Eva Fogelman psychologist and author of "Conscience and Courage" Joseph Berger follows in the tradition of Frank McCourt in being a master storyteller. He recounts a story that is both tragic and uplifting. His journalistic eye for detail will make the reader cry, laugh, and never forget his family's saga. For readers, Berger's account will resonate, no matter how they feel displaced. At last we have a second generation voice of Holocaust refugees that defies stereotypes.
Joseph Berger was born in Russia but went to the US in 1949 when he was just 5. He has also reported on religion and education for the New York Times and served as its bureau chief in White Plains. The author of The Young Scientists, Berger lives in Larchmont, New York with his wife and daughter.
sensitive, poignant memoir about Holocaust/American roots2002/8/12
Bruce J. Wasser
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." It is this unspoken loving tension between Joseph and his mother, Rachel, that gives "Persons" its dynamism. Alternating between two narratives, one his own and the other the gripping account of his mother's survival, Berger deftly intermingles past and present. Aware of his distinct heritage, the young Berger recognizes others in his impoverished Manhattan neighborhood who share his background. "We knew one another, knew in our young bellies that our parents were the same dazed and damaged lot, had the same refugee awkwardness, the same whiff about them of marrow bones and carp." Now attempting to wrest coherence in America, Holocaust survivors tend to frustrate Berger with their problem solving techniques. Berger prefers the American way of standing up directly; survivors "were always scraping by on a willingness to do what was necessary to survive, even if that meant surrendering pride or principle." Raw emotion floods "Displaced Persons." Rachel's symbolic mourning of a dead child in Warsaw at the onset of World War II serves to remind us that she has no "mental picture" of the actual murder of her family. Unspoken grief undulates throughout the memoir. Berger's stoic father Marcus scarcely articulates his unfathomable sense of loss; nearly half a century passes before he can utter the names of his sisters. Guilt ebbs and flows in Rachel's description of her survival. Anguished over refusing to bring non-kosher food to her hungry brother during World War II, she has never forgiven heself, calling it "the worst thing I ever did in my life." Yet life surges and humor emerges in Berger's descriptions of growing up in New York City in the 1950s and 60s. With both parents working at dreary, tiring jobs, the author experiences a freedom of movement he admits he would never conceive of allowing his own daughter today. His descriptions of his initial exploration of Manhattan reveal the sheer joy of discovery, the incredible exuberance of youthful hopes and the awesome sense of possibilities Berger recognizes in his new home. Berger's frantic disposal of an illicit girlie magazine carries universal appeal; he becomes an American everyboy. His struggles with self-confidence, academic competition and sexual frustrations are those of not only his generation, but of those before and after. Written with conviction and compassion, "Displaced Persons" is that kind of memoir that not only describes, but instructs. Through the author's descriptions of his resolute, stubborn and proud mother, survivors attain an identity beyond that of suffering and loss. His own life's story shapes our understanding of the purpose of our national experience and the sacredness of an American identity. Treating both the Holocuast in its past brutality and its implications for the second-generation children of survivors, the memoir blends sorrow and joy, heartache and hope, pain and redemption.
Displaced Persons: "From the Particular to the Universal"2001/7/30
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!
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.
One of the best books I have ever read on the subject2001/11/6
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.
Displaced Persons: Growing Up American After the Holocaust: Purchased at Amazon.com2013/4/22
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.