May 1945, Germany. The Nazis have been defeated; the concentration camps liberated. But tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors remain in the land of the perpetrators. DW tells the story of their struggle to rebuild their lives – and the present-day campaign to keep their memory alive.
When World War Two ended in 1945 with victory over Nazism, millions of POWs and slave laborers were able to return home. But for around 50,000 Jews freed from concentration camps, there was nowhere to return. Deported from their eastern European homelands by the Nazis, the Jewish refugees now found themselves in camps for Displaced Persons run mainly by the US Army. One of the largest DP camps was in the town of Landsberg am Lech, in southern Germany. Between 1945 and 1950, it was a ‘city within a city’, home to up to 7,000 Jews.
The DW documentary ‘In the Land of the Perpetrators – Holocaust Survivors in Post-War Germany’ meets survivors of the Shoah liberated near Landsberg and later housed in the DP camp and in the town. The survivors tell of the fate of their families and their own attempts to rebuild their lives. But as 94-year-old Jakob Bresler, who survived 11 concentration camps and ghettos, recounts, ‘What was normal for us, wasn’t normal for the rest of the world. We were disturbed children.’
Life in the DP camp was marked by the trauma of the Holocaust, the search for family members, the need for education and professional skills – and the yearning to leave Germany. Over time, the world found out more about fate of the Jewish survivors. As New York historian Atina Grossmann describes, the DP camps became a global political issue.
The film also exposes what Germany called the ‘Zero Hour’ – the term used to imply a radical break with the past after the war – as an oft-questionable attempt at self-exoneration. In the town of Landsberg in 1951, for example, a solidarity rally attended by local residents called for ‘Christian mercy’ – not for the victims of Nazi tyranny, but for the Nazi mass murderers standing trial in the town and facing the death penalty for their crimes.
In the Nazi era, party officials in Landsberg had built a huge concentration camp complex for almost 30,000 prisoners, most of them Jewish. The film also accompanies Helga and Manfred Deiler, a married couple from Landsberg who have spent the last 40 years campaigning for a fitting new memorial in their town.