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Joseph Exelbierd

Tennessee Holocaust Commission -

Memphis, Tennessee
Born: 1911 Tarnopol, Poland (Ukraine)
Refugee : Windsheim Displaced Persons Camp; United States

Joseph remembers feeling disbelief and fear on September1, 1939: “Poland was overrun by Germans from the west and Russians from the east. The borders were sealed and there was no escape.” A math and physics teacher, he was able to trade tutoring for food and shelter at first. But, in June 1941, Tarnopol was taken over by Russian soldiers and, he says, “the Jews were either murdered or forced into ghettos.” He and his wife passed for non-Jews. They were put to work clearing land for train tracks, and then transported to Kazhakhstan in the Soviet Union. “Rachel and I were always together and that helped us survive,” he states, “we suffered in leaving our families behind; we were cut off from everything and everybody.”

In the spring of 1945, when Europe was liberated, an exodus of survivors traveled back into Germany and Poland. Joseph and Rachel Exelbierd came to Windsheim displaced persons camp in Germany. In April 1947, Joseph was put in charge of the camp, becoming the first Jewish camp administrator in U.S. occupied Bavaria. “We did our best to make this place a turning point—to create a process of healing. It was the only way to survive the pain.”