Something that hit me very hard during the Seminar was the fact that a pre-conception was disproved - the preconception that liberation from the Nazi forces by the Allied forces was not a moment of unreserved celebration. I am sure I had seen pictures of the inmates in their blue and white stripes, reaching for the skies in jubilation behind a fence as GI Joe smoked his cigar - but it seems that that just wasn't case.
The return to life brought with it the following issues:
- illness: so many of the inmates were riddled with disease and the conditions brought about by chronic malnutrition
- starvation meant that they couldn't eat properly. One testimony talked of the vomit inducing food that thew liberating troops carried, food that was far too rich to be palateable
- having to think about 'tomorrow' for the first time brought with it pressures that to us may seem difficult to grasp. The inmate's world-view was once again shifted in the greatest way.
- searching for those who are not there: if you were a Polish Jew (numbering 3.5million before the Holocaust), you would fast discover that there was almost certainly no-one left (3million of that number perished) - and with them their way of life, their crafts, skills and trades, oral histories, identities, family connections, contexts, someone (anyone) with who you can talk to about about life in the Ghetto, and so on.
- weddings proliferated: a need to grasp life meant for Jews that marriage had to precede pro-creation and a baby-boom followed as new couples often had their two babies [the first to create a legacy, a second incase the first died]
- relocation: their homes didn't exist nor their ways of life. From one state of camp life followed the Displaced Persons Camps, in some circumstances in the same location as under the Nazis. These camps existed for some years, and therefore some Jews were 'imprisoned' for longer under liberation than under Nazi rule.
- revenge instincts: for most people, survival was their revenge - and this was brought to us in real terms by one of the survivors who spoke to us - but for others, revenge took a more typical form in its appearance, which brought eith it renewed sanctions.
- society: for a people of a Faith of Observance, there was a future without many of the tools of that observance. Their Scriptures, teachers, synagogues, traditions, backgrounds, and dignities had all been robbed. Children needed to be educated but there were no teachers. The sick needed healing but many of the doctors and nurses were gone. Even cultural expressions of life had been erased; whole football teams for example.
It is hard for us to imagine how a liberation could be anything other than the best of things, but for a people who often regarded dying as the best thing that could happen to them during those years, a life given back seemed to many like a renewed curse.