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Rachel Deblinger, Author

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Kurt Maier: Displaced on the Radio

The New Yorker article written by Daniel Lang was dramatized for Radio by the Citizen's Committee for Displaced Persons as part of a public campaign effort to shift public opinion about immigration. The broadcast featured Paul Muni as Kurt Maier and Maier contributed by performing the music. The radio program, titled Displaced (like the article), dramatized both Maier's experience under Nazism and his interview with Lang, mixing current events and recreated performance, as was popularized at the time by March of Time.

relied on musical flourishes to signal the back and forth in time - a standard radio practice at the time that sets a theatrical tone for this Holocaust story. This approach allowed radio listeners to hear Maier's Holocaust story through the frame of his displacement and reshaped it into a story of American immigration that glorified the ideal of America. Additionally, by integrating contemporary radio norms Displaced fractured Maier's story, employing the elements of his experience for most dramatic effect.

Interview by Daniel Lang
The opening of Displaced introduces Daniel Lang at the pier in New York City, where Maier's ship, the Marine Perch has just docked. Lang and Maier are introduced by an aid worker and discuss the world waiting outside the pier. In these opening lines, the difference between Lang's American accent and Maier's European one are made clear. However, the voice used by Muni to play Maier is still far more "American" than Maier's accent. Listen to this opening clip to hear Muni's "foreign" affectation versus Lang's American accent.

Empire State Building
The introductory scene also highlights Maier's excitement to see New York as he explained that he had envisioned the Empire State Building from postcards his sister had sent him. The second clip shows how the Empire State Building became a symbol for survival throughout Maier's journey. After the Nazis took over the Sudetenland, Kurt fled Karlsbad and as he packed, he made sure to remember his sister's postcards. America, defined here by the Empire State Building, became an ideal more than a place.

In the Concentration Camps
In recreating scenes, Displaced allowed radio listeners some access to life under Nazism. This technique conveyed the horrors of life in concentration camps, but in shaping the story for radio, some of the story was transformed. One particular example highlights how performing Maier's story on air reshaped his experiences. In the New Yorker, Lang described Maier's time at Ohrdruf and wrote, “One afternoon, when Maier did not seem to be working fast enough, a guard wearing brass knuckles went to work on him and permanently scarred his chest.” The same scene in the radio version transferred the punishment from Maier to the man next to him and rather than describe a beating, took advantage of the audio capabilities of radio to add a poignant and shocking gunshot sound effect. Listen to this scene to hear the way common radio practices shifted the story of Maier's experience.

Political Advocacy
At the completion of Maier's story, Paul Muni addressed the listening audience about the problem facing Displaced Persons (DP) in Europe. Muni argued that Americans must act as saviors for the DPs and urged listeners to care by saying, “Whether they live to breathe the air of freedom and health and happiness or sink into despair and death is for us to decide. The choice is ours.” He also evoked the New Testament story of the Samaritan who stops to help a fallen stranger as a means of provoking action among the American audience. Listen to Muni's plea here and consider the juxtaposition between the European Jewish story just told and the American Christian parable that appealed to different listeners in a multitude of ways. More about immigration as a theme in postwar survivor narratives >

Listen to Displaced in full at the YIVO Max and Frieda Weinstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the Center for Jewish History >
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