Ghita Schwarz: Displaced Persons

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Ghita Schwarz Displaced Persons
  • Название:
    Displaced Persons
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    Современная проза / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Displaced Persons: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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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 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.

Ghita Schwarz: другие книги автора


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She shuffled to the sofa to peer at Chaim, sleeping with his mouth open, covered with a coat. With his eyes closed he looked helpless, pale, not a trace of the sophistication and cunning he had displayed when they had met, finding her in a corner of the market at the provincial center, a city neither of them knew well, a small distance from her hometown, only a day after she had seen her family’s house for herself. She had been in the first trains from Siberia for the repatriated Poles, and she had expected-but she did not remember what she had expected. Now that she had seen the reality-once-familiar neighbors looking at her with curiosity, even hostility, a man she did not know installed in her father’s dry goods shop-she could not remember what she had thought she would recognize.

But Chaim had recognized her. He had known-from what? from her fear?-that she was a Jew, even as he, in his Polish army uniform, tapping her on the shoulder, had fooled her.

“Buongiorno,” he had said. “Buongiorno, signorina.”

She had felt something cold etching down her chest. It wasn’t any language she had known. She was silent.

He switched to Polish. You look like you want to go to Italy.

Why do you say that? she managed. I have no desire to cross any borders. I am here looking for-

Or perhaps you are Greek.

Greek? No, no.

Are you sure? His eyes were sharp blue but friendly, and for a moment he looked almost childlike. I know a Greek song. That is why I ask. He began to sing: One, one, who knows one? One, one. I know one.

His voice was soft but clear. Against the music of the buying and the selling of eggs and milk, no one else could hear, but she could: Hebrew. A little Passover song.

He went on. Two, two, who knows two? Two, two. I know two.

She opened her lips. That is not Greek, she murmured in Polish.

No? The young man had smiled. How strange, he said. Because I have a Greek passport. He took it out of his pocket and showed it to her. You see? Greek.

A passport could get her into the western zones, where the British and American soldiers would protect them from the locals. A woman alone was not safe in the Russian zone, with the Red Army soldiers going after any woman they saw. Accompanied by a boy in a uniform, she was perhaps more protected. I have a ring, she said. As she said it, she touched the small blue stone in its tight setting. The one possession she had kept, but to give it up now seemed easy.

Ah, no, said the boy-she could see, suddenly, that he was a boy, no more than thirteen or fourteen, disguised in his uniform-no. Keep it until we board the truck. That ring can pay for both of us.

Was it generosity that he did not take it from her? He could have taken the ring and abandoned her to cross into Germany alone, but he had not. They rode with several others, Romanians, four men and a woman, whose dark clothes and mouths emitted a muddy odor. They murmured small greetings in Yiddish, nothing more. If they were to communicate it was to be in Hebrew, which sounded like Greek, the boy said. Fela knew very little Hebrew. Only the boys had religious lessons in her family, modern though her father had tried to be. Chaim-he had given only his first name-had some difficulty himself. His hometown was not so far from her own, Mlawa, but if he had had a religious education at all, it must have stopped with the war. But he had the phrases, could rearrange words from prayers to make a sentence. He could make a sentence in any language, he said, with a seriousness that made her decide not to call him a braggart, not to joke with him. Even sitting in the back of the truck he was careful and alert. He stretched and brushed the dust off his uniform every hour until they crossed into the British zone in Germany. She grew fond of him on their journey, as she would a brother with whom she had lived all her life but only just now started to know.


YES, SHE WOULD WAIT to bathe until Chaim awoke to keep watch. She moved into the kitchen. The widow had kept the sink clean, but dust from the bombings had gathered on all the shelves, a thick layer of white and gray. She would have to clean the house from top to bottom. There was little furniture-two beds, one sofa, one chest of drawers-and only a bit of crockery. Yet the rooms were wide and the wallpaper in good condition. Perhaps the possessions had been sold.

Chaim came in as the coffee boiled, dressed in a shirt left for him by Pavel and the pair of trousers he had worn to sleep, his feet in a pair of torn socks.

He sat in a chair as she put a plate before him. Has he gone for more food?

She nodded. The coffee burned her tongue a little. She put the cup down again and blew at the steam. Chaim had a slow way of speaking, rolling his words around his tongue. He spoke slowly, but he ate fast. In the smugglers’ truck he had murmured words to himself, Polish and German and Russian, talking himself to sleep. Meat, soup, spoon, fork, knife. Once she had looked at him directly as he moved his lips, and he had seen her, but he had not stopped. Milk. Chicken. Chocolate. Porridge. Potato. Still a child.

Careful with the bread, Fela said. You lose crumbs when you rush.

Her own place at the table was clean, and she smoothed out the paper she had found in the widow’s drawer and looked down at her letter. Bluma, it said. Dearest Bluma.

What do you write there? His mouth was full with bread and coffee.

I write to my sister. I know she-I think she-but the others. Fela looked at the neat Polish letters on the page. I am alive.

That was all she had written. She wanted to think out her words before she scratched them onto a valuable scrap of paper. Chaim was looking at her. She is in Palestine, Fela added. That’s why I know she-I believe she-of course maybe she has heard something-her address I always remember. I remembered it everywhere.

So write to her, said Chaim. Don’t let me disturb you.

If you don’t want to disturb me, eat.

I have heard nothing. Who else has written to you?

Are you reading my letter?

No, no.

You look like you are reading it.

She got up to pour him more coffee. Pavel said he would try to find sugar from someone. Do you know where he will get it?

I can guess, said Chaim. He leaves this area, that’s certain. Did you see at the end of the street? There’s a row of rubble, then half a house, just open, no roof, no upper floor. Yet in our row of houses it looks as if nothing has happened.

Fela pushed her letter to the side of the table. I don’t want anything to stain it.

What do you tell her?

Nothing. I tell her nothing. There is nothing to tell her. Just like you. Nothing to tell.

Chaim got up from his plate. I told Pavel my name last night. Traum. We don’t have to be brother and sister now.

All right, said Fela.

I’m going to wash, he said.

Fela shook her pen. Still a little ink. She wanted to write: Do you remember Sieresz, who bought leather on credit from Father every Christmas? I saw his brother. He asked me: For what did you come back? That to me was worse almost than-

But instead she would be brief. I lost Moshe, she wrote. I am alone.


IN JUNE PAVEL ORGANIZED a second bicycle. The German girl who sold it to him had tied a wooden crate onto a piece of metal above the back wheel. She used the crate as a basket to carry food back from the market. He could see on the girl’s face her regret at giving up the bicycle; but hunger was bigger than regret. So she would walk! He had the girl ride alongside him until half a kilometer away from the house. He gave her an extra tin of pork for her trouble, and in the look on her face he saw not just gratitude for the food, but relief. Yes, they were still a little afraid, these Germans who had lived near the large camp during the war. Now that the armies were here, ready to condemn and to hang, these Germans were afraid of the Jews.

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