Where did survivors go in post-war Europe?

Born in a DP camp

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Hyman talks about being born in a DP camp

Hyman was born in a DP camp.

After liberation, his mother and father had planned to travel to make their home in Palestine. In order to be able to do this they travelled from Poland to a DP camp in Germany.

Watch and listen to Hyman explain about the DP camp and how he came to be born in one.


Reflect!

Why might it have been important for Jewish survivors to have rebuilt lives and start families as soon as possible after liberation?

How does Hyman describe his mother’s and father’s marriage, their planned emigration and his birth in the camp?

Hyman talks about how being born in a DP camp to parents who are camp survivors, how does this affect his outlook on life?

Returning home

By the end of the war, around two million Jews had survived in the Soviet Union. Many thousands had survived across Europe. Rescuers had hidden some; whilst others had survived on false papers. In Eastern Europe in particular some had survived in the forests.

As survivors began to return home to search for relatives they were often treated with hostility from the non-Jewish population. A lot of Jewish property had been taken, not by the Nazis, but by the local people. Many of the locals feared that the Jews would demand that their property and belongings be returned.

In Poland from the end of the war to the summer of 1946, Poles murdered approximately 1,500 Jewish survivors. Included in this number was the man who had led the Sobibor uprising. On 4 July 1946 the Blood Libel was revived in Kielce, a town in southern Poland; 42 Jews were murdered and as many as 80 others were wounded during the pogrom which followed.

Rebuilding lives

As a result of the post-war murders over 100,000 Jews fled Poland, many to displaced persons camps (DP) camps. 

A displaced persons camp or DP camp is a temporary facility for people forced to leave their homes. To cope with all the refugees DP camps were set up by the Allies across Austria, Italy and Germany. 

Often survivors found themselves in the same camps as German prisoners and Nazi collaborators, who had until recently been their jailers. Initially the camp facilities were very poor. In addition, many survivors suffered severe psychological problems caused by their horrendous treatment at the hands of the perpetrators and collaborators.

By the autumn of 1945, Jewish DPs were recognised as a special group. They were housed in separate camps. They were given some authority to manage their affairs themselves. Most camps elected a committee that took responsibility for running the camp. These committees took care of sanitation, hygiene, cultural activities, education, and religious life.

Care of the children was a high priority and took various forms. DP camp committees established children’s homes and educational facilities. In addition, serious attempts were made to locate any surviving family members. 

In DP camps survivors began to recreate lives. In addition to rebuilding their Jewish religious and cultural life, many survivors married and began to start new families. At their height the DP camps held in excess of 250,000 Jewish survivors. Eventually there was less of a need for DP camps. The last Jewish DP camp in Germany closed in 1953.