Abe Mazliach (right) with son Steven in front of a former Displaced Persons camp in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.
Abe Mazliach (right) with son Steven in front of a former Displaced Persons camp in Bad Reichenhall, Germany.

Fremont man visits his birthplace: a DP camp in Germany

About five years ago, with the help of his son, Steven, Abe Mazliach started a Facebook group for people like him. Mazliach, 76, of Fremont, was born in a displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany, shortly after the Holocaust.

The Facebook group members mostly use it to share photos, stories and memories from their time in the DP camp — originally a summer camp for Hitler Youth — that from 1945 until it closed in 1953 served as home to thousands of European Jews displaced by the Holocaust. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Feldafing was one of many such Allied-run camps scattered across Germany, Austria and Italy in which “European Jewish life was reborn” after the devastation of the Shoah.

Over the years, the Facebook group has grown and today has 350 members. Last month, Mazliach and his son traveled with 20 of them back to Feldafing.

They stayed at a hotel that had been converted from the city hospital, where Mazliach and four other participants were born. “Lots of babies were born during that period,” Mazliach said. “We believe babies were born in what is the dining room today.”

Despite the circumstances that brought everyone to the DP camp, in many of the photos shared in the Facebook group “the families look so healthy and happy, it’s hard to believe they came out of hell,” Mazliach said.

Returning to the area, he could guess why: “When I saw the snow-covered Alps and the lake, I joked that I saw why they recovered so quickly. It’s such a beautiful area. I toasted our parents for bringing us to the world.”

Among the 7,000 people who passed through the camp were Mazliach’s parents, who met there — Leon Mazliach, originally from Thessaloniki (aka Salonica), Greece, and Lola Fuks, originally from Szydlowiec, Poland.

Mazliach said the American officer who liberated his father in April 1945 from a train full of prisoners told an emaciated Leon: “May you not think of what you have suffered. Think of life!”

“And that’s what he did,” Mazliach said. “He met a Polish girl in the Feldafing camp. He was Greek and didn’t speak Polish or Yiddish. My mother didn’t speak Greek or Ladino, I have no idea how they communicated. But they got married.”

Mazliach was born in 1946, and because it took time for his family to get visas to come to the U.S., he spent the first five years of his life in Feldafing.

While the horrors that were committed on our continent cannot be undone, we pledge to keep working to preserve the memory of the Holocaust.

Though he doesn’t remember much of that time, from looking at photos and talking to his parents, “I’ve always felt that the DP camp period was a positive period.”

Steven Mazliach, 26, of San Francisco, said he appreciated seeing a place that was formative in his family history.

He also observed that even though the former DPs were children when they lived in the camp, during the visit they “still had that sense of having a connection to this place, and feeling emotional and excited about being there.”

Some in the Facebook group had expressed interest in visiting Feldafing two years ago, on what would have been the 75th anniversary of the camp’s establishment. But the trip was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.

Mazliach visited the area with a friend in the 1980s, but “we didn’t even know how to find the former camp,” he said. “So we never really saw it.”

This time, Mazliach worked with married historians Marita Krauss and Erich Kasberger — commissioned by the city of Feldafing to write a book about the place during and after the Nazi period — and a local resident, Claudia Sack, who helped plan the trip.

Even though Mazliach’s wife, Miriam, couldn’t make the trip, the group also visited nearby Bad Reichenhall, the site of a camp where her parents had lived.

In both Feldafing and Bad Reichenhall, the group was met by the mayor, the visit was covered by local media, and a reception was held at the city hall.

Mazliach said he was moved by Mayor Bernard Sontheim’s speech in Feldafing, in which he stated, “We know that this chapter leaves a permanent stain on the history of Germany. While the horrors that were committed on our continent cannot be undone, we pledge to keep working to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and to fight all attempts to deny, mystify or distort the historical facts. This is one of the reasons why this meeting is important.”

Mazliach said the trip gave him a sense of closure, and the bond he feels with his fellow participants “are like we’re family.” Together they visited the Jewish cemetery where DPs who died in Feldafing, including babies, were buried. The group is talking about how they can contribute to the cemetery’s upkeep.

Going into the trip, Mazliach sensed a lot of anger from one of the participants, he said. He wondered how this person would react to what he saw.

“Even that person was falling all over himself about how much he appreciated the authenticity and caring of the German people,” he said. “They know the camp is part of their history, and it’s their duty to preserve it.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."