It was news when the Sher family became one of the first survivor families to settle in New Orleans. Click here to view the text of the Times Picayune article of March 15, 1949. The Shers had languished in Displaced Persons camps in Germany since 1945. Immigration restrictions made it difficult to settle in the United States until President Harry Truman and Congress reversed national policy. New Orleans was one of several officially designated ports of entry for survivors. Between 1949 and 1952, 36 ships arrived in New Orleans carrying over 6,000 Jewish DP's. The new immigrants were met at the gangplank by members of the Port and Dock Committee of the Service to the Foreigh Born program. This program was sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women. The immediate needs of the travellers were addressed and there were provisions for long term socialization. Most survivors went on to other destinations. Approximately 50 families remained in New Orleans and made it their permanent home.
Text of article from The Times-Picayune newspaper, Tuesday, March 15, 1949, page 10 (photo captions follow the article):
Can't Believe Dream Is True, Says Family Settling Here
Tearful Couple from Poland Have Home Waiting
By Podine Schoenberger
A Displaced Persons couple from Poland stood in the center of a New Orleans apartment here Monday and stared around them, unbelieving.
At last they had a home of their own-a place where they could live like human beings, unhounded and with a sense of human dignity.
It was what they had dreamed of through long years in a Nazi concentration camp; through later years in a DP camp. It was a dream they had taken out in the middle of the night and dusted off, hoping that somehow it would make them forget the horror of seeing parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers herded off to be burned alive.
And tears crept into the eyes of Mr. And Mrs. Josef Sher as they stood in the small apartment at 2417 1/2 Milan and tried to thank their cousin Leopold Stahl, for making all of this possible. In her arms Mrs. Sher held her 1 month old son Mordecai, who was born in a DP camp and who still clutched an American flag in his hands.
"It is for him particularly that I am happy," said the sweet faced young mother. "That he should grow up in this great land which is America, grow up to be free that is what I thought of as our ship pulled in and I saw welcoming me from the shore your little Statue of Liberty."
On the voyage over, the mother recalled, the baby contracted measles and she and her husband were seized with a new fear. Suppose something happened to him just as real happiness lay within their grasp?
Even when the ship's doctor reassured them, the Polish couple fretted. Suppose they weren't permitted to go ashore because of the measles? Suppose they baby was placed in quarantine?
They smiled at their worries as they walked around inspecting their apartment; feeling happily the softness of the mattress, sniffing hungrily at the odors of food being cooked the kitchen.
All morning, Mrs. Sher's 72 year old aunt, Mrs. Freda Stahl, had been busy preparing dinner for them soup, chicken, a festive dish in Poland; fruit, vegetables and a holiday cake, called Hamantashan.
Sher, a tailor in Czestachowa, Poland, before Hitler and his troops arrived, said all he needs to make his happiness complete is a job. "I want to get a job, forget the past, support my wife and child," he said simply. "To have privacy, not to be ordered about, not to have to stand in linethat is all I ask of life."
Sher said when Hitler invaded Poland, he was only 20 years old. His wife is three years younger than he.
"It has been so long, so very long since I've known the meaning of a real home. First I was sent to the Ukraine to dig ditched, something I would like to forget. Then, after nine months, the money of a fried bought me my freedom and I returned quickly to my home town to marry the girl I loved. But happiness was not for me.
They had been married only a short while, he recalled, when all the Jews of the town were herded into the market place. The young were separated from the old, and the old were lead off to crematories.
His mother was one of these and when his young sisters refused to leave her side they suffered a similar face. Members of his wife's family also were murdered.
"My grandmother," said Sher, " was 105 years old here let me show you her picture. As she was being led away, she turned to a Nazi officer and said to him " I have lived so long, will you not permit me sir to finish my life in peace?"
"But the Nazi only laughed. He said to my grandmother, You old goat! So you want to live, he?' And with that he tood out his gun and shot her."
Sher said he was herded off to cone concentration camp, his young bride to another. That, to his, was the greatest suffering o all, he said, adding:
"Not to know if she was living or dead. Every time someone new arrived in my camp, I would say to him, Have you seen my wife perhaps?' and in her camp, she was asking the same question. For a whole year this went on and a comparison, the beatings, the hunger, the constant fight to keep lice from my body were as noting."
Then one day, Sher recalled a neighbor told him he had seen his wife. At first he couldn't believe it. Then, like a miracle he discovered she had been sent to the same concentration camp.
"After that it was as nothing to receive 50 lashes from the whip for stealing a potato. That potato kept my wife Rachel alive. After that I did not mind so much clawing into the ground like an animal to dip up the scraps the Nazi soldiers had discarded. There was still hope left in the world."
Sher said he and his wife remained in the concentration camp until the was ended. Then they were sent to a DP camp. And although he added, "it was like heaven by comparison it was still not home."
"That is why I laughed when one of the agency representatives at the docks asked me if I was not weary. Oh I admit it was a bit tiresome, waiting in line to go ashore, answering your number when it was called, seeking out your baggage. But when it is answering numbers and waiting in line for the last time, one forgets to be weary."
The little tailor smiled. Then he added, seriously:
"I must also tell you this, lots of people were left behind a the DP camp in Germany. It was because they had no families over here, no one to vouch for them. They wept bitterly when we departed. Some of them even fell to their knees, kissed my hand, begged me to do all in my power to mike it possible for them to come to America. They are so alone, these poor people! Poland does not want them back. Germany has no place for them. They looked upon my wife and I as though we had inherited $1,000,000.
"Right now I feel better than a millionaire."
PHOTO CAPTIONS (left to right):
GAZING THROUGH PORTHOLE of the transport General Sturgis as it pulls up to the wharf, Mr. And Mrs. Josef Sher and their 10 month old son, Mordecai, see a new left ahead of them.
TORTURES, SEPARATIONS, heartbreaks are behind them as the young Polish couple walk down the gangplank onto American soil for the first time.
WELCOME- Leopold Stahl, New Orleans, kisses his cousin, Mrs. Sher. Behind them are Mrs. Stahl and Sher. Son munches on a cookie.
A HOME AT LAST awaits them at 2417 1/2 Milan after years of living in concentration and displaced persons' camps. Mrs. Freda Stahl, Mrs. Sher's aunt, holds door open.
THEY HAD ALMOST FORGOTTEN what real comfort was like. Here, Sher feeds Mordecai while Mrs. Freda Stahl offers Mrs. Sher some food. Mrs. Stahl had cooked a special dinner for them and they loved it.