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Purim Plays in Post-Holocaust Displaced Persons Camps

Tue, December 19, 3:15 to 4:45pm PST (3:15 to 4:45pm PST), San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Lower B2 (11) Salon 11 (AV)


After the Holocaust, Jews in Displaced Persons (DP) camps sought to find ways in which to reestablish and maintain Jewish cultures and identities, including through religious observances. This was a time and place of rebirth and rebuilding. Both Hanukkah and Purim held particular symbolic value in DP life. My paper will look at the Purim play, or PURIMSHPIL, in DP Camps and the ways in which they represent the interface of memory, trauma, performance, and satire. PURIMSHPIL became a venue for Jews to satirize oppressors and perpetrators from ancient to modern times. In this context, Haman, and his modern incarnations, became a timeless enemy who manifests throughout Jewish history. Moreover, these Purim plays were revenge fantasies against Hitler and other Nazi perpetrators. Photographs documenting PURIMSHPIL include images of Hitler hanging from the gallows, Hitler and Goebbels begging in the streets, and Hitler burning in effigy. One photograph in particular, from the Landsberg DP camp, depicts a Jewish DP dressed up as Hitler as he is “captured” by DP police, while being flanked by a child dressed in a striped concentration camp uniform. These performances and images raise important questions about memory, trauma, responses to trauma and genocide, performance, and satire that are shaped and schematized by an ancient past. In addition to addressing these issues, my paper will analyze the text of Samson Först’s satire, DER GRAGER (1947). In doing so, my paper will focus on life in DP camps, theories of trauma and memory, the ‘myth of silence’ in response to trauma, and PURIMSHPIL in DP camps.