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Then and now: Life after Survival; at UN Headquarters spotlight on child refugees after WWII

(by Alessandra Baldini)

NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 3 – Then and now. There is not just Grugliasco, the DPs  refugee camp near Turin where hundreds of children were born after WWII, or Santa Maria di Leuca in the Southern Italian region of Apulia where Jewish families survived to the concentrations camps found a new life before migrating to Palestine. “Life after Survival”, a new exhibition, on view until February 10 in the Visitor Lobby at United Nations Headquarters in New York, shows how a small international group of volunteers — the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Team 182 — worked for the benefit of young Holocaust survivors in Kloster Indersdorf, a convent near Dachau.

There, in the proximity of one of the most lethal concentration camps, Team 182 established the first international children’s centre for unaccompanied and displaced children in the American zone of post-war Germany. Team 182 provided food, shelter, medical care and helped young people reconnect with their relatives or migrate to Israel. The exhibition will be on display until February 12th.

Composed of photographs and a couple of videos, the exhibition was organized by the Concentration Camp Memorial Site Flossenbürg in Germany. Endorsed by the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations in cooperation with the non-governmental organizations Heimatverein Indersdorf and Lagergemeinschaft Dachau, it is part of a week-long series of Holocaust remembrance activities at the United Nations for the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust on January 27.

“It is not only is a presentation of a historical humanitarian effort by the United Nations but also an incentive to reflect on the needs of traumatized refugees in general and it is also an encouragment for all those who help refugees today”,  Anna Andlauer, curator of the exhibit and the author of the book “The Rage to Live”, told OnuItalia: “Today, in a completely different historical situation, we in Germany and all of Europe are faced with millions of refugees from the middle East and Africa. They will find their way into a new life only when caring people support them”. Anna spoke at the opening, together with Shmuel Reinstein, who now lives in Israel and was one of the children Holocaust survivors who appear in the historical photos.

New statistics released by IOM show that the number of accompanied or non accompanied minors trying to cross the Mediterranean to find a new life in Europe has skyrocketed to one out of three in the first month of 2016. “70 years ago, in Kloster Indersdorf, UN pioneers created a first protective environment for the youngest victims of National Socialism in the American zone of postwar Germany. They were homeless, emaciated, deprived, scarred, scared, bitter, witnesses of terrible things, and all alone in the enemy‘s country”, Anna Andlauer said in her remarks at the opening of the exhibit. Greta Fischer, a UN social worker and the main chronicler of events, told in a report from that time what had to be done to bring back to life children who had physically survived: give them a home, make them feel welcome, make them feel wanted, give them a hot bath, suitable clothes, enough food, offer medical care, keep friends together, compensate for missed education, engage them in helping with household tasks and prepare them for a life to come.

One out of three of the displaced children at  Kloster Indersdorf were under the age of three.

The pictures in the exhibition show how the UN team paid close attention and listened attentively to help somehow come to terms with haunting experiences. “Certainly, the Holocaust has never left you, but after your liberation caring, reliable, and dedicated personal relations proved to be the most important factor in regaining a feeling of security and trust in the world”, Andlauer told Mr. Reinstein and other survivors who came to New York for the opening.

UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) was created in November 1943, while war still raged in Europe and the Pacific, by the United States to help displaced persons (or DPs, as they came to be known): at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s invitation, representatives of 44 nations met at the White House and established an international agency to plan and coordinate “measures for the relief of victims of war.”

By the time the war ended in 1945, there were an estimated 20 million DPs roaming the European continent. They were a chaotic mix, wrote recently one of them, Milan Kubic, a former Newsweek Foreign Correspondent, on The Wilson Quarterly: Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps; German civilians fleeing their destroyed cities; freed Soviet Red Army prisoners of war; remnants of Ukrainian, Italian and Hungarian troops who had fought alongside the Wehrmacht; and the countless slave laborers that the Nazis had rounded up in occupied countries and forced to work in armament factories and on huge fortifications along the French coast.

From 1947 on, care for the DPs was turned over to the International Refugee Organization (IRO), a temporary specialized agency of the newly formed United Nations, which was succeeded by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1952.

The exhibit recalls also how, 70 years after surviving, there is still a network of child survivors from the holocaust. The eighth reunion of people who had lived as unaccompanied children at postwar Kloster Indersdorf took place in April 2015. Participants were Martin Hecht and his wife Aida from Israel, their cousin Joe Hecht with his wife Blanche from New York, Leslie Kleinman and his wife Miriam Stein from England accompanied by Leslie’s son, Erwin Farkas and his friend Ani Djefarian from Minnesota, Sofia Ogłaza and her brother Janusz Karpuk as well as Stanislaw Janowski with his son from Poland. Shmuel Reinstein came with his wife Aviva and their three daughters (with husbands) from Israel. The following members of the former Eytan kibbuz also traveled from Israel: Ora and Yankele Rotem  accompanied by a son and a daughter-in-law, Miriam and Itzchak Schwartz, Nahum and Neta Bogner, Avremale Litman with three daughters, Miriam Kruk with two daughters, Tamar Weissboard with her daughter, Ella Braun with her son and two grandsons.

Preceding the Indersdorf reunion, some of them were guests of the city of Regensburg. There they participated in a commemoration ceremony; they were personal guests of the lord mayor, and shared their recollections with students of some schools in and around Regensburg. At Indersdorf the participants of the reunion visited the former cloister that now is a secondary school. They talked to students of several schools in and around Markt Indersdorf and were also special guests to the Greta Fischer school in Dachau – named after the principal welfare officer of the 1945 Indersdorf Children’s Center. A highlight of the reunion was the initial public presentation of the international travel exhibit “Life After Survival”/”Zurück ins Leben” about the postwar Kloster Indersdorf Children’s Center in the Baroque hall of the former cloister. (@alebal)

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