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Letter from Szyja Faktor to His Relatives

Faktor, Szyja letter 1948
US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Displaced Persons (DP) camps did not only exist in occupied Germany. The letter featured here was written in a DP camp in postwar Italy that became a waystation for many Jews from Eastern Europe. The Rivoli DP camp housed approximately 1,650 Jewish refugees in 1948.1 Due to the camp's location (some 30 miles west of Turin), it became a frequent stopover for Eastern European Jews on their way to Palestine.2 The camp’s resources and water supplies often became strained under the demands of the large camp population. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) also struggled to provide sufficient medical care to meet the needs of camp residents. 

 Jewish cultural life thrived at the Rivoli DP camp in spite of the camp's chronic shortages. There were several Zionist youth groups, a sports team, a library, a school, vocational training programs, and a newspaper in Hebrew and Yiddish, Davar Rivoli. Camps such as Rivoli became fertile ground for the recruitment of young survivors to the nascent armed forces of the Jews in Palestine, the Haganah.3

This 1948 letter from Szyja Faktor to his relatives in the United States reflects the difficult conditions at the Rivoli DP camp. In his letter, Faktor says that "there is nothing to be cheerful about here," and he observes that it does not feel good "to sit in a camp." He describes his family's reduced rations and the poor health of his wife, which makes their situation even more challenging. Although Jewish statehood in Israel had been officially announced a month earlier, Faktor does not seem hopeful about his family's immigration prospects.

This short letter reveals some of the challenges of life in a DP camp that was barely managing to sustain its inhabitants. Like the Faktors, many Jewish DPs faced health problems and uncertain futures. Faktor's letter reflects the restlessness and the frustration that many DPs felt as they continued to live for months or years in DP camps that had originally been intended to serve as temporary waystations.

For more information about Italian DP camps, see Susanna Kokkonen, "Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Italy, 1945–1951," Jewish Political Studies Review (2008): 91–106.

For more information about the interaction between Eastern European Jewish refugees and the rest of the Jewish DP population, see Anna Holian, Between National Socialism and Soviet Communism: Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2011).

For more on Zionism within the Jewish DP population, see Zeev Mankowitz, Life Between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Avinoam Patt, Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and Zionism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2009).

International Refugee Organization. IRO was a successor of UNRRA, which itself was subsumed under the United Nationas High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency still active today.

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Rivoli, June 8, 1948

My dear and beloved aunt, cousins, and all of your dear children. I will begin by reporting that I received your dear letter, for which I thank you immensely from the depths of my heart, and more than anything else, I rejoice in the fact that you write that you are all healthy. Because that is not the case here. The child and I do not feel badly, but my wife has not been healthy for a month now. And I must watch over the child because she is not in a state to care for anything. My dear cousin, I received the two dollars that you enclosed, for which we all thank you very much, for your compassion. You want to know how we are doing. I can tell you that there is nothing to be cheerful about here, and I do not want to write to you in too much detail, because you will not get enjoyment from any of it. [Also] because it is not good to sit in a camp, in addition to living from relief aid. While things were good under the UNRRA last year, they were even better under the IRO,1 [and] there was water and also electricity, [but] because [they] had no skill whatsoever in maintaining so many [people], the food was [then] reduced by 45%, so that things are not so good, and on top of that, my wife is not well. And there is also no chance of doing away with the camps because you probably read in the newspapers what the situation is in the Land [of Israel].

Dear cousin, you sent me the address of a cousin of yours in New York, Henry Baum. I wrote to him right away about my [illegible] situation and asked in your name, and I've had no answer from him. And I don't know, perhaps he does not want to write to me, and if possible, could you write to him, in my name, asking him to help me if he can. And please, if possible, could you send me photos of my family and yours in a second letter, I really beg you. I will end my letter because it is difficult for me to write because the light is poor, and I cannot write during the day because the child, may it be in good health, does not allow me.

I am finishing my letter and just now was approached with the suggestion that I, too, should take part in the mobilization of the Haganah. But unfortunately I cannot allow myself to indulge in such pleasures. Greetings from me, your dear [cousin]. My family and also my wife and child send regards to all of you from the depths of their hearts. From me, your unforgotten cousin Szyja Faktor. Please do not delay with your response and write right away. Szyja Faktor.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Accession Number 2002.75.1
Date Created
August 6, 1948
Author / Creator
Faktor, Szyja
Language(s)
Yiddish
Location
Rivoli, Italy
Reference Location
Rivoli Displaced Persons Camp (historical)
Document Type Letter
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