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Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust Hardcover – April 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Proustian fashion, this memoir begins with a flood of memories triggered by a seeded roll, a staple of Manhattan bakeries that was an early childhood treat for the author, who, along with his parents and brother, was a Polish-Jewish refugee living on New York's Upper West Side in the 1940s. From the smell and taste of fresh-baked bread, Berger, deputy education editor at the New York Times and author of The Young Scientists, tumbles headfirst into a tale about survival in a new country that was dangerous and mysterious as much as it was a haven of safety. Written in simple, elegant prose, the book largely focuses on Berger's parents' lives (particularly before the war). His father, whose Yiddish gave the family vital access to the city's Jewish community even though the author viewed it as "the mark of a conversational cripple," is a quiet man who could be moved to violence when necessary to protect his family. His mother conveys to her children the complex tapestry of their European heritage. Both come alive in this vivid narrative, softened by a reflective somberness that is only occasionally tinged by nostalgia. Berger frequently interrupts his own story with shorter anecdotes in the voices of his parents, who tell stories about their families and their childhoods that both enhance and illuminate the primary story. By conjuring a complexly interwoven familial history that takes the reader across the boundaries of time, Berger lays the foundation for his thoughts about the larger immigrant experience. Agent, Joel Fishman.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In this gripping and beautifully written memoir, New York Times reporter Berger tells the story of his family, Polish Jews and Holocaust survivors, who migrated to New York City in 1950. Having been born in Russia in 1944 and arriving in the United States at the impressionable age of five, Berger recounts with humor and pathos the tale of his own coming of age, with his parents' reminiscences as backdrop. The story of such refugees, about 140,000 of whom came to the United States between 1947 and 1953, remains a little-known aspect of Holocaust history. Berger's account is painful at times, as he recalls his own struggle to belong as both he and his parents fought to "shoehorn" their way into American life in the 1950s and early 1960s. His childhood remembrances of simple pleasures like Sunday visits to the bakery, the pleasure of new school supplies housed in cigar boxes, and the proud excitement of the arrival of the neighborhood's first TV set will bring smiles to the faces of general readers. Most touching is the celebration of family, community, and continuity so prized by these survivors. Highly recommended.
- Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068485757X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684857572
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on August 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
New York Times journalist Joseph Berger has created a masterful, evocative and moving account of the ever-present duality of his life: his identity as an acculturated American child of Holocaust survivors. This duality gives his account of his mother's life and his own evolution from a bewildered refugee child into an accomplished American a poignancy and power. "Displaced Persons" will stand as an important contribution, not only to our understanding of the long-term implications of being a survivor of the Holocaust, but of the unique burdens, pressures and responsibilities children of survivors inherit from their parents.
Berger is acutely aware of "the unmentioned sorrow that was the subtext to everything [his] parents said or did." Haunted by memories, devastated by enormous loss, handicapped by their arrival in America in their twenties and driven to provide security for their families, Holocaust survivors often perceive their children as replacements of beloved family members who perished and as repositories of hopes and dreams denied them. Worried about their children's safety, happiness and future, Berger muses about his parents' perspective, "What could I say about the dread and suspicion with which they encountered a world that had proven maliciously fickle?"
As the author emerges from childhood, he begins to chafe from his mother's protective, controlling instincts and desires to assert himself as his own man. Berger's wrenching analysis of his status becomes the overarching theme of his memoir. "I saw myself now an an American...I would no more be the timid refugee boy with one leg planted in the fearful shtetls of Poland, with a mother ever vigilant that no more perils come to the remnants of her kin.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Penny on July 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book resonates on many levels. It is a compelling and vivid narrative detailing the acculturation of Holocaust survivors in New York City, specifically, during the immediate post-war period. But this is no dry text. You feel the bewilderment of these brave souls as they desperately try to make a home for themselves in their newly adopted country while, at the same time, deal with the perpetual anguish of searing, catastrophic loss of family, country, and hope (or faith, or optimism). This is all presented through the lens of the author's memory in a series of poignant vignettes, capturing just the right detail to press itself into your heart, time and time again. From the particulars of these experiences, it deepened my understanding for what my own mother went through when she immigrated -- she is considered a Holocaust survivor because she experienced Kristallnacht in Vienna, but she was fortunate enough to have come to America pre-war -- and strengthened my compassion, empathy, sense of kinship and profound respect for all survivors of catastrophe due to war, or abuse, or illness, etc., who have nonetheless managed to make reasonable and productive lives for themselves. So...get the book and treasure it!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
i loved this book. i felt as though i was right there with him and his family through every phase of their lives. this book had everything going for it, sadness, chaos, happiness, tragedy. it was so personal and you just felt as though the author let you in to share with him.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
My father's story parallels Joseph Berger's in eerie ways...they were both at the Schlactensee DP Camp and the Landsberg-Am-Lech DP camp...Berger's mother's story of her youth could be my grandmother's, from an unpleasant step-mother to the flight East to Russia. My father was born during my grandparents' refuge in the USSR, and crossed illegally with his family into Poland after the war ended. I have always been close to my grandparents, but this book brought clarity and insight into topics they don't generally discuss...the duality that immigrant survivors (the displaced persons) felt between their new lives in America and the tragedy and loss left in Europe. When I look at my grandparents' happy faces at family occasions---graduations, weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties---I wonder if the events make them remember times similar back in Lithuania. Berger's story, beautifully written and researched, is a must-read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By dep on April 21, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Displaced Persons is the story of growing up in the United States, both Joseph's parents are survivors of the Holocaust. Joseph, his little brother, and parents came to the United States in March 1950. They had one relative in the area, unbeknowst to them he had died. Eventually both parents found jobs, Joseph's father working in a factory, his mother making hats. Both the boys were enrolled in school, thus began life as immigrants in another country. I thought this was a wonderful book, it really described so many of the feelings of an immigrant. Shame, about not fitting in, shame in how Joseph looked at his parents. I was pleased that the book included some history about Joseph's mother growing up in Poland before the war. There was very little information about his father's past, I think his father just couldn't articulate something with so much pain. His father, also from Poland, lost both parents, and six sisters. Joseph had one uncle left on his mother's side of the family. There was also a lot of happiness in this book, the over all feeling was very positive which is why I gave it five stars.
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