Kessler, Laibe
Interview Date
[T1S1] (90 minute tape) Respondent self records experiences in Europe, 1948; reads from diary. Respondent discusses travel to Europe as representative of the Young Jewish Community of America to see first hand devastation of the Holocaust and report back to American youth; kept diary, meets 560 children from Europe going to Palestine, notes United Jewish Federation’s large part in accomplishing this. Respondent describes trip to Versailles, France: comments on life during German occupation; provides poignant information on meeting many people, listening to their stories, notes Organization for Rehabilitation through Training, (ORT) instrumental in preparing young displaced persons for life and work in Palestine: gives examples, also supported by Joint Distribution Committee (JDC); explains many live with despair, demoralization, lack of hope due to temporary installations of transients. Respondent notes many young people have long wait, 6 months or more, before opportunity to leave presents itself, some lose their spirit. Respondent observes conditions in children’s homes in Paris: spacious, well-kept, children healthy, alert, integrated into French schools, French language, taught various skills. Respondent presents statistics on South Africa: 500,000 Jews living as second class citizens, many Jewish babies die before reaching the age of 1; comments on Jews in Morocco, population 250,000, wealthy according to Moroccan standards; discusses attitude of elderly in regards to going to Palestine: endangers their lives, feel Palestine is only for young; whereas, America represents streets of gold. Respondent expresses feelings on leaving Paris: nice people, live good life, even those in poverty, enjoy music, art, culture.
[T1S2] (90 minute tape) Respondent discusses life in France after World War II; spoke with many Jews, no indication of anti-Semitism, schools open to all at Government expense, one-half population Jewish, no bigotry. Respondent notes only country in the world to receive displaced persons without restrictions or conditions; mentions beginnings of Jewish Students organization, 1500 members, purpose to aid Jewish students, many growing demoralized, in poverty, indifference, underwritten by Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). Respondent begins discussion of displaced persons camps: gives vivid description of living arrangements: not pleasant; questions students about future: many want to train for Haganah to become eligible to go to Palestine: fear anti-Semitism in their own country. Respondent mentions people in Italy more alive and ambitious; explains involvement of International Refugees Organization (IRO): since Jews will not move to Southern Italy, IRO will refuse to recognize illegal entries; notes services in medical center: all doctors well organized, capable; clean, well-stocked dispensary, separate clinic for ambulatory patients, complete medical examinations given to all. Respondent gives details of discussion with Italian Jewess employed by JDC: feels too little is being done, becomes complacent after three years of promises, no future has been provided. Respondent describes arrival in Milan, Italy, notes work of IRO insufficient: will not treat patients with chronic illnesses; discusses displaced persons camp, excellent care received in hospital, doctors paid by JDC, many outstanding in their devotion to duty. Respondent notes preparation for celebration of Israel Independence day in Rome, center of great movement to Palestine; gives vivid description of events to take place, people involved: some from Haganah (Jewish military organization during British mandate of Palestine from 1920-1948; foundation for Israel Defense Force, IDF) and Hachshara (movement to bring young people from Europe to work on kibbutzim.) Respondent describes Jewish people in Rome: highly educated and acculturated; notes displaced persons enthusiastic about going to Palestine, place where they will never have to apologize for their religion, can proudly announce “I am a Jew.” Respondent comments on his positive feelings as physician in regards to Palestine.
[T2S3] (90 minute tape) Respondent continues reading from diary; discusses JDC in Italy, medical institutions: provides description; gives lengthy discussion on sights, restaurants in Italy, recounts last days spent in Rome. Respondent notes departure to Naples, Italy, then Capri: outstanding resort; fear of Communism spreading throughout Europe; returns to Rome then Vienna, discusses displaced persons problems; gives various places JDC supports. Respondent gives impressions of Rothschild Hospital in Vienna: will be used by displaced persons, every effort made to provide excellent care; discusses community needs, his dislike for Austria. Respondent notes next stop on itinerary: Prague, Czechoslovakia; describes drive to Theresienstadt concentration camp: horrendous, political camp of Nazis, projected as model concentration camp. Respondent gives details of Jewish Museum in Prague: only one of its kind in the world, unique origin, all significant remnants of Orthodox Jewry in collection, also contains ancient symbols of Jewish life; located in Old Ghetto, describes cemetery: bodies laid one on top of the other, some side by side without space between, many stones beneath the surface, 40,000 graves in area. Respondent comments on visit to Alte Neu (Old New) synagogue in Prague, gives vivid description; visits JDC sights including kosher kitchen, all within city.
[T2S4] (90 minute tape) Respondent continues to discuss Prague: people hospitable, great fear for future, security tight, gives description of political situation, fear of war and tactics similar to Nazis, see no hope of averting world conflict. Respondent recounts visit to Frankfurt, Germany; meets with JDC director, describes visit to JDC camp: 2600 people in good health, many work, younger people learning trades through ORT, comments on IRO regarding medical system, many inadequacies, lack of equipment, supplies. Respondent continues with trip, arrives in Munich, Germany; meets JDC director, 4000 people in displaced persons camp, gives positive comments on hospital; provides description of town where Albert Einstein was born; notes all Jews ousted in 1937-38; visits Dachau Concentration Camp, gives vivid description, discusses life in Germany: anti-Semitism growing to high level, many older Jews reluctant to go to Palestine, news from there discouraging, concerned that more hardship would be difficult. Respondent explains Germany in state of demoralization, notes much of what exists due to relief organizations and military government, provides details; expresses feelings about leaving Germany: very unpleasant experience, gives explanation; returns to discussion of Dachau: 250,000 Jews cremated there, residents deny knowledge of existence of these practices, yet smoke visible for miles around camp, human ashes used for fertilizer. Respondent provides extensive information on political situation in Germany.
[T3S5] (90 minutes) Respondent expresses warm feelings about Paris on his return, elaborates on attending social functions; takes train to London, comments on situation there: long lines, many things limited, no bread served with meals, limited to 3 courses, streets at night deserted, continues with description of Shipley and Yorkshire. (brief tape)
Antisemitism; Concentration camps; Refugees; Hachshara; Haganah (Organization); Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945); International Refugee Organization; American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; Palestine; World War, 1939-1945
Length (hours)
Berger, Betty
Collateral Materials
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