Emergence into Light
A paradox: these are stories about the end of the war, about the liberation of prisoners and hidden people; yet they arouse deep sadness and empathy. The writers here express their exaltation at the moment of their liberators' arrival; yet as they are freed from the torments of their individual hells, they are haunted by these hells and at the same time flung into a trough of new troubles and anguish.
From the middle of 1944 through early 1945, Allied armies were closing in on the Germans and arriving at the concentration camps. The Soviets moved in from the east, while the British and Americans came from the west. In the Soviet Union, where the Germans had invaded, the Germans were caught by advancing Soviet troops and were retreating back toward Germany. In all areas, as the Germans understood that the war was lost, they and their collaborators brutally tried to finish the task of the Final Solution—to kill as many Jews as they could. They also attempted to hide the evidence of the Holocaust by evacuating and destroying the concentration camps. But since they still needed the slave labor that the prisoners supplied, they tried to move many camp inmates, by death marches and trains, into central Germany.
For the victims who had survived to the end of the war, then, the troubles posed by freedom took several forms. Survivors faced the practical problems of where to go and how to live. Thrust suddenly into the countryside, often in a foreign land, they had no homes—frequently no towns—left to go to. Their families were at best dispersed, more likely dead. They had no money and no means of subsistence. Alone, clothed in rags, without resources, lost in a landscape where local people were as anti-Semitic as ever—the survivors were faced with the task of picking up the pieces when there were no pieces to pick up.
As terrible as the physical problems were, the most traumatic aspects of liberation for survivors were often psychological. The wild emotional content of this period of time is expressed movingly in “The Golden Chain of Judaism.” This series of stories about a young girl emerging from hiding recounts ups and downs of finding a place for oneself, and of life in the displaced persons camps. The stories prophecy both the Jews' profound elation over the survival of Judaism itself, and their inability to forget or outlive the horrors of what they endured.