Greetings for a sweet New Year

The exchanging of Jewish New Year greetings goes back centuries. With the industrial revolution printing became inexpensive and entrepreneurs began selling cards printed specifically for Rosh Hashanah. These cards were intended to be short lived, to be discarded shortly after the high holy days, yet such ‘ephemera’ occasionally turn up in scrapbook and old photo albums. In the digital era, email cards are a quick solution for wishing friends and family a healthy and happy year to come and a hope to be inscribed in the Book of Life.

At the end of the war in 1945, between 60,000 and 80,000 Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs) in newly liberated Europe found refuge in displaced persons camps. These evolved into centres of regeneration, especially bolstered by the influx of 200,000 Jews who survived the war in the USSR. DPs celebrated Jewish festivals in an attempt to return to the normal rhythms of religious and communal life. Rosh Hashanah cards featuring the portraits of Holocaust survivors, together with often Zionist iconography and imagery proliferated as survivors began to search for loved ones and send New Year cards as a sign that they were alive.

The Sydney Jewish Museum has Rosh Hashanah cards from Ebelsberg and David Stern DP camps, Austria, donated by Max Schein (born Moniek Himmelschein). Max appears in two of the cards and an unknown survivor appears in the third. Zionism emerged as a prevailing force in these camps as Jews searched for a new life. Zionist iconography is plentiful on these New Year cards – a view of Jerusalem, a steamship carrying refugees to Israel and a flag of the newly formed Israel.

Having survived the war in Poland using false identities, 17-year-old Moniek Himmelschein returned to his hometown in Warsaw after the war to search for family but there was “Nothing left.” He lived in a DP camp for four years, was eventually reunited with his mother and a sister who returned from Russia, immigrating with them to Australia in December 1949.

Given his traumatic childhood and war time experiences, it is not surprising that Moniek is not smiling in the photographs of these happy New Year cards.

Author: Roslyn Sugarman, Head Curator

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