Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tenement Talks: Displaced Persons

Join us tonight at Tenement Talks for a discussion of Ghita Schwarz’s book Displaced Persons, a tale of people displaced by World War II and how they rebuilt their lives. Joining her is Sara Ivry, a writer and editor who primarily covers Jewish issues and conducts a weekly podcast.

You’ll be intrigued by the stories of the main characters Pavel, Fela, and Chaim, strangers who band together in the wake of World War II. Years after living as refugees, they fulfill their dreams of coming to the U.S. and settle in Queens. Pavel and Fela are married with two young children, and Chaim and his wife Sima acclimate to America. Even though life goes on, they struggle with painful memories.

In the trailer for the book, Schwarz discusses the difficulties displaced persons (DPs) faced, especially after the war when they tried to return to a state of normalcy in a foreign land. “They’re no longer heroes in a war-time drama of escape,” commented Schwarz. “They’re just trying to get through the ordinary tasks of life. But their history really does follow them, and emerges in sort of surprising ways for them.”

Schwarz also acknowledges the similarities of the situations the protagonists in her novel and immigrants today face. “What they want for their sons and daughters is a total break with the terrible experiences they’ve gone through. But at the same time there’s a lot of anxiety about their children losing a sense of contact with their heritage and their past and their parents’ culture.”

Homeless group of Jewish refug... Digital ID: 58172. New York Public Library
Jewish refugees in Poland, circa 1939
Courtesy of NYPl Digital Gallery
The DPs in this novel were only a few of nearly two million who could not return to their home countries in Europe due to fear of persecution and many other reasons. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (amended 1950) was “an act to authorize for a limited period of time the admission into the United States of certain European displaced persons for permanent residence, and for other purposes,” according to U.S. immigration legislation online. Read our previous blog post about the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 for more information.

Tenement Talks are free and open to the public. Please join us at 108 Orchard at Delancey for this event! You can RSVP to events(at)

-posted by Devin

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