Stateless After The War (1945-1956)
Uncovering the Holocaust, Racial Prejudice in America & The Immigrant Experience
Once the war ended, Hana found herself as a displaced person and a stateless person. She went back to Denmark in hopes of receiving Danish citizenship, but when that was not possible, she decided to return to Czechoslovakia to see who of her family survived. She found a few aunts and cousins alive, but learned that her parents and brother were murdered in the Final Solution, the Nazis efforts to eradicate the Jewish people. The horrors of the Holocaust were just being uncovered and Hana had to accept that she was the only one who survived. She learned that her family was first deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp outside of Prague and then to Sobibór, an extermination camp in occupied-Poland. She would never know if they were killed in a gas chamber or shot upon arrival, but hoped that they died along the way so they didn’t have to face repeated horrors.
Hana stayed in Prague for nearly seven months and studied Scandinavian languages and culture at Charles University before returning to Denmark and then moving back north to Sweden. She knew Czechoslovakia would never again be her home.
Back in 1939, Hana’s father, like many Jews, sought a way out of Europe for his family. Perhaps they would go to Uganda, he and his wife thought, as it was being considered as a Zionist state, or they would go to to America. He had written to a very distant relative, a step-sister of a grandmother, who lived in Cincinnati, Ohio in hopes of receiving an affidavit so his family could immigrate. But, at that time America, like so many other countries, closed its borders to those seeking refuge. It wasn’t until the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was passed that Hana received permission to go to America. She was accepted under a quota for Czech exiles living in Sweden.
Prior to leaving for America, she lived in Stockholm and made a nice life for herself. She was now an adult and had the freedom to enjoy arts and culture, to make friends and begin dating. She worked at a company known as the AGA which was started by Herr Nobel, the inventor of dynamite and the man whom the prestigious Nobel Prize is named after. She worked as an assistant for the engineers and was in charge of running a mimeo machine. While there, she befriended a man named Mosley who was an exchange student from Frankfort, Kentucky. He was the first black man she ever met. She helped teach him Swedish and knowing she would go to America soon, he helped teach her English. She left for America in 1950 and promised to bring gifts for his family as she would live in Cincinnati which is where some of his family resided.
In November of 1950, Hana, along with many other emigrants, boarded a boat in England and left for America, leaving behind the all that she knew and all that she lost. She arrived to the United States just around the Thanksgiving holiday. Her knowledge of the English language was limited and she was blind to the type of prejudices and culture that existed in America. The idea of racism was foreign to her. So, when she told her very distant relatives that she would bring gifts to a black family, she couldn’t understand why they were so against the idea. Hana persisted when they told her not to meet them and eventually they agreed to send their son, Joe, with her as a chaperone.
She met Mosley’s relative in Cincinnati’s main square where she was greeted with warmth. When he asked if she would like to come to dinner at his family’s house as a thank you, she was excited to accept the offer. But, Joe exploded on her and told her she wasn’t allowed to go to a home in the black neighborhood. She said that she would go and that he could not tell what she could and could not do. Then, right there on the city square, Joe slapped her. It was the first time in her life that someone inflicted physical pain upon her. Even during all of her years running from war and escaping deportation, she never was physically hurt by anyone. Hana, standing her ground, still accepted the offer to go to dinner and left Joe to be with Mosley’s family.
At the end of the night, when she arrived back at the home of her distant relatives, she found all of her belongings packed outside with a letter that read “We do not harbor N***** lovers.” She wished that she could sail back to Sweden.
That night she slept on a park bench and the next day she found a bed in a group home which she shared with another young woman for $5 a night. As she had done in Denmark and in Sweden, she made a life for herself. Over time her English improved and she saved enough money to take the train to San Francisco, a place she had learned about as a child and always wanted to visit.
A year later she married a man by the name of Ralph who was a German Jewish immigrant and was married in a rabbi’s study in New York City. Four years after that, in 1956, she received American citizenship and for the first time in 17 years was a citizen of a country.
Hana had three children with Ralph. They first lived in Flushing, Queens in New York City. Then they moved to Baltimore for a short period of time before settling in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. Ralph and Hana divorced in the 1970s and she remarried in the late 1980s to a man she met in Denmark after the war. His named was Bernd and he moved to be with her in America. Together they were the grandparents for seven grandchildren.
Hana passed away in 2010 at the age of 85.
My First American Encounter With Racial Prejudice
Written By Hana Dubova, 2005
**only suitable for high school students. For younger students, please summarize**
Debrief : Is this a story that you would associate with a Holocaust survivor? What does it mean to be a survivor? What are the unexpected and expected challenges of being an immigrant, especially one who was once a refugee? Give time for this debrief as the story can be an entrance point to a conversation about race relationships in the United States and what it means to stand your ground when you see in justice and prejudice.
Activity #6 : Vocabulary Review
Instructions for Teacher : Depending on the students learning style, teachers should pull together a vocabulary review that makes sense for their classroom. For example, if they are students who like working alone, give them a word match where they can match definitions to key words used throughout the lesson. If the students like working in teams, you can create a trivia round for them that has them defining concepts and ideas together.
Vocabulary Words : Identity, Ethnicity, Refugee, Victim, Emigrant, Immigrant, Migrant, Assimilation, Displacement, Stateless, Internally Displaced, Asylum Seeker, Deportation, Democracy, Bystander, Upstander, Resistance, Collective Courage, Resilience, Zionism, Propaganda, Neutral, Prejudice, Xenophobia, Discrimination, Persecution, Concentration Camp, Extermination Camp, Genocide, Survivor’s Guilt, Unsung Hero, Righteous Among the Nation
**Feel free to add or subtract words based off of what you covered with your students**
Activity #7 : Agree / Disagree
Instructions for Teacher : Return to the Agree/Disagree activity and encourage a healthy discussion that looks back on everything learned so far. The discussion and activity questions should now focus on themes like heroism, resilience and survival. Ask challenging questions that encourages the students to think about what they would do if they were faced with any of the realities they have learned about thus far.
Examples of statements :
- “Heroes evolve; they aren’t born.” - Ervin Staub
- “Anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present.” - President Richard Von Weizsacker of West Germany
- “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” - Desmund Tutu, South African Activist
- The last battles found in every war are over memory — over the way in which the war will be remembered.
- The truth is less important in understanding the past than what people think is true.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Stateless After The War (1945-1956)." (Viewed on September 18, 2021) <https://jwa.org/node/24929>.