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Rachel Deblinger, Author

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Kurt Maier: Displaced New Yorker

On September 13, 1947, Kurt Maier's story was told in detail in the New Yorker magazine in an article, "Displaced" by Daniel Lang. Lang 's interview with Maier is part of the story told in "Displaced": they met at Pier 86 just as Maier's ship, the Marine Perch docked and talked while Maier waited for his sister to pick him up. This framing supports the title "Displaced" and points towards Lang's intention to depict not only Maier's experiences under Nazism, but the state of displacement that many survivors found themselves in after the war. Next to advertisements for bicycles, dresses, and whiskey, the Holocaust story of Kurt Maier was crafted for American audiences in a way that made it relevant to ongoing immigration debates.

Displaced Persons (DPs)
The focus on Displaced Persons (DPs) is clear from the opening line of Lang’s article: “One of the oratorical flourishes that almost every politician uses when addressing a group of foreign-born citizens is to hail America as the haven of the oppressed. He tells of the coming of the Pilgrims.” In this way, Lang placed the DP into a long history of American pilgrims: “…in another year or so…the politician will be able to add a modern category, the DPs or displaced persons.” More about how DPs became Delayed Pilgrims >

The Camp Band at Auschwitz
The article explains in detail Maier's continual displacement under Nazism: first he was forced to flee Karlsbad when Germany regained the Sudetenland, then he was deported from Prague to Theresienstadt, and in 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz, then Sachsenhausen, then Ohrdruf, from which he was sent on a death march to Buchenwald. He was eventually liberated in April 1945. Throughout, Maier's place as a musician makes him stand out. In Auschwitz he was assigned to the camp band and Lang quoted Maier as saying, “The idea was for us to drown out their cries, but we never could.”

America as Symbol of Hope
In addition to a perpetual sense of displacement, the story maintains the theme of America as savior and as beacon of hope. Maier recalled the joy of receiving postcards from his sister in America and when he got to Auschwitz, they were taken away. Maier told Lang, "I felt lost without the American pictures...I'd close my eyes and try to recall every feature of them." The memory of those images helped Maier remember that there was a world outside of Auschwitz, as did the appearance of American fighter planes. Maier recounted that the sight and sound of the planes gave hope to him and the other concentration camp prisoners at each of the camps.

America also serves as the site of Maier's future and Lang offers a rich comparison of Maier's optimism for America and his sadness at the thought of returning to Czechoslovakia. Again, Lang quoted Maier: "Take a pleasant day I used to have in Karlsbad...In the morning, on my way to breakfast, I'd buy Die Wirsschaft from a newsstand dealer to whom I always gave a Christmas present. Well, he went Nazi. So did the waiter who brought me my eggs...I'd often swim with Miki Prosser - also a piano player - and two girls, Flora and Gertrude. Prosser was afterward gassed at Auschwitz, and so was Gertrude, and Flora became a Nazi colonel's mistress." Maier concluded, "I decided it would be better to look for a new home." 

As Lang watched Maier run off to meet his sister, he captured the enthusiasm and possibility of that new home and the opportunity that America offered to Maier. More about the theme of America in postwar survivor narratives >
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