By Misty Graham
With Assistance from Eric O'Keefe
Spokane Valley High School
After World War II ended, many of the people who were liberated had nowhere to go. Many survivors who went home faced hostility from their neighbors and found their homes, possessions and jobs gone. Displaced Persons (DP) who were in the camps included Jews who had survived the Holocaust, eastern Europeans who were reluctant to go home to life under a communist government, and those who simply had nowhere to go after the war. DP camps were made from abandoned German army barracks, factories and even concentration camps. Most of these camps were crowded and unsanitary with shortages of food and clothing.
There were about 7 to 9 million people in Europe who had been uprooted by the war. Before the end of 1945, more than 6 million found a home leaving 1.5 to 2 million displaced persons. At first, the DP camps were filled with people who had directly suffered under the Nazis' domination, including 200,000 Jews who survived the work camps, concentration camps, extermination camps and death marches. (Shortly after the war many thousands of Jews were at the end of their strength and died right away.)
Then the composition of the DP camps changed. At the end of 1946, two-thirds of the estimated 250,000 DPs refugees had not personally had immediate experience of the Holocaust. Most of the survivors from western Europe had returned to their country, so the DPs were mainly Jews from eastern Europe inclduing Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. Many were from the Soviet Union, including large numbers of families and children. Most wanted to emmigrate to Palestine. By the beginning of 1947, 250,000 Eastern European Jews had flooded the DP camps.
In 1945, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration started helping DPs. But in early 1947, the UNRRA closed its camps to new people in order to discourage this new wave of DPs. When the refugees arrived, they were turned away and told to survive as free livers. This is an indication of how difficult the already bad situation had become.
We first learned about Displaced Persons Camps from the book To Life, Ruth Minsky Sender's story of how she spent the five years after she was liberated in a DP camp looking for a country that would accept her. It was very difficult for refugees to find a country which would take them in. They had to pass medical tests, and it helped to have relatives in the country which they were trying to reach. We were shocked to learn that life was so hard for so many people even after the war was over.
Wildflecken, a typical DP camp made from converted Wehrmacht barracks in northern Bavaria, was flooded by Poles who had been stranded in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. The eastern part of former Poland was now part of Russia, so many felt they had no "home" left to go to. The camp was very short of food during the first winter even though it had Red Cross food packages. The 12,000 DPs lacked many necessities and had to barter cigarettes and chocolate for fresh meat and milk. If they couldn't trade, then they stole what they needed.
A refugee camp was established in the barracks of Dachau. Ten years after people had been liberated, many of the Dachau survivors met for a memorial celebration in Dachau. They were angry to find that there were still some survivors who had to live there and that the conditions were disgraceful.
We received one family's personal account. In 1939, the Diamont family of four escaped from Kransbord, Poland and settled deep in Siberia . Just as the war was ending, they left Siberia and eventually settled at the DP camp in Bamberg, Germany, a Bavarian site near Hitler's retreat at Berchtesgaden. A third son was born in the DP camp. They later learned how wise they were to leave Kransbord because on October, 1942, all the remaining Jews were killed. They wanted to go to Palestine (Israel today) but couldn't legally get there. A Jewish community in Illinois sponsored them, and they earned a living by working hard and establishing a kosher butcher shop. Today (March 1994), all three sons are alive and live in the United States.
Finding information on this topic has been very difficult for us. It seems that the information is not very easily available. We are so interested in continuing our research on the topic of DP camps that we have decided to continue searching out information and especially personal accounts. Next school year we hope to publish a resource booklet to share the accounts of individuals and famlies who had lived in the DP camps.
Student Art by AETI Staff Artist Tom Parker
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