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Zvi Gurvits, "The Book of Life in the Zeilsheim Camp"

Gurvits, Zvi Zeilsheim album 1945
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum, Israel
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tags: community Displaced Persons visual art Zionism

type: Album

Zeilsheim Displaced Persons (DP) camp, located west of Frankfurt in the US zone of occupied Germany, was established on August 22, 1945. When the camp was founded, it housed some 600 Jewish DP. By October, that number had more than doubled. At Zeilsheim, Jewish residents were housed in local houses requisitioned from German civilians for this purpose. This meant the eviction of the local German population from these homes, which added to the tensions between Jewish DPs, Allied officials, and Germans living in the area.1

The vast majority of Zeilsheim residents hoped for resettlement  in British-controlled Palestine—an aspiration hampered by restrictive British immigration policies. Indeed, the camp became the center of frequent protests against British policies and was visited by David Ben Gurion, future Prime Minister of Israel. Ultimately, Zionism became central to Zeilsheim's identity.2 Two kibbutzim (one agricultural and one vocational) were established, and even the names of the streets and buildings in the camp reflected Zionist themes.

Zeilsheim also hosted a number of cultural activities and institutions. This included two Yiddish newspapers, a camp library, a synagogue, a jazz orchestra, a sports club, and a theater group. There was also a nursing school and  an ORT training school that specialized in various forms of tailoring, typesetting, photography, and other technical skills.

The album featured here consists of a collection of writing in Hebrew and Yiddish as well as photographs of various aspects of life at Zeilsheim. Its author, Zvi Gurvits, served as the Director of the Cultural Office in the camp. As his introduction indicates, the album aims to record all aspects of camp life at Zeilsheim, from its cultural events and its Zionist activities to scarcities and what he calls the "dark sides of the Zeilsheim Jewish settlement." The book serves as a record and a commentary on the complex experiences of DP life.

For an exhaustive study of the complicated relationship between Jews and Germans in the DP camps, see Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007); and Adam Seipp, Strangers in the Wild Place: Refugees, Americans, and a German Town, 1945-1952 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013).

See Laura Hilton, "The Reshaping of Jewish Communities and Identities in Frankfurt and Zeilsheim in 1945," in Avinoam Patt and Michael Berkowitz, eds., We are Here: New Approaches to Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010), 194-226.

Please note that the translation provided here is only a portion of the entire album's text, which includes Hebrew and Yiddish reports, captions, newspaper articles, and other notes.

A labor-intensive printing apparatus that used gelatine in the process.

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Word of Introduction

When publishing the following "Book of Life" for Jews liberated from the concentration and death camps, or as these persons are called in English, DPs, I set myself the goal of making a modest contribution to future historical research and assisting the historian in his labor.1 I strove to establish the likeness, character, and mindset of the remainder of East European Jewry: the individuals who have been given the particular name "surviving remnant" after the horrible destruction of the years of the Second World War, 1939-1945.

In undertaking the work of recording and registering every fact and event from life in our camp—both the material-economic and the spiritual, and perhaps mainly the spiritual—I aimed to provide an accurate reflection of temporary life here in Zeilsheim to the best of my ability and power. With the help of photographs and pictures I sought to bring to full expression the spiritual and psychological moods and considerations of the Jews of Kibbutz Zeilsheim. I sought to document their honorable participation in the Jewish people's difficult struggle for complete liberation and normalization in a free home of their own, the Land of Israel!

Yet at the same time, being as objective as possible, I do not want to omit the dark sides of the Zeilsheim Jewish settlement. These shadows have manifested themselves as a result of the debilitating effect, spiritual and moral, of the unfortunate concentration camp years. They have been caused to a no lesser extent by the demoralizing life of "relief aid" under the UNRRA.2

I am making this book accessible to any individual who has an eye for seeing and observing things and phenomena. He may also include his impressions and observations in this book.

My Zionist activist comrades and I (the undersigned) created the first forms of political-Zionist and social organization in Zeilsheim, assuming leadership over the Cultural Office that had just been created. Now I move forward to this new useful and important project with full responsibility and the best of intentions to accomplish my task honestly and in its entirety.

The Director of the Cultural Office in Camp Zeilsheim:

[Tsvi] Gurvits

December 1, 1945

 

A newspaper is created in Zeilsheim.

"…There will be a newspaper in Zeilsheim," he said, and stubbornly took a seat in the small room that he designated as "Editorial Offices." And he began to create a newspaper. It began as a wall newspaper and then was printed on a hectograph;3 [he] pled and chased after just one more article, begged for paper. Infected several other comrades with the newspaper fever, like Chenstokhovski, Reichgot, Gershonovich, etc. And they made it their goal to put out a journal. And it was born first via a typewriter, then through a real Yiddish printing press, a pleasure to look at and read. And it was given a name, "Our Courage" [Undzer Mut]: yes, it is precisely courage that we lack, we lacked courage for many things, and so we named it "Our Courage." A few editions of "Our Courage" are included here. In a short time, "Our Courage" became "On the Way" [Untervegs] and from a journal we shifted to a newspaper. That is how it happened.

…And the editor, Sauko, achieved his goal. May his efforts be blessed!

 

Our Courage.

Biweekly journal.

Publisher: Zionist organization in Zeilsheim

[English] Frankfurt-Zeilsheim December 25, 1945

[Yiddish] Frankfurt-Zeilsheim, Tevet 5746 No. […]

 

Table of contents

1. Our memorial—Sauko

2. Our minimum demand—Eib.

3. Eyes (poetry)—Reichgot

4. A Sabbath celebration in captivity, with Jews from the Holy Land—Aryeh […]

5. Let us learn from the past with a step forward—Shlamovich S.

6. Silence is golden; to demand is honorable—Asirovski A.

7. Report—Shlomek's brother

8. Impressions and reflections—Sauko.

9. Celebration of Hanukkah—Moshe G.

10. Reports and announcements—editorial board.

Editorial board: Sauko, Gershonovich, Reichgot, Shlamovich, Eibushiz

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum, Israel
RG Number 68.112M
Date Created
March 21, 1949
Author / Creator
Gurvits, Zvi
Language(s)
Hebrew
Yiddish
Location
Frankfurt, Germany
Zeilsheim DP camp (historical)
Document Type Album
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