The Holocaust: Displaced Persons

Figure 1.--DP camps were set up all over Western Europe, but especually in Germany and Austria for the slave and forced laborers in the Reich as well as surviving Jews. Here is a portrait of some of the children at Indersdorf. Two years earlier, tghese beautiful children werevbeing hunted by NAZIs killers. The photo was sent by Shasharah (writing indestinct) to her friend Aron Szlosberg, who seems to have already left for what was at the time Palestine (November 11, 1947). Shasharah had apparently learned to speak English. Cklick on the image to see the message on the back with some writing in Hebrew. Jewish Children who had been taken in by Christian families during the Holocaust were the first arrivals at Indersdorf. It became a displaced children's home in the Bavarian (Bayern) town of Kloster Indersdorf. The home was set up in 12th-century monastery and former girls' boarding school. Indersdorf functioned as an international youth shelter until UNRRA designated it as a Jewish children's home (August 1946). It was located between Dachau and Augsburg in the American occupation zone of Germany. The youths published a newspaper entitled 'Uj Elet'. Many if them decided to emigrate to Palestine/Israel nd form Kibbutz Dror, a Zionist youth village and commune. More than 300 Jewish children and youth were cared for at the home. It closed June 30, 1949.

Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were among the many displaced person (DPs) scattered througout Europe at the end of the War. The Holcaust, the German slave labor program, and the widespread destruction meant that ther were millions of displaced The DPs found temporary shelter in displaced persons camps. Their needs had been anticipated by the United States, which established in 1943 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide services for the postwar refugees and to help repatriate them to their own countries. UNRRA was in place when Germany surrendered in May 1945, and organized the homeward journey of most of the refugees.

Displaced Persons after the War

Jewish survivors of the Holoicaust were among the many displaced person (DPs) scattered througout Europe at the end of the War. The Holcaust, the German slave labor program, and the widespread destruction meant that ther were millions of displaced The DPs found temporary shelter in displaced persons camps.


The needs of the DPs had been anticipated by the United States, which established in 1943 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide services for the postwar refugees and to help repatriate them to their own countries. UNRAA was not created specifically to assist Jewish refugees, but refugees in general. Becauise of NAZI race policies, however, Jews were the group most affected by the War and in need of assistance. While established in 1943, UNRAA could not begin its principal work until NAZI occupied Europe was liberated. UNRRA opened camps in North Africa and began prepsrations for its work when after D-Day and Soviets offences in the East, the NAZI empire was rapidly dimantalled. UNRRA was in place when Germany surrendered in May 1945, and organized the homeward journey of most of the refugees. UNRRA set up refugee camps in old schools, military barracks, even barns. These camps were meant to be short-term transit camps, and in fact most non-Jewish refugees within a year and a half had been returned to theit home countries. Jewish refugees, however, presented an especially difficult problem. [Greenfeld] In most cases they were unwilling or unable to go home. Returning people to Soviet occupied countries was another major problem.

Jewish Survivors

The UNRRA camps lacked not only space, but adequate amounts of food and clothing for the Holocaust survivors. Aiding Jewish DPs was especially difficult. These refugees often had no other clothes but those they had worn in the concentration camps. Jews had neither a country of their own nor in many cases a country that welcomed Jews. Some countries did welcome their Jewish countrymen, countries like Denmark and the Netherlands. Other countries had actively assisted the Germans and participated in the Holcausrt. Jews were understandably not anxious to return to those countries. Anti-semitism had not dissapeared with the end of the War. Jewish survivors were sometimes blamed for the war and treated with hostility by many Europeans. [Greenfeld] In addition, people now possed homes, apartments, shops, and other property that had been owned by Jews. They were no anxious for the former owners to claim their property. Some Jews wjho attempted to do so were attacked. Thge most notable incident occurred in Poland where om July 4, 1946, in the city of Kielce, 42 Jewish DPs were killed because they supposedly had abducted Gentile children for ritual sacrifice. A major problem was that tyhe NAZIs had been so ruthlessy efficent that not only entire families, but entire communities had been murdered. Survuivoirs often had nothing to return to. Most DPs could return to families which were able to assist them. Many Jewish DPs were lucky if they found someone in their village or town who survived, let alone family members.

Transit Camps

UNRRA established a number of transit camps in the American, British, and French zones of occupation in Germany and Austria. The Russians, who controlled a fourth zone, didn't seem to care about the plight of DPs. The transit camps were expected to serve as a temporary refuge in which DPs could live while recovering their strength and deciding what to do with themselves. The camps faced many problems. UNRRA workers were unprepared for the jobs ahead of them. In the U.S. zone American soldiers shared responsibilities with UNRRA workers in the camps. The soldiers, many, were untrained for the task ahead or even insensitive to the DPs' experiences. Moreover, living conditions in the camps were generally rather bad due to the lack of medical and sanitation facilities, as well as food and clothing shoratges. Some DPs even had to wear the clothes they had worn in the concentration camps. They were also housed in crowded facilities - old schoolhouses, barracks, even barns - with former NAZIs and other anti-Semites. [Greenfeld]

Jewish Concerns

The Jewish DPs' complaints eventually reached the U.S. government in the summer of 1945. President Truman appointed a commission to investigate these complaints. A delegation headed by Earl Harrison, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, investigated conditions in DP camps in the U.S. zone. The Harrison Commission in its report bluntly condemned the living conditions at the camps. The Harrison Commission recommended that Jewish DPs be given as much autonomy as possible. Jewish DPs also should be able to live outside the camps, even in German properties set aside for them if necessary. Also, far greater efforts were to be made to help DPs to reunite with their families. By the end of September of 1945 the reforms were in place, and camp conditions had improved markedly. By September 1945 the Commission's recommendations had been enacted. General Dwight Eisenhower visited five DP camps and noted that conditions had greatly improved. [Greenfeld]

The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe

Still, the camps were being flooded with new refugees, particularly those fleeing Soviet domination in eastern Europe. Many could not move on quickly through the camps because they were not physically or emotionally ready to do so, or they had no place to go.


Jewish Refugees

Jewish refugees presented an especially difficult problem. [Greenfeld] UNRAA attempted to provide emergency relief as needed and to ger refugees back to their countries of origin. This was not easy in the case of thge Jewish refugees. In most cases they were unwilling or unable to go home. The NAZI killing process was so sucessful, that the communities that they had come from no longer existed. Some Jews trying to return home were attacked, especially in Eastern Europoe. An especially egrigious pogrom occurred in Poland. And many Jews were afraid to return home because of the way many of their countrymen had cooperated with the NAZIs. So the primary UNRAA policy of getting the refugees home could not be pursued in the case of most Jewish refugees. And the children were a special mproblem because in most cases their parents and even extended famikly were all dead. UNRRA provided support for displaced persons camps, but Jewish oirganization from an early point organized the Jews in these camps. At the time Israel did not exist. And the British to placate the Arabs were not allowing Jewish migration into Palestine. Jewish organizations attempted to get somec refugees ito Palestine surepticously.

Individual DP Camps

The Transit Camps gradually turned into DP camps, mistly kocated in Austria and Germany. This was where people from all over Europe had been brought to support the German war effort. Millions of people had been brought into the Reich under various circumstances. Many of these people were able to quickly return to their home countries. This was the cae for people from Western European countries. The duistances were crather short, the transportation links being reestablished, and the giovernments there able to aid in repatriation. Eastern Europe was adifferent matter. conditions were worse there and many people were reluctant even afraid to return with the Cimmunists seizing power. Jews were another special problem. Most did not have communities to which they could return. Th NAZIs had destroyed Jewish communities throughout Europe, especially In Eastern Europe. And some Jews attempting to return werev attacked in Estern Europe. At first the camps were organized by nationality, but it was soon found that Jews had ti be treated differently, either in seoarate camp or in separate facvilities in the differenty camps. We are collecting informnation on individual camps.

Camp Facilities Improved

The US Army administered thed camps and the DPs were supplied the basic necessities of life by UNRRA until 1947, The DP camps eventually built schools and workshops to train children and young people. The camps needed social workers, counselors, and teachers to help the refugees begin new lives. American welfare agencies made such professionals available to the camps. Dedicated counselors and social workers from American welfare agencies woirked at the camps. The U.S. Army continued to control the camps, and the DPs received the basic necessities of life from UNRRA until 1947, when the International Refugee Organization (IRO) assumed UNRRA's duties. UNRRA transit camps could be faulted in many ways, but in fairness few anticipated the depths oif deopravity of the NAZI regime. UNRRA was unprepared for the enormity of the task which they faced. Shortages of all staple items were common. The transit camps were unprepared to absorb the tide of DPs. UNRRA could not realistically have anticipated all the emotional and physical needs of the survivors. [Greenfeld]

Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

As a result of an agreement between UNRRA and the U.S. Army, a large share of responsibility for the refugee's needs was given to members of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, (JDC) known as the Joint. The JDC was founded in the United States (1914). As a result of opre-World War I emigration from Tsarist Russia (especially Poland), the United States had a large and increasingly successful immigrant Jewish population. Atvthe time of the outbreak of World War I in Europe, there were some 59,000 Jews living in Palestine, then an Ottoman province. The Jewish settlement (the Yishuv) was primarily compose of Zionistb Jews whjo had emigrated from Europe. They were still largely dependent on European Zionist sponsers. The outbreak of World War I cut then off from their European sponsers. This left the Yishuv was left isolated and largely destitute. The Yishuv’s leaders decided to appeal to Henry Morgenthau, Sr., then seving as U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. He was moved by the deteriorating situation. He cabekled a friend in New York, Jewish philanthropist Jacob Schiff. He appealed to Schiff to ask the American Jewish community to assist the Yishuv. The Zionist movement in America was much less developed than in Europe. Even so, American Jews responded. Tn only a month, $50,000 was raised, a considerable sum in 1914. Three existing religious and secular Jewish organizations participated: the American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for the Relief of Jews Suffering Through the War, and People’s Relief Committee. The JDC becuse of the participation of the three exusting groups becanmer jnown as the Joint. Its primary task was to densure tht was formally established to ensure that the relief funds sent to Palestinewere distributed effectively. It was able to wirk in Palesine because America was still neutral. An even larger crisus emerged the following year as Germanarmies plunged into Poland and the Baltics--the Tsaris Pale of Settlement (1915). Large numbers of Jews lived there. Led by Judah Magnes, the JDC raised $5 million dollars in 1915 alone. The JDC after the war continued with charitable activuities in now war-torn Europe. The Revolution and Civil War led to a humanitarian crisis in the new Soviet Union. People were dieing from a terrible famine (1921). The JDC later worked with Soviet authoritie to help finance projects assusting Jews. The JDC with the rise of the NAZIs and increased anti-Semitism in Europe attempted to aid communities there. It soon becanme an enormous task and the JDC had only limited resources. It was the JDC that contracted with Roman Vishniac to photiograph the Jewish comminities of Eastern and Central Europe under increasing pressure from a risuing ties of anti-Semitism. American authorities relied on the JDC with its efforts to aid Jewish DPs after the War. The JDC oversaw many of the vocational and educational activities at DP camps and other centers such as children's homes in the U.S. zone. The JDC helped feed and clothe DPs, as well as contribute to the cost of emigration, orimarily to Israekl and America. The Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) undertook occupational training.

International Refugee Organization (1947)

The International Refugee Organization (IRO) assumed UNRRA's duties in 1947.


The only long range solution for many DPs, however, was to leave Europe for good. Most of the Jewish DPs chose to emigrate to tghe United States or to resettle in the Palestine. When the War ended this was no possible. America still had very restricted immigration lawsa. And the British tightly restructed Jewsish emmigration to Palesgtine. Jews were as a resuklt stuck in the DP camps.

United States

The United States had an immigration policy which placed most Jewish refugees at a disadvantage in gaining entrance to America. American immigration laws severely restricted immigration from eastern European nations, where most DPs were from. President Truman strongly encouraged Congress to liberalize immigration quotas from these nations, but Congress took little action until June 1948. Then the bill that was passed was compromised and anti-Semitic. Truman opposed the bill, but signed it anyway because it did allow for the entry of 200,000 DPs over the next 2 years. In 1950 an amended version of that bill was passed and signed by Truman. Eventually, some 400,000 DPs were permitted to settle in the United States.

European Exodus: Palestine/Israel

The British afterseizing Palestine from the Turks in World War I had been given a mandate to govern Palestine in 1920 by the League of Nations. Initially, the British encouraged the creation of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, but the Arab nations pressured Britain to change that policy. The rise of Hiler in Gemany and the development oil resources kin Arab countries all worked against a Jewish Homeland. Britain was anxious to appease the Arabs to prevent the Arabs gturning to the Germans. That was, however, precisely what happened. There was grraet support for the Germans in the Arab Middle East and Iran. The British had to intervene miitarily in Iraq and Iran. And the Egyptians were preloared to welcome the Germans when the Afrika Korps was finally stopped at El Alemaine. Britain after the War still trying go apease the Aabs actively opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine after World War II and even began capturing and deporting would-be immigrants to the island of Cyprus (August 1946). Brityain was unable to maintain order in Palestine as the level of violence rose. The United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine into two separate states, Arab and Jewish (November 1947). The British began withdrawing their forces from the region, ending their mandate. (April 1948). Israel declared its independence (May 1948). The Palestinians could have done the same, but close instead to fight for all of Palestine and ask the neighboring Arab stagtes to intervene to destroy Israel. As the British left, Israel could open up Jewish immigration as long as they could hold the ports.


Greenfeld, Howard. After the Holocaust (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 2001). The author assesss the DP camps, describing the facilities, conditions, and problems. One problem was housing Holocaust survivors with former Nazis.


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Created: 1:50 PM 10/19/2004
Last updated: 1:19 AM 10/12/2018