26 December 2010

Displaced Persons

In May, 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, searches for surviving family in the Allied Zones of a crushed Germany. Alone, with no money and no prospects, he trades on the black market to survive. While searching for family members and waiting for a visa to America, he befriends a pair of refugees, Fela and a teenaged boy named Chaim, and soon the trio form a makeshift family. (From the back of the book)

When the war was over and Nazi concentration camps were liberated, survivors were taken to camps for displaced persons where their medical needs were addressed. But Europe, especially Eastern Europe, was in shambles. Survivors searched for family members and, more often than not, found that they alone had survived. The emotional devestation led to years of buried emotions and a feeling of not belonging. Displaced Persons, written by Ghita Schwarz, explores this emotional solitude over decades of survival. Ultimately, the emotions under the surface bubble up and expose feelings unknowingly guiding many decisions.

Pavel Mandl found himself in a British displaced persons camp after the war. He found his place in trading in the black market and joined with two other refugees, living in a small house he took over after the war. Fela, widowed by the war, and Chaim, a teenaged boy, who was willing to work with Pavel in trading in the black market, became each other's family. Ultimately Pavel married Fela and the couple struggled to gather what was needed to immigrate to the United States. They hoped the dream of freedom would erase the pain and struggles they had endured. While the two did make it to New York, they found that the past followed them and while they never discussed their experiences, certainly it was there, between them, between them and the world. Chaim went to Israel where he married Sima. Eventually Chaim and his wife also came to New York and the couples were reunited. Then the world changed.

After the fall of Communism, people wanted to hear about the past. They wanted survivors to speak out about their experiences. Many realized that by discussing their past, they would have to relive them in public. With this private struggle exposed, each survivor tried to find a way to move forward. To see the struggle over forty years and two continents really illuminates how difficult survival was after the war.

To hear the author discuss her novel, visit Book Passage.

TITLE: Displaced Persons
AUTHOR: Ghita Schwarz
PAGES: 340
TYPE: fiction
RECOMMEND: This is a very thoughtful book. The novel might be especially interesting to students of history who want to follow the post WWII lives of survivors.

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