the Warsaw Ghetto.”


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