Displaced Persons After the Holocaust

The survivors said: "We were liberated, but we are not free."


Reprinted with permission from The Holocaust Encyclopedia (Yale University Press).

At the end of World War II there were about seven to eight million displaced persons (DPs) in Germany and the territories of its former allies. The DPs included former concentration camp inmates, prisoners of war, and East European nationals who had fled from Communist rule to Hitler’s Germany. Most DPs were repatriated soon after the end of the war in May 1945; by July 4.2 million had returned to their home countries, and by September the number had risen to 6 million.

In that period Jews constituted only a small minority of DPs. Approximately 50,000 Jews, mostly from Eastern Europe, who had survived the camps and the death marches, were liberated within German and Austrian territory. Many of them died after liberation as a result of malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion.

The survivors, who referred to themselves as she’erit hapletah (the surviving remnant, a biblical term from Ezra 9:14 and I Chronicles 4:43), wished to leave what they regarded as the cursed soil of Germany as soon as possible. But the doors of Palestine and other destinations remained closed, and in many cases their physical and psychological condition made any immediate move impossible

Just one year after the end of Nazi rule, Germany and the territories of its former allies became the major destinations of Jewish refugees who fled violent anti-Semitism in Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe. The flight of Polish Jewry culminated after the Kielce pogrom of July 1946, when about 700 Jews a day left the country. By the end of 1946 a quarter of a million Jews lived in Germany, Austria, and Italy, with the vast majority in the American occupation zone of Germany, which was considered by the survivors a stepping stone for emigration to Palestine or the United States.

During their stay, between 1946 and 1950, DP camps such as Feldafing, Fohrenwald, Landsberg, and Pocking–located near small towns that had never hosted a Jewish community–for a short time became centers of a vibrant Jewish cultural and religious life.

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Michael Brenner is Professor of Jewish History and Culture at the University of Munich.

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