International Shoah Memorial Day post: the less well-known story of DP camps after the war and the “survivor baby boom”

On this day seventy-six years ago, January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by the Red Army. The international community marks the anniversary as International Shoah memorial day — Israel has its own Yom HaShoah that follows the Hebrew calendar (on 27 Nisan, almost two weeks after Passover).

A story from the aftermath that is not widely known is that of DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Germany and Austria after the war — the Times of Israel has a long article about them today. A number of my older colleagues and friends were born in the ‘mini baby boom’ there.

In these camps, Jews from several backgrounds met. Some were camp survivors, trying to come to terms with their physical and psychological scars. Others had fled to the East, joined either the Red Army or the Partisans, then after the end of the war had made their way to the occupation zones of the Western Allies. Yet others had survived in hiding and realized there was nothing to return to.

Here, they were in a kind of limbo, their future on hold — would a Western country accept them as immigrants, or would the British allow them to immigrate to the British Mandate? Some took their chances with Aliya Bet (“immigration B”, i.e., ‘illegal’ immigration), but most had no desire to be caught and sent to a British army camp on Cyprus.

The DPs got lots of help (especially food supplies) from American Jewish relief organizations. At least some of these DP camps were in scenic locations in Upper Bavaria, and after the terror and privations, some say it felt like a convalescence leave. And with young survivors of both sexes — many of them either sole survivors, or not reunited with other survivors in their family until later — deeply rooted human instincts took over. It could even happen (as it did to the parents of a good friend) that lovers who had been separated by events found each other via one of the tracing services (no mean feat in the pre-IT days). But more commonly, people met and bonded over shared grief. Soon a wave of marriages and childbirths ensued — the children are now in their early seventies.

One such couple and their newborn baby (from this article)

After the birth of Israel and the War of Independence, the state passed a law offering citizenship to anybody of Jewish descent willing to settle there. Many took up the offer (and ended up arriving just before the large waves of Jewish expulsees from Arab countries), others made their way to the USA, to Canada (such as the parents of Rush frontman Geddy Lee), to Australia,… often after getting in touch with family already born there and willing to sponsor them. (One dear friend’s mother could not get sponsored by her siblings who had gotten to the USA before the war — only after a cousin already ‘native-born’ was located and agreed to act as a sponsor could she come over.)

Many trials and tribulations still lay ahead — but they had enjoyed a brief respite from an unimaginable ordeal.

Genesis instrumental, “After The Ordeal”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s