Displaced Persons
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Displaced Persons

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by Ghita Schwarz
     
 

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Moving from the Allied zones of postwar Germany to New York City, an astonishing novel of grief and anger, memory and survival witnessed through the experiences of "displaced persons" struggling to remake their lives in the decades after World War II

In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a

Overview

Moving from the Allied zones of postwar Germany to New York City, an astonishing novel of grief and anger, memory and survival witnessed through the experiences of "displaced persons" struggling to remake their lives in the decades after World War II

In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, lands near a displaced persons camp in the British occupation zone of newly defeated Germany. Alone, possessing nothing but a map, a few tins of food, a toothbrush, and his identity papers, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers.

Gifted with a talent for black-market trading, Pavel soon procures clothing, false documents, and a modest house, where he installs himself and a pair of fellow refugees—Fela, a young widow who fled Poland for Russia at the outset of the war, and Chaim, a resourceful teenage boy whose smuggling skills have brought him to the Western zones. The trio soon form a makeshift family, searching for surviving relatives, railing against their circumscribed existence, and dreaming of visas to America.

Fifteen years later, haunted by decisions they made as "DPs," Pavel and Fela are married and living in Queens with their young son and daughter, and Chaim has recently emigrated from Israel with his wife, Sima. Pavel opens a small tailoring shop with his scheming brother-in-law while Fela struggles to establish peace in a loosely traditional household; Chaim and Sima adapt cheerfully to American life and its promise of freedom from a brutal past. Their lives are no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape. Instead, they grapple with past trauma in everyday moments: taking the children to the municipal pool, shopping for liquor, arguing with landlords.

For decades, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim battle over memory and identity on the sly, within private groups of survivors. But as the Iron Curtain falls in the 1990s, American society starts to embrace the tragedy as a cultural commodity, and survivor politics go public. Clever and stubborn, tyrannical and generous, Pavel, Fela, and Chaim articulate the self-conscious strivings of an immigrant community determined to write its own history, on its own terms.

In Displaced Persons, Ghita Schwarz reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war—ordinary men and women who have lived through cataclysmic times—and illuminates changing cultural understandings of trauma and remembrance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A group of Polish Jews rebuilds their lives after the Holocaust in this moving debut. Recently liberated, Pavel Mandl befriends a woman, Fela, and the young teenage boy, Chaim, with whom she is traveling. When the three decide to live together as a temporary, makeshift family, the ties they create last a lifetime. Pavel and Fela marry, have children, and move to New York City where Pavel starts a tailoring business. Chaim also ends up in New York after a brief detour in Palestine where he finds a wife, Sima, who was his student in the DP camps when she was a child. For these "displaced persons" the past continues to creep into their new lives: a man walks into Pavel's shop to buy a new suit, the same man who performed his sister's marriage ceremony after the war: Chaim attends a concert where the soloist is a girl he knew in the DP camps. In her warm portrayal of the postwar highs and lows experienced by Pavel and his family, Schwarz aptly evokes the emotions of those who survived. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews

Deceptively simple in style, Schwarz's narrative discloses depths of tragedy, of suffering, and occasionally of hope.

This debutnovel covers the period from 1945 to 2000 and ranges geographically from the Polish-German border to New York City. In May of 1945 we meet several Holocaust survivors, including Pavel, who escaped from a camp three weeks before the liberation; Fela, a woman whose husband disappeared and who was presumably killed; and Chaim, a bright 14-year-old who serves as a teaching assistant at a postwar refugee camp. For the next 55 years we learn of the intertwined fates of these characters as well as of those who orbit them, including Fishl, who escaped along with Pavel; Hinda, Pavel's strong-willed sister; and Sima, a teacher at the refugee camp who married Chaim. In the beginning Schwarz takes us from the physical difficulties of survival to the logistical difficulties of getting out of postwar Germany. Most of the survivors want to emigrate either to Britain or to the United States, but this desire involves complicated issues of negotiation and influence. Pavel and Fela first meet when they're rooming in a widow's house, and they fall into an affair, complicated by their lack of certainty about what happened to Fela's husband. Pavel's sister wants to marry a Jewish man in a Jewish ceremony, but an American rabbi insists on documentation that has literally gone up in smoke. Despite such impediments, Pavel and Fela marry and move to the United States, where Pavel has a tailoring business in New York. The characters raise families, face difficult business decisions and have an occasional affair, but despite renewing their lives they remain haunted by their past. As the title suggests, they remain displaced and, if not homeless, at least estranged. In one of the final scenes Pavel becomes enraged when a well-meaning American Jew suggests Pavel get the tattoo removed from his arm, implying that he should be ashamed of his past.

Stark, unadorned fiction, well worth reading.

Vogue
“A deft rendering of the emotional architecture of an ad-hoc family of Holocaust survivors.”
The Brooklyn Paper
“An epic tale...”
Associated Press
“In this powerful debut novel, author Ghita Schwarz, a child of Holocaust survivors, hypnotically spins the tale of a Polish Jew Named Pavel who bravely rebuilds his shattered life in the aftermath of World War II.... Schwarz brilliantly gives us the long view of what postwar survival really meant.”
USA Today
“Schwarz ... captures perfectly, and with elegance, the highs and lows, the grief and anger, and the paranoia of these refugees. In a word, this is a ‘humane’ novel.”
Forward
“An exquisite rendering of the internal lives of survivors”
St Louis Jewish News
“A haunting and memorable debut. . . . Fascinating”
Associated Press Staff
“In this powerful debut novel, author Ghita Schwarz, a child of Holocaust survivors, hypnotically spins the tale of a Polish Jew Named Pavel who bravely rebuilds his shattered life in the aftermath of World War II.... Schwarz brilliantly gives us the long view of what postwar survival really meant.”
Colson Whitehead
“Ghita Schwarz makes her mark with this remarkable debut. Displaced Persons is a brave, brilliant, and haunting work of art.”
Anne Roiphe
“This is an amazing novel. The writing is piercing and clear, and the humanity of the author and her characters will inhabit my thoughts for years to come.”
Joshua Henkin
“Ghita Schwarz poignantly reminds us that history chases us even if we run from it and that memory ensnares us wherever we turn. Displaced Persons is a big, ambitious novel, yet what’s most striking is its humanity....[it] is a terrific novel.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061881909
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
08/10/2010
Pages:
340
Product dimensions:
9.50(w) x 11.30(h) x 1.17(d)

What People are saying about this

Colson Whitehead
“Ghita Schwarz makes her mark with this remarkable debut. Displaced Persons is a brave, brilliant, and haunting work of art.”
Anne Roiphe
“This is an amazing novel. The writing is piercing and clear, and the humanity of the author and her characters will inhabit my thoughts for years to come.”
Joshua Henkin
“Ghita Schwarz poignantly reminds us that history chases us even if we run from it and that memory ensnares us wherever we turn. Displaced Persons is a big, ambitious novel, yet what’s most striking is its humanity....[it] is a terrific novel.”

Meet the Author

Ghita Schwarz is a civil rights litigator specializing in immigrants' rights. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, The Believer, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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Displaced Persons 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
"Dis­placed Per­sons" by Ghita Schwartz is a fic­tional book which fol­lows a group of holo­caust sur­vivors from their lib­er­a­tion to the twi­light of their life. This is a mov­ing nar­ra­tive of peo­ple with no coun­try and no home. Cov­er­ing sev­eral decades, the book is divided into three sec­tions begin­ning in 1945. At the Bergen-Belsen refugee camp sev­eral peo­ple meet and become those that the book fol­lows. Pavel, Fela, Chaim, Berel, Dvora and their daugh­ter Sima all become "Dis­placed Per­sons" or DPs. 'Dis­placed Per­sons" by Ghita Schwartz is a post World War II sur­vival story. An evoca­tive novel which fol­lows holo­caust sur­vivors for decades after their lib­er­a­tion. The con­tent of the story is very inter­est­ing and thought pro­vok­ing. What I found most inter­est­ing is how, liv­ing through decades after being lib­er­ated, the world treats the sur­vivors dif­fer­ently. The per­spec­tive is not only that of the sur­vivors them­selves, but also of the soci­ety around them. That is the aspect of the book I liked the most, soci­ety has not treated the sur­vivors gen­er­ously as we might like to imag­ine. For many years they were seen as weak­lings, walk­ing to the gas cham­bers like sheep to the slaughter. Ms. Schwartz fol­lows the sur­vivors and gets into their mind­set, they have been through the worst mankind can throw at them and have per­se­vered. They don't com­plain, share or talk about the past; they sim­ply grunt and take the punches life throws at them qui­etly and with dignity. The char­ac­ters in the book are strong, resilient, com­plex and pro­found - even though there was no one I could iden­tify with. They are three dimen­sional, real and face hard­ships and strug­gles like the rest of us, only with a huge amount of baggage. At times, how­ever, I found myself get­ting dis­con­nected from the story. It might have been the writ­ing style, even though the book is well writ­ten, or the sticky and emo­tional sub­ject mat­ter. This is not a quick read, but a deep, some­times dis­turb­ing explo­ration of the long term impact and injuries the holo­caust created. The novel fol­lows their strug­gles and tri­als through­out their lives in Europe and even­tu­ally in the US.
Heart2Heart More than 1 year ago
In May 1945, Pavel Mandl, a Polish Jew recently liberated from a concentration camp, finds himself among similarly displaced persons gathered in the Allied occupation zones of a defeated Germany. Possessing little besides a map, a few tins of food, and a talent for black-market trading, he must scrape together a new life in a chaotic community of refugees, civilians, and soldiers. With fellow refugees Fela, a young widow, and Chaim, a resourceful teenager with impressive smuggling skills, Pavel establishes a makeshift family, as together they face an uncertain future. Eventually the trio immigrates to the United States, where they grapple with past traumas that arise again in the everyday moments of lives no longer dominated by the need to endure, fight, hide, or escape. Ghita Schwarz's Displaced Persons is an astonishing novel of grief, anger, and survival that examines the landscape of liberation and reveals the interior despairs and joys of immigrants shaped by war and trauma. My Review: I personally found this a difficult book to get through. The story at times repeats itself over and over and I found myself wondering if I was on the same page or was simply re-reading the passage over again. While the story content had me interested, it was simply the style of writing that did not appeal to me. There is a situation where Pavel and Fischl, his traveling companion from the concentration camp come upon a home where a widow is staying. While sleeping, it's not clear at some point in the story that they are having a flash back or the story is just skipping by to their time in the camp. All of a sudden they simply wake up and Fischl leaves. Pavel heads out to a refugee camp where he meets a woman, Fela who herself is a young widow and a boy by the name of Chaim who is apparently taken for stealing. Then next we read all three are headed back to the old widows home where he stayed previously and Chaim is with them. It doesn't state how he was released or how he managed to be traveling with them. Then they end up removing the old lady from her home, telling the local police that they own the home instead despite the kindness she showed him and Fischl earlier. For me there is simply a huge disconnect in the telling of the story. My other readers however might find the story one they can work through, but for me it didn't work. I would rate this book a 1.5 out of 5 stars. I received this book compliments of TLC Book Tours for my honest review and would recommend readers who are interested to give it a try, they may just see something I didn't.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago