David P. Boder Interviews Isaac Wolf; September 1, 1946; Tradate, Italy



Conditions for Holocaust survivors in DP camps after the war often seemed little better than enslavement by the Germans. Isaac Wolf, who managed to elude the Germans, doubtless articulates the feelings of many of his fellow DPs who were not so fortunate. In the immediate aftermath of events, it was easy for them to forget that the rest of Europe was bleeding, too.

Wolf, twenty-three years old at war's start and a Zionist in L’viv (he calls it by its German name, Lemberg), was drafted into the Polish army and slightly wounded in fighting with the Germans in 1939. The Russians were awarded his hometown a short time later and taught him to be a railroad mechanic; Isaac fled with them when the Germans attacked in 1941. After a close call or two, he managed to reach safety and avenged his fellow Jews by volunteering to fight in the Red Army. By 1945 he was a decorated veteran of numerous battles, including Stalingrad and the liberation of his hometown, Lemberg.

Isaac sensed that there was no future for him in Poland—he had lost everyone in the Holocaust—and decided to travel west on his way to Palestine. He spent almost a year after the end of hostilities in various DP camps in southern Austria, the British zone of occupation, and he leaves no doubt about his impression that the English were much less sympathetic to the Jews than were the Americans. His interview documents the impatience of the would-be emigrants with restrictions on their activities. It also highlights tensions with the Austrians, whom the refugees found hard to distinguish from Germans, and with Ukrainians, who were suspected of crimes against the Jews. Crossing illegally into the American occupation zone and then making their way to Italy, Isaac and a band of followers (including his pregnant wife) found no satisfactory refuge until they reached the camp at Castle Tradate, between Milan and Como, where members of several kibbutzim enjoyed self-government under the general sponsorship of the UNRRA. As a member of the camp's elected governing committee, Wolf was well situated to comment on the situation there. His position gave him, his wife, and their new baby the luxury of a single private room. One can imagine life there for the average displaced person.

From FRESH WOUNDS: EARLY NARRATIVES OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVAL by Donald L. Niewyk. Copyright (c) 1998 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu