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Papa Would Have Been Proud: The Bittersweet Post-Holocaust Weddings

Michal E.

They were the simplest of affairs. Family members were notably absent; elaborate dinners were but a memory. Bridal dresses were homemade; friends were the makeshift interfierers. Simultaneous emotions of happiness and mourning ran high. These were the postwar weddings, the bittersweet marriages of thousands of Jews who had experienced the horrors of the Holocaust. They were memorable; they were the unions that ensured the perpetuation of a treasured heritage. They were the cry of “Nachamu Ami."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the years immediately following World War II’s devastation, the world saw a wave of “survivor” marriages of unusual proportions. On the one hand, this trend was not terribly surprising: the survivor population consisted mostly of young people without families, between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five. On the other hand, when one considers the horrors that these scarred souls had just endured, the abnormally high marriage rate becomes astounding.

Data from the Bergen-Belsen DP camp — the largest and most widely known displaced persons camp for Jewish survivors — reveals that during 1946, 1,070 marriages took place in this camp alone; the first year following liberation saw six to seven weddings a day, and sometimes even fifty in one week.

Even outside of the DP camps, in such cities as Paris, Berlin, and Bratislava, where hundreds of survivors resided as they awaited immigration papers, nightly weddings — and even “double” weddings — were commonplace.

What were the underlying factors behind this surge of marriages? From where did survivors draw the strength to move on? Without parents, how did young men and women arrange their marriages? And finally, what did these dramatic wedding look like?

Family First had the privilege of speaking with several of these extraordinary postwar brides. Now grandmothers and great-grandmothers many times over, they shared the intense emotions that characterized this defining period in their lives.


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