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The aftermath

The aftermath
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Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in May 1945, there were victory celebrations throughout the streets of Europe and the world. For the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, though, the victory had been too long in coming. Entire communities had been wiped out and their Jews exterminated. Thus the Holocaust had completely changed the demographic profile of the Jewish people worldwide, reducing its numbers greatly. The physical, psychological, and cultural loss was immense and is still impossible to grasp. At the eve of Shoah, of the Holocaust, the Jewish people were still growing significantly, although less than in the past. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were about ten and a half million Jews worldwide.
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In 1939 the best estimate is about 16 and a half million. That is, there had been a growth of about six million during those about 40 years and this was still mostly visible in Eastern Europe or among the descendants of Jews from Eastern Europe who had left Europe in the meanwhile and had migrated especially to North America, to some extent, also to Latin America, or to Western European countries and elsewhere overseas. So the Jewish people was growing on the eve of the Shoah but at a slower pace. Shoah came in and dramatically reduced the size of the Jewish people. We usually estimate the total losses at about 6 million victims. I think this is quite accurate.
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We have that based on different methods either nominal lists which are still partial though, or estimates of the numbers before and after the Catastrophe. I think lower estimates cannot be accepted. That was a dramatic change in the profile of the Jewish people because most of the destruction happened in Eastern Europe, in Central Europe, in the Balkans, also in some Western countries like the Netherlands, in Greece, and in every country basically in the West that was occupied or associated with the Nazi regime, although the dimensions of the catastrophe are quite different in the different countries. With the end of the war came the knowledge of the immensity of the loss.
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One horrific example was the fate of the Jewish community in Poland, the largest in Europe, which had been decimated. Of the 3.5 million Jews living in Poland before 1939, only an approximate 250,000 survived, most of them in the Soviet Union. Fully 93 percent had perished. In Hungary, Greece, the Netherlands Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Balkan States, the outcome was nearly the same. Areas which had been vibrant Jewish centers were almost completely annihilated in the mass graves and gas chambers of the Nazi regime. In many cases, nearly whole families had been slaughtered and only single members were left.
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A survey taken by the Organisation for Jewish Refugees in Italy, for example, found that fully 76 percent of the Jewish refugees had lost all their immediate families and their relatives and were single survivors of exterminated families. Faced with this extreme loss, the Jewish survivors were now forced to somehow re-establish their lives. In weeks, hundreds of thousands of survivors were wandering throughout Europe, a continent scarred by war. Some tried to return home or at least what was left of it. Yet this was far from easy.
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Beyond the psychological pain of returning to Jewish emptiness and the inability to get former property back from former neighbors and countrymen who now resided in their homes, Jewish survivors also had to confront the fact that with the end of the war, a wave of antisemitism swept Europe. The horrific outcomes of wartime antisemitism did not put an end to antisemitic rhetoric and actions taken throughout the continent. In Western countries, bitter words were directed towards Jews mocking their suffering, and Jewish civil rights were not easily restored, and in Poland and other Eastern European countries, returning Jews even faced violence and physical threats. Antisemitism in Germany and in Europe didn’t finish at the end of the war.
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It was there in many countries and, in Germany, there was, to a certain extent, a taboo to speak loudly about antisemitism but that doesn’t mean that it was gone because people were so influenced by antisemitic issues, by the Nazis that they couldn’t stop after 45. But it was by the Allied and re-education programs tried to not have it loudly said. In other countries antisemitism was more expressed, especially in Eastern and Central Europe. I would take one example; that’s Poland.
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In Poland in 1946 there was another pogrom against Jews based on a blood libel, based on on the idea that Jews kill children to have their blood for baking the matzah and 42 people died in that Kielce pogrom - survivors of the Holocaust. And this was an initial starting point for people to initiate their flight out of the country and it was, to a certain extent, a mass exodus from countries like Poland but also Romania and most of them the so-called displaced persons tried to go to to the Western Allied parts of Germany and Austria and also, to a certain extent, to Italy.
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And they came there in certain camps so-called assembly centers to wait till they could emigrate to the States or to Palestine - Israel.

Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, Dr. Juliane Wetzel

The Holocaust had completely changed the demographic profile of the Jewish people worldwide, reducing its numbers greatly. The physical, psychological, and cultural loss was immense and is still impossible to grasp. However, the horrific outcomes of wartime antisemitism did not put an end to antisemitic rhetoric and actions taken throughout the continent.

How was antisemitism expressed in the immediate postwar years?

For additional visual materials please see “downloads” below.

  • Bankier, David, ed., The Jews Are Coming Back: The Return of the Jews to Their Countries of Origin after WWII (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2005).

  • Brenner, Michael, After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

  • Buruma, Ian, Year Zero: A History of 1945 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2014).

  • DellaPergola, Sergio, “Between Science and Fiction: Notes on the Demography of the Holocaust,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, vol. 10, no. 1 (1996), pp. 34 – 51.

  • DellaPergola, Sergio, “Growth, Calamity and Continuity – the Jewish People before and after the Shoah: a Demographic Overview,” Legacy, vol. 2 (2010), pp. 32 – 43.

  • Engel, David, “Patterns Of Anti-Jewish Violence In Poland, 1944-1946,” Yad Vashem Studies vol. 26 (1998), pp 43 – 85.

  • Grynberg, Anne, “Des signes de resurgence de l’antisémitisme dans la France de l’après-guerre (1945–1953),” Les Cahiers de la Shoah, vol. 1, no. 5 (2001), pp. 171 – 223.

  • Königseder, Angelika and Juliane Wetzel, Waiting for Hope: Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2001).

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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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