After the war a number of Holocaust survivors immigrated to the United States and ended up in New Orleans. They worked hard, raised their families, and called themselves the New Americans. They didn’t talk about the past, and nobody asked. How could people here understand anyway? But there were awkward moments when the children asked why everybody had grandparents and they didn’t. The Eichmann trial in 1961 brought all the memories flooding back.
Eichmann on trial
That same year George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party came to town on a “hate ride” (imitating the Freedom Riders). The New Americans were ready for a fight. They met at Ralph Rosenblatt’s butcher shop and planned a response. When Rockwell and twelve “storm troopers” staged a protest of the movie Exodus, playing at the Civic Theater in downtown New Orleans, the New Americans came walking down the street, armed with iron bars, baseball bats, and rage.
The police intervened and the neo-Nazis were carted off to jail. From this incident was formed the New Americans Social Club, an organization of mostly survivors from Poland. Shep Zitler, from Vilna, was the first president (a documentary on his life is in our series). The Club gave the survivors an opportunity to socialize (and argue) and the children of the survivors the sense of an extended family.
The survivors were enraged when yet another Holocaust denier appeared on the scene in 1989. David Duke, the neo-Nazi and former Klansman, was elected to the Louisiana legislature that year. Many survivors opened up about the past for the first time, and psychologically unburdened themselves. They were ready to talk, and the Southern Institute was ready to listen.
We produced a documentary series on their lives, Ten Stories of Holocaust Survivors in New Orleans. The survivors included one each from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and Romania. Seven lived in Poland, one surviving as a Jewish-Lithuanian POW. Two were in Auschwitz-Birkenau at the same time. One jumped from a “death train.” Another survived four years in the Lodz ghetto. Three were “hidden children,” including two sisters in the Warsaw ghetto. Two others survived “passing” as Polish Catholics. Eight of the ten received help from Christians, including one who was rescued by the famous Wallenberg in Budapest.
All of our survivors have Poland in common. This land was the setting of the Holocaust, and here their loved ones were murdered.