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Flatiron Hot! News | October 18, 2017

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An Evening at the Center for Jewish History – The Plight of Jewish DPs 70 Years On

An Evening at the Center for Jewish History – The Plight of Jewish DPs 70 Years On
Tod Shapiro

Reported by the Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff

The Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street hosted an opening event on Monday for their new exhibition, “After the War:  Recovery, Relief, and Return, 1944-1949.”  In recognition of the anniversary of the close of World War II, it commemorates the plight of the Jewish refugees fleeing the horrendous Holocaust that had taken place.  The Center invited Professor Atina Grossmann from the faculty of Humanities and Social Science at Cooper Union, an expert on the subject of postwar Jewish events, to lecture on the history of the refugees – where they came from, the choices they faced, and where they ended up.  A riveting slide show with excellent graphs and stats on the refugee crisis of that era accompanied the talk.  There was much discussion of the displaced persons camps and the terrible conditions faced by the refugees, including their fight to stick together as a Jewish people, and not be lumped together with their former countrymen – many of whom were complicit in the terrible events of the Holocaust in their countries of origin.  The exhibit is located in the David Berg Rare Book Room, with original letters, posters, photographs and other historical artifacts laid out in informative fashion.  The lecture and slide show was preceded by and followed by a wine and cheese reception, with participants able to reflect on the passage of time and the current problems of refugees in Europe, and consider how and whether things have changed much in the intervening 70 years.  Afterwards, all took a reverent look at the artifacts in the new exhibit.

Yiddish Tin Pan Alley!

Yiddish Tin Pan Alley!

This reviewer was then drawn to another exhibit right across the hall that was very different in tone. The YIVO Institute has put together a notable exhibit on the role of Yiddish in the  famous “Tin Pan Alley,”  including some eye-opening visuals. The artwork associated with the sheet music made extensive use of what today would be  considered nasty ethnic stereotypes, with caricatures of ethnic groups and Jews in particular that are quite shocking to modern sensibilities.  Nevertheless, as the accompanying descriptive and historic information makes clear, the Jewish songwriters, singers and artists made extensive contributions, and in fact their tremendous efforts were in contradiction to the nasty tone of the printed materials.  The color, layout and presentation of the posters and displays is quite striking and the design sense is excellent and amusing, if one can for the moment overlook the ethnic stereotyping.  All in all, well worth a look, and a good change of pace after the refugees exhibit.

For those who may consider a quick stop by the Center, or who can’t make it in person, take a quick look at this Flatiorn Hot! News Video Clip and sampling from these two fascinating exhibits.