We have all seen the images: Ukrainians fleeing the inhumane brutalities thrust upon them by the Russian Army. Vladimir Putin’s War has forced over a million to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring countries, such as Poland and Romania. Brent Renaud, an award winning documentarian and war correspondent, was recently murdered by the Russian Army while filming a documentary about the Ukrainian and other war zone refugees.
All of the attention on the refugee situation in Europe today – and the overwhelming kindness shown to them by their Polish, Romanian, and other hosts -- brought to mind a thesis paper I wrote 32 years ago while studying European history at Trenton State College (now the College of New Jersey). I spent the summer of 1990 researching the work that my grandfather did while stationed in Germany during the first four years of the Occupation for an independent study class. It resulted in a paper that I titled “The Remnants of War: the Displaced Persons of Europe.” My paper recalled the plight of Eastern European refugees in post World War II Germany and the work that my grandfather did to assist them. .
My grandfather, Samuel S. Kale, was a Major in the United States Army at the time. After the war ended, he was stationed in the town of Würzburg, Germany, where he oversaw the administration of several refugee camps and served as liaison officer between the Army and the United Nations organizations established to assist with the finding of new places for the refugees to live.
Six months after my grandfather began his new assignment, my grandmother and their six children, of whom my mother was the oldest, sailed to join him in post-war Germany. As part the second wave of military dependants, they lived in Germany amongst the ruins for three years. While in Germany, the Kales corresponded with their family and friends left behind in the United States. One letter that my grandfather wrote to his parents began, “Dear Mother & Dad. You asked about the DPS. Well, it is a long story…”(1)
When Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allied Forces on May 8, 1945, at least one quarter of the German population was comprised of DPs – “Displaced Persons, those millions of slave laborers taken by the Germans from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and almost every other country in Europe to help build Hitler’s Thousand Year Reich.” (2) As Nazi Germany’s supply of workers diminished, they were replaced with foreigners, usually from Eastern Europe.
Many of the DPs were teenagers or mere children. Allegedly, many Eastern European children were abducted by the Germans during the war. They were either adopted by German families or placed in institutions to be cared for. “Many were never discovered after the war because they were brought to Germany at such a young age they did not know they were adopted.”(3)
Alexandra Romanowski was just seven years old when she was forced into Germany. She was born in Poland and described how the Germans acquired their workers:
When the Germans took over parts of Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, first they took all the young people, boys and girls, 14-15 [years old] – they would be driving in the village, in town and just pick them off the streets and put them in trucks and send them to Germany. And later they were taking the young families too. So we were one of those young families that they took. And we came to Hamburg and we were placed in a fish factory. Half of it was burned. Only women and children [worked there]. The man they send away [sic] for some other work – like field work or firemen…”(4)
Others, like Wasyl Krewsun, entered Germany by choice, if it can be called that. Many Eastern Europeans and Baltic people feared the Soviets and felt that it would be better to live under the Germans. (5) In the case of Mr. Krewsun, he lad little option. Born in Ukraine in 1920, he served in the Soviet Army as a young teenager. When the Germans took over part of Ukraine, he was captured and sent to a prisoner of war camp. There, he lived for a few years on a near starvation diet of “bean and bug soup twice a day.” (6).
After his release, he returned home but Wasyl knew he could not return to the Army nor stay at home for very long – he would be considered a deserter and collaborator and most likely executed for the simply because he had been captured by the Germans. So Wasyl made his way west towards Germany. Until he entered a DP camp in Regensburg, Germany, at the end of the war, he wandered with no home, no place to go, and no future. Truly, he had become a man without a country. (7)
Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France, appealed for help in the solution of the refugee problem. “‘Perhaps the greatest misfortune that the past war has given us is the ‘displacement’ of peoples…[They] have been forced to leave their country, their homes, and everything dear to them to join the ranks of the homelss on the highways of Europe. Do any of us fully realize how much pain and moral distress is contained in the word DP?’”
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt did realize. They had the foresight to make preparations for post-war devastation. As early as 1940, Churchill promised the people of Europe that “‘…the impending destruction of Germany would bring them food, freedom and peace.’”(9) He established the Committee of Surplus that was to build up a reserve of supplies for post-war Europe. By August 1942, plans for UNRRA, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration had been drawn up and in November 1943, UNRRA was formally established in Washington, DC. “The establishment of UNRRA was one of the greatest gestures of the Allies, and its existence became a source of hope to the distressed in the darkest areas of subjugated Europe.”(10)
Additionally, the SHAEF Plan was put into effect before the end of the war. This plan, established by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, paved the way for UNRRA to move in. A feature of the plan was its description of the basic installations required for DP control: assembly centers, border control stations, and reception centers. It also established the policy of lodgings and feeds for the masses and disease control via immunizations and dusting with DDT powder. (11)
Maisy Oth, a nurse with UNRRA, was living in Luxembourg when the SHAEF Plan and UNRRA were put into effect. “After our libration on September 10, 1944, an organization started to work for all people displaced by the Germans from Poland, Russia, etc...As soon as the Nazis left here they were free but had not the occasion to go home because their countries were still occupied. We gave them a place to live – food and clothes. The organization was called ‘Rapatriement’. There, I had the first contact with them as I worked as a nurse in the camp. And in the camp I met UNRRA.” (12)
On July 13, 1946, SHAEF was dissolved and UNRRA went into full effect. Each of the four Allied controlled zones of Germany was independent with regards to how to deal with the DP problem. UNRRA was given an important but subordinate position in relation to the military authorities. During the first few months of peacetime, UNRRA dealt with what was known as mass repatriation. Mass repatriation re-located mostly Western European DPs. By the autumn of 1945, this phase of repatriation had concluded. However it was apparent that a new organization had to be established to “resettle those refugees who, for one reason or another, would not return to their homeland…Most of the refugees in question were from Eastern Europe.” (13). Therefore, on July 1, 1947, the International Refugee Organization, IRO, replaced UNRRA and assumed the responsibility for the care of the remaining DPs.
UNRRA and later the IRO established DP camps throughout Germany. The camps were houses, villages, and blocks segregated by country so that the DPs could have easy access to people of their own nationalities. (14) “Some of the DPs live in stone German barracks while others are old wooden one-story shacks. Each person has about 46 square feet of space for eating [and] sleeping and living room space is not even 6ft by 8ft.” (15) The author Kathryn Hulme (“the Nun’s Story”) worked for UNRRA and later the IRO. She was first assigned to Julloville in the French Zone and later to Wildflecken – the Wild Place – “somewhere up in the bush beyond Bad Neustadt in the northeast corner of Bavaria.” (16) Wildflecken, a former training camp for Hitler’s SS, was located in the American Zone of Occupation, specifically the Unterfraken (Lower Franconia) area. This area contained five cities with DP centers: Aschaffenburg, Bad Kissegen, Kitzengen, Schweinfurt, and Würzburg, each city being sub-divided into a total of thirteen camps.
The Unterfranken Area was under the supervision of Displaced Persons Officer Major Samuel S. Kale, Field Artillery, United States Army: “My job is very interesting now that I am the Displaced Persons Officer of the Unterfranken Area of Germany,” he wrote. “I work very closely with UNRRA and have around 30,000 DPs to help take care of.” (17)
The various camps contained a wide variety of nationalities. As Major Kale explained, “The breakdown of nationalities is as follows: Polish, Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians, [and] Estonians.” (18) The various ethnic groups were segregated from each other, not because they did not get along but for the very simple reason of linguistics. It was easier to run the camps if everybody there spoke the same language.
In a letter from the Central DP Camp (in Würzburg) the Camp Leader tells Major Kale that “…a good part of the camp population is composed of mothers with minor children and solidary [sic] mothers, whose husbands and sons have perished in the last war. And as mothers don’t get work or can’t work because of their children their situation is really very hard, for the scanty IRO support hardly sufficies [sic] for bare life.” (19)
An important aspect of the camps was the health of the DPs. The majority of the DPs were in good health and UNRRA and the IRO made considerable contributions towards maintaining their health. In 1946, rations were reduced so UNRRA tried to compensate by distributing cod-liver oil and vitamins. Over 900,000 tablets containing vitamins C and D were given to all children under 21 years of age and to all pregnant and nursing women as well as to all persons suffering from vitamin deficiency. (20)
The camps had their own hospitals that were staffed by the DPs themselves, serving as doctors and nurses. (21) The hospitals in the British and American Zones were supervised by UNRRA, however, the military remained in control of the French hospitals. (22) Dental care was supplied as well, although there was a shortage of toothpaste and brushes. Practically all of the dentists and dental assistants were recruited from the DP population in the British and American Zones. In the French Zone, however, dental services were considered inadequate, and once described as “rudimentary in personnel and equipment.” (23)
An equally vital issue in the Unterfranken camps was the food and clothing supply. Major Kale wrote that, “a growing child between 10 and 15 years receives one pair of shoes in three years and you know how children outgrow shoes. Clothing is poor quality and very little of it.” Much of the clothing supplies were from individuals back in the United States and shipped to the camps as donations. Other necessities, such as cigarettes, which UNRRA and the IRO could not always supply, had to be obtained from the black market. (24)
Food was supplied directly by the Germans in the amount of seven hundred calories per person. However, as Major Kale explained in a 1948 letter to his parents, the Germans hated the foreigners and did not supply the best foods. “About 40% of the vegetables are spoiled. A great many times the flour is bad ad we had the bread tested and the report comes back unfit for human consumption. Or perhaps the bread will have glass or tin in it. It requires a lot of time on my part fighting the Germans to deliver good food to the DPs.” (25) Tragically, there were many deaths attributed to rotten food. At least fifty babies died from bad milk that the Germans sold to the camps. The Germans would take the butter fat from the milk and make black market butter and deliver the skim milk to the camps as good whole milk. (26)
When decent food did arrive, the basic meal for the DPs was the same day after day – soup, potatoes and black bread. “Don’t ever get the idea that their meals are good because eit is the same every day. The children get so they won’t eat as it becomes so monotonous to them. It will be so wonderful to them to get to another country where they once again can live as normal people. (27)
UNRRA, the IRO, and the military tried very hard to keep camp life going and to provide as normal a life as possible for the DPs. “We had schools, church. As kids we were happy.” (28) The children learned their national dances and joined both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, when to the movies, YMCA, YWCA, and joined theater groups. The schools would sponsor festivals for their students and the military. On December 6, 1947, Major Kale, for example, was invited by the Polish Elementary School in Wildflecken to the traditional festival of St. Nicolas. (29) Others had festivals like the Children’s Festival at the North Camp in Würzburg in 1948. Here, the children would don their native costumes and dance for the audience. (30) Some of the older DP children would go skiing on skis that were found in old SS warehouses. “Their thin bodies, swathed in ragged wool scarves borrowed from the grannies in their blockhouses, looked like blackbirds flying over the white slopes.” (31)
The DPs were proud of their efforts to maintain a near normal life. In various letters to Major Kale, the camp leaders were eager to point out just what they had in their camps: the Central Camp in Würzburg, a Latvian camp, was known for its excellent opera company and its workshops in tailoring, silver, embroidering, and doll making. (32) The Lithuanian Camp in Seligenstadt had a professional theatrical troupe (33); the Northern Camp in Würzburg was known for its group of artists and craftsmen (34); and the Western DP Camp in Würzburg was known for its Kindergarten. (35)
The DPs were allowed to open stores of their own where they could sell native crafts and handwork – tablecloths, book covers, dresses, and the like. The soldiers and UNRRA/IRO workers would buy the crafts and thereby provide the DP with a source of income. Others would work for the military or UNRRA/IRO. Major Kale employed five DPs at his home in Würzburg. In fact, he would only employ DPs. They lived at the house with his family and they could visit their friends in the camps on their days off. Cheap labor, they were employed as chauffeur, maid, cook, “washlady” (laundress), and gardener. (35)
The DP camps had their own governments as well. The Welfare Officers and Camp Leaders were chosen from those DPs who spoke English. Their job was to act as liaison between the DPs and the military and UNRRA/IRO. (37) It cannot be emphasized enough that these camps belonged to the DPs. The military and UNRRA and IRO were there only to give them supplies and aid and to eventually repatriate them. It was up to the DPs to keep the camps in shape and clean. “The camps were as clean as they made them and it was up to the DPs to keep things going.” This gave them a much needed sense of responsibility. (38)
Each camp was also responsible for their own schooling, with the teachers provided by the DPs themselves. Each had their own grade schools according to nationality – that is to say, the Lativans went to a Latvian school, the Lithuanians to a Lithuanian school and so on. Some of the camps had high schools and even universities! A small camp would send their children to a larger camp that had these facilities. “Here at Würzburg, the Central DP Camp is Latvian and they have up to and including university with 25 professors. These professors and all teachers are of the nationality of the children. Some of the children attend the German universities and in fact some of the DP professors teach in German universities.” (39)
The DPs learned English as well as German, Russian, and their native language. They thought nothing of speaking three or four languages. “My secretary speaks fluently…German, English, and Russian in addition to some French, Spanish, and Italian. She has a doctor degree from Riga University.” (40) Some of the DPs who completed high school were lucky enough to emigrate to continue their education in universities around the world. By 1950, the IRO aided over 400 students to emigrate on university scholarships. (41)
As time went on, the camps gained another aspect of “normal life”. After years of enslavement in the Nazi labor camps, the DPs developed a deep hatred for the Germans. And for the Germans the feeling was mutual. The Germans saw the DPs as unwanted foreign burdens. Tension between the DPs and the German civilians was on the rise. The Germans complained of the lawlessness and the special treatments received by the DPs. They saw their presence as a hindrance to the recovery of the German economy. “The Germans hate [the DPs] and don’t want them here and most everyone you talk to, including Americans are against them…Most Americans listen to the German propaganda and are taking their viewpoint of the situation…The only ones that are for them are those of us who understand their problem.” (42)
While the Germans provided a police force outside the camps, the DPs had to provide their own police force within the camps. Mychajlo Capko, a Polish DP, was sent first to the Aschaffenburg Camp as police chief. He served there from 1946 until June 1949. “Due to the liquidation of that camp by order of Major Samuel Kale, Würzburg, I was sent in 1949 to IRO staging center Wildflecken and given the post of Chief of Police which position I held until December 1949.”(43)
The crimes committed both inside and outside the camps were usually robberies. The military confined the DPs to the camps with curfews and only a few were allowed to leave with a pass. (44) However, according to a letter written by Crisulla Stejiu, a DP secretary working for Major Kale in the Würzburg Central DP Camp, there was a riot at Wildflecken in 1950. “During the riot at Wildflecken…the little son of Mr. Capko, police chief, was badly hurt on the head. Mr. Capko is very nervous now and is waiting for some information if there can be something done to get his family to the States….he is afraid that soon [there] may be one more attack against him or his family.” (45)
Although there was tension, the military and UNRRA/IRO did their utmost to provide a good life for the DPs. They put forth a noble effort to provide the DP children with a Christmas. Major Kale was one of the nine sponsors of the Christmas Gift Program for DP children. They put on shows consisting of DP talent to raise money for buying ice cream and cookies for the children. (46) The sponsors requested donations from the soldiers stationed in the Unterfranken region and from UNRRA/IRO workers for presents to be given out on Christmas. Major Kale took his efforts one step farther. He contacted his mother in Hamilton Square, New Jersey, for help. She contacted the local newspaper, the Trenton Times Advertiser, as well as friends and local businesses asking for donations of candy, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and toys. (47) Major Kale’s mother received the gifts, packaged them and posted them to Germany. There, Major Kale’s daughter, Barbara, would collect the boxes and bring them home (a school bus would sometimes drive her) and then she would begin to separate them according to what was definitely for a boy or a girl and by age groups. Then, she would proceed to wrap all of the presents for all 3,100 DP children. In the dining room of the house, “the candy brigade, made up of family, friends, co-workers, and soldiers, would sort and wrap packages of candy for the children. We would have the candy piled up from the floor to the ceiling and be there all night and into the morning wrapping!” (48) Every year for four years, Major Kale and his family repeated this project and every year it was a great success. “It was a lot of work but we enjoyed every bit and we were more than repaid just to see the happiness of the children at their parties.” (49)
Alexandra Romonowski described a Christmas she spent in a British DP camp:
The most important part of our youth we spent in this war and hunger and terror…[After libration, at Christmastime in our camp] soldiers would come with their ladies with them and we would have like a school play and we would get little packages – nuts, an apple, some candy – oh it was such a big thing for us, we would dance and there were musicians among us and they would play…” (50)
The Lativan Committee of the Central DP Camp in Würzburg sent the following thank you letter to Major Kale on January 8, 1948:Dear Major Kale, We have already spent the fourth Christmas in exile. The little children of ours cannot recall to their minds the splendid time they had a Christmas in our native country…The soldiers of the US Army and their dependants have perceived that hard and hopeless situation of ours having exerted much efforts, sincerity, and good will in spending considerable material expedient to grant a white and delightful Christmas to hour children. On behalf of the inhabitants of the Central DP Camp, I beg you, Sir, to accept my profoundest respects and gratitude…(51)
After several years of deprivation, the children were grateful to receive or find anything, no matter what it was. One day, Alexandra Romanowski was rummaging through the garbage disposal at the Fishbeck DP Camp in Hamburg looking for something. “I remember once I found the can [sic]…with a carnation on [the label] and I cut it out. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I put it in my book and once in awhile we would share something like that. On a broken dish was a flower. You know, you cannot imagine, but if you never see anything like that, it is something beautiful!” (52) That is why a comb, a hair band, or a doll at Christmas – or a Carnation Milk can label – meant so much to the children.
The Christmas parties gave the DPs home – a sign that someone cared. The DPs needed to know there was someone watching over them, especially with the Soviet spectre looming so near. “We visited six different camps and spoke with many people of various nationalities. All are motivated and driven by one feeling – to get as far away as possible from the Soviet Union…” (53)
Initially, the Soviets ignored the existence of Russian or Soviet DPs. They felt that they had shamed themselves by allowing themselves to be captured and work as forced labor rather than honorably taking their lives to prevent capture. (54) However, the Yalta Agreement required the British, Americans, and French to return all Soviet Nationals as well as those from Soviet Occupied territories. The Soviets “…would take parents and send them to Siberia for labor work and children would be sent to schools and they would make anything out of them. AnythingQ And people didn’t want to go. But when they signed Yalta contract [sic] the Americans and English had to force us to go back. People were killing themselves…later somebody [General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander] saw how horrible it was and stopped this. (53)
Alexandra Romanowski and her family were almost a victim of the Yalta policy:
We were already put on a truck and sent to a big camp where there were Soviet soldiers and they were putting name tags on us on the truck and somebody, somebody said that we were not Soviet citizens. They told us not to speak Russian or Ukrainian and they told them we were all Polish peoples. They didn’t want Polish in the beginning so we were sent back to the camps. (56)
Although the Russians could no longer demand the return of their nationals, they continued to try to induce them to return of their own free will. They sent officers to the camps to talk with them and show propaganda movies (57) Major Kale accompanied the officers each time they toured the camps under his care because the DPs would panic at the sight of the Russians. But with Major Kale there, they felt reassured that they would be protected. Major Kale ardently refused to allow any of the DPs to go with the Soviets If they did not wish and would not allow the visiting officers any opportunity to take them. This is one reason why the DPs felt so close to Major Kale and saw him as their “Great Protector.” This is also why the Soviet Union placed him on their “list”. Being on this list meant that if Major Kale had ever been found in Soviet territory or zone of occupation he would have been captured and imprisoned and possibly executed. (58)
The knowledge that there were so many individuals trying to aid the DPs and find them a new home helped to keep the DPs going. However, as time went on and the turn of a new decade approached, the DPs grew more and more desperate to leave the camps. Mychajlo Capko said, “I and my family want to live in a real democracy, a democracy for which I have been fighting all my life.” (59)
Repatriation was slow. UNRRA and the IRO needed to find a country that had individuals who would be willing to sponsor a DP family. When the families were finally accepted, it was still not easy to get them out of the camps. Members of each family were required to go through various medical examinations and questioning. It would be wrong to give the image that everything went perfectly with UNRRA’s and the IRO’s repatriations. Many DPs had to wait years for their emigration to be approved. Edgar H.S. Chandler, the Director of the Refugee Service of the World Council of Churches, once stated:
Man is not a mathematical element about whom we can say: ‘if we cannot help him this year or next, we’ll help him the year after…’ He may die in the meantime. He may lose spirit, energy and sink into apathy…He may fall ill, or turn into an anti-social being who curses the world for letting him rot. And that is exactly what happened. (60)
Quite often, after someone filed their application to emigrate, months would pass without word. Then, suddenly, the request would be refused!
It is not seldom that a person or family has all the papers ready and sometimes they are already in Bremen [a seaport in Northern Germany] in one of the camps over there and then of a sudden [sic] they are rejected. Why, what for? Nobody knows…the DPs who are waiting for their emigration now since years [are] getting nervous now…” (61)
At times, if someone made “enemies” in their camp, that enemy could strike back in a powerful way. To paraphrase a letter written by Chrisulla Stejiu about Police Chief Capko in August 1950: Mr. Capko, a police chief in the Polish DP Camp Wildflecken, passed all of his screenings, and after waiting five months still had no word on his emigration. It so happens that a letter was sent to the Resettlement Officer with his forged signature and which “insulted the officers from Wildflecken very bad.” After the situation was cleared up, he was sponsored for emigration “from Chikago [sic] [to work on] a little fruit farm….a few days ago [he received] information that there have been several anonymous letter [sic] to the [emigration officer], that he has been in the Ukrainian National Party in 1940-1942. There is no opportunity for him to do any explanation to somebody and he is rejected for good…Such things happen very often.” (62)
On other occasions, if the emigration officer was in a bad mood, he could simply refuse to pass a DP on his questioning. According to Wasyl Krewsun, in the Regensburg DP Camp, “…the Americans showed their stupidity.” During the interviewing of a DP, who most likely spoke very little, if any, English, the officer would ask the DP to take a glass of water and dump it out the window. Naturally, he would do it, figuring that this was the only way he could get to America. The officer would then tell him that he could not emigrate to America because he was stupid, proven by the fact that he took a glass of water and dumped it out the window on some poor person outside! (64)
The desperation of many of the DPs is incomprehensible. A Hungarian high school teacher was denied emigration to Australia at the last minute because he needed an operation. By the time he recovered, he had missed his chance to emigrate. He returned to another camp to await another opportunity. Just hours before he was again to emigrate, “…he was rejected. Why, what for, nobody knows. Again the same story as we have here now every day.” (65).
Desperate to emigrate, the Hungarian teacher wrote,
I don’t know why, but I’m sure there is no legal way for us to emigrate. So I’m looking for a job to get some money and make it possible to go illegal. Because to find help here in Germany or by IRO is impossible…pretty soon we are this far [sic] that only burglary or murder may help us. At least to get a place in a German jail to know that we have a place to stay and some kind of food every day.” (66)
Mychajlo Capko, the Wildflecken Police Chief, pleaded his case in a letter to Major Kale who had been transferred back to the United States:
Dear Major! Referring to your letter you wrote me before your departure, I take the liberty of reminding you about my matter. I hope, you surely will find among your acquaintances those who have their own factories [sic] and firms where it could be possible to get a job and housing. It is quite impossible to stay any longer here…please include my cousine [sic] whom I have found in Germany…I wish I could take him with me…Now I finish my letter, hoping to receive your favorable answer soon and then to greet you and thank you personaly [sic] in American in the next future!! (67)
In a letter dated December 24, 1947, fourteen-year-old J. Rickevicius, a Lithuanian orphan living in the Schweinfurt DP camp wrote,
Dear Friends, I thiank you cordial for all gifts you sent to me, boots and furred coat. I lost my parents when I was still a boy [they were killed in the war] but up till now I am still remembering them. As my parents died, my uncle cared about me, and still, I am living with them. But my uncle has a numerous family, so he does not pay much attention to me, he excluded me of his family and I have to live like a single person. Therefore I should be glad, if it would be possible, to depart to USA as soon as possible to earn means for further existence. (68)
DPs emigrated to all parts of the world.
Once sponsored, the individual or family would either sail from
Bremerhaven or depart by train. Katheryn
Hulme once accompanied some Polish DPs to the train station in the Bavarian
forest. While spending the night at the
station waiting for the next train,
…we watched them assemble along the railroad siding in family cliques and clans, build windbreak shelters with their multiformed luggage and bonfires from old railroad ties. They had been shoved around for so long they know just what to do…I saw those refugees bedding down for the night, mute and uncomplaining, their feet toward the fires, their bodies intertwined four and five deep with the grannies on the inside of each sleeping formation, between the warmer-blooded younger ones. As far down the tracks as we could see, there were those strange masses of contorted forms outlined in the ruddy glow of smoldering bonfires. (69)
Wasyl Krewsun was sponsored by a farmer in New York. Many culture and ethnic clubs would find sponsors for the DPs just to get them out of the camps. Mr. Krewsun never met the farmer and never saw the farm itself, but the sponsorship got him out of the camps. The DPs had to live thorugh four or more years of “camp life” waiting for a country to sponsor them so they could start life anew. Many, like Wasyl Krewsun, who was only in his twenties while in the camps, had no life until they were repatriated. “I had no life from the time I was in the Russian Army until I came to the United States at age 30! I had no past, no future. It was black. My teenage years and early adult years were lost. I had nothing.” (70)
Life in the DP Camps was neither easy nor enjoyable. The last thing the refugees needed was to spend even more time in camps. They had already spent most of the war years in slave labor camps and factories, deprived of anything resembling a normal life. However, as any DP would tell you, there was one fundamental difference between the Nazi Camps and the UNRRA and IRO Camps. The one thing that kept them going was that depe down, no matter how rough it got, they knew that in the DP camps they were free. Now, instead of being forced to work, they did it by choice and they earned pay. They felt as if their existence meant something. They were able to run their own camps the way they wanted to live.
Many of the DPs knew no life other than camp life, while others could call upon memories of home. Although the attempts to provide a normal life in the camps did not always work, the fact remained that the attempts were made. The DPs had people caring for them at the camps, trying to make them feel at home and the overall psychological effects on the DPs were mostly positive. Although in many cases it took several years, they eventually made their way to new homes in new places around the world.
* * *
Seventy-seven years after the DP camps were established in Germany, Europe is once again facing a refugee crisis. Today, however, the situation is different. As the Russian Army obliterates residential homes in the villages and cities of Ukraine, those who are fleeing for their lives have nowhere to go. Once they cross the border to safety, they have no idea what awaits them. There are no DP Camps this time. There is no assurance that they will have a roof over their heads once they escape from the war zone. However, the spirits of UNRRA and IRO and all those who worked so hard to help the DPs left behind by the Nazis is alive and residing in the Polish people, as well as Romanians, Slovakians and others all of whom have taken on the role, as best they can, of UNRRA and IRO – meeting the fleeing Ukrainians at the border with food, clothing and offers of shelter until they can figure out where to go. While the encroaching Russian Army is showing us the dark side of humanity, the people of Eastern Europe are shining a bright light – a beacon of hope for the modern day DPs.
* * *
Although I wrote this paper in August 1990, it was really written over forty-five years earlier in Occupied Germany. It was written by Displaced Persons and refugees of all ages; army officers and UNRRA and IRO workers. As I researched this paper, I found letters written by my grandfather, Major Samuel Kale, describing his job and DP life. I also found letters written to him by various DPs themselves. My mother was kind enough to sit for an interview and tell me what she remembered about the DPs and the camps her father ran. Maisy Oth, who maintained a lifelong friendship with my grandparents, was kind enough to share with me her UNRRA experiences. I was also privileged to interview two former DPs - Wasyl Krewsun and Alexandra Romanowski. Listening to their stories and reading the countless letters sent to my grandfather left me awestruck.
* * *
In 1990, I dedicated this paper to the “multitude of Displaced Persons in Germany…and to those UNRRA and IRO workers without whose efforts the DPs would surely have been lost.” It was “…especially dedicated to my grandfather, the late Lieutenant Colonel Samuel S. Kale, to whom so many DPs expressed their thanks and to whom I will be forever grateful for allowing me to inherit his interest and concern for the DPs of Europe.”
Thirty-two years later, I would now like to add to that dedication and include the current victims of Vladimir Putin’s War, the “new” Displaced Persons of Europe – the Ukrainians – who are fleeing their country and the inhumane destruction of their homes and cities. And just as those UNRRA and IRO workers before them, I extend the dedication to the people of Poland and Romania and the other Eastern European countries who are greeting the refugees at the border with open arms.
Lastly, I also want to dedicate this to Brent Renaud, the award winning documentarian who was murdered by the Russians while trying to tell the world of the plight of the modern day Ukrainian refugees – as well as other refugees and displaced persons around the world. May his memory be a blessing.
* * *
The tragic war and refugee situation of 2022 is not the same as it was in 1945. History is not repeating itself, although in an odd way maybe it is. As Mark Twain observed, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” This is one poem that needs to end.
1. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. August 22, 1948.
2. Robert Kee, Refugee World. (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), pg. 5.
3. Alexandra Romanowski. Interview with author. June 8, 1990.
4. Malcom J. Proudfoot, European Refugees: A Study in Forced Population Movement. (Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1956), pg. 268.
5. Barbara Kale Falzini. Interview with author. July 22, 1990.
6. Wasyl Krewsun. Interview with author. July 21, 1990.
8. International Refugee Organization Newsletter, No. 2, June 1, 1950. Pg. 1.
9. Proudfoot, pg 98.
10. Ibid., pgs 98-100.
11. Ibid., pg. 118.
12. Maisy Oth, Letter to author. May 29, 1990.
13. Proudfoot, pg 399.
14. Maisy Oth.
15. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. November 6, 1946
16. Kathryn Hulme, Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1964). Pg. 198.
17. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. September 28, 1946.
18. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. October 19, 1947
19. Thank you letter to Major Kale. (Central DP Camp, Würzburg). November 17, 1948.
20. Proudfoot, pg 279.
21. Alexandra Romanowski.
22. Proudfoot, pg. 270.
23. Ibid., pg 270.
24. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. November 14, 1948.
25. Kale, November 6, 1948.
26. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. February 22, 1948.
27. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. November 21, 1948.
28. Alexandra Romanowski.
29. Polish Committee, Wildflecken DP Camp. Invitation to Major Kale. December 6, 1947.
30. K. Lacis. Invitation to Major Kale. (not dated).
31. Hulme, pgs. 233-4.
32. H. Klarks, Camp Leader. Thank you letter to Major Kale. January 5, 1948.
33. Jonas Juodis, Camp Leader. Thank you letter to Major Kale. January 5, 1948.
34. A. Krastins, Camp Leader. Thank you letter to Major Kale. January 7, 1948.
35. Thank you letter to Major Kale. November 17, 1948. (Author known).
36. Barbara K. Falzini.
37. Alexandra Romanowski.
38. Barbara K. Falzini.
39. Kale, November 14, 1948.
41. International Refugee Organization Newsletter, No. 15. August 15, 1950. Pg. 7.
42. Kale, August 22, 1948.
43. Mychajlo Capko. Application, European Case #181694. August 15, 1950.
44. Proudfoot, pg 244.
45. Chrisulla Sterjiu. Letter to Major Kale. October 6, 1950.
46. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to parents. November 21, 1948.
47. Major Samuel S. Kale. Letter to Captain DeGonero. January 5, 1949.
48. Barbara K. Falzini.
49. Kale, January 5, 1949.
50. Alexandra Romanowski.
51. Mag. Chem. J. Bormanis. Latvian Committee of the Central DP Camp, Würzburg. Thank you letter. January 8, 1948.
52. Alexandra Romanowski.
53. Elena Skrjabina. Allies on the Rhine: 1945-1950. (Ill., Southwestern University Press, 1980). Pg 81.
54. Proudfoot, pg 152.
55. Alexandra Romanowski.
57. Julia S. Kale. Letter to mother and father-in-law and sisters-in-law. August 20, 1947.
58. Barbara K. Falzini.
59. Capko, August 15, 1950.
60. Kee, pg. 8.
61. Sterjiu, August 21, 1950.
64. Wasyl Krewsun.
65. Chrisulla Sterjiu. Letter to Major Kale. Undated. Circa 1950
67. Capko, August 15, 1950.
68. J. Rickericus. Letter to “friends”. December 24, 1947.
69. Hulme, pg. 226.
70. Wasyl Krewsun.
Bormanis, Mag. Chem. J. Chairman Latvian Committee of the Central DP Camp, Würzburg,
Germany. Thank you letter to Major S.S. Kale. January 8, 1948.
Capko, Mychajlo, Police Chief, Wildflecken DP Camp. Letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. August
Capko, Mychajlo. Application, European Case #181694, Wash. Assur. #C-626, Wildflecken DP
Camp. August 18, 1950.
Falzini, Barbara Kale. Interview with the author. July 22, 1990.
Gasparatis, Kostas, Camp Leader and Paranas Zelba, Welfare Officer, Seligenstadt Lithuanian
DP Camp. Thank you letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. March 24, 1949.
Harrold, Brigadier General Thomas L. OSC, Director, DP Operations, Heidelberg. Letter of
Commendation to Major Samuel S. Kale. January 13, 1949.
Hulme, Kathryn. Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure. Little, Brown and Company,
International Refugee Organization. Newsletter. No 2. June 1, 1950.
International Refugee Organization. Newsletter. No. 15. August 15, 1950.
Juodis, Jonas, Camp Leader and Kostas Gesparaltis, Welfare Officer, Seligenstadt Lithuanian DP
Camp. Thank you letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. January 5, 1948.
Kale, Julia S. Letter to parents (in-laws). May 5, 1947.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. September 28, 1946.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. February 22, 1947.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. August 22, 1948.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. November 6, 1948.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. November 14, 1948.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Parents. November 21, 1948.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to mother. December 26, 1948.
Kale, Samuel S., Major. Letter to Captain DeGonero, Civil Affairs Division, Headquarters,
European Command. January 5, 1949.
Kee, Robert. Refugee World. Oxford University Press, London. 1961.
Kilis, Gene and Hadas. Letter to Major and Mrs. Samuel S. Kale. June 3, 1949.
Klarks, H., Camp Leader and E. Lazdins, Welfare Officer, Latvian DP Camp, Central Camp,
Würzburg. Thank you letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. January 7, 1948.
Krewsun, Wasyl. Interview with the author. July 21, 1990.
Lacis, K. Invitation to Major S. Kale. Undated.
Oth, Maisy. Letter to the author. May 29, 1990.
Polish Committee, Wildflecken DP Camp. Invitation to Major Samuel S. Kale. December 6,
Proudfoot, Malcolm J. European Refugees; A Study in Forced Population Movement.
Northwestern University Press, Evanston, Ill. 1956.
Rickevicus, J. Schweinfurt Lithuanian DP Camp. General letter. December 24, 1947.
Romanowski, Alexandra. Interview with the author. June 8, 1990.
Skrjabina, Elena. The Allies on the Rhine: 1945-1950. Southern University Press, Ill. 1980.
Sterjiu, Chrisulla. Letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. [c. 1950].
Sterjiu, Chrisulla. Letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. August 21, 1950.
Sterjiu, Chrisulla. Letter to Major Samuel S. Kale. October 6, 1950.
Thank you letter to Major Samuel S. Kale from the Central DP Camp, Würzburg. November 17,
Thank you letter to Major Samuel S. Kale from the Latvian DP Children, Western DP Camp,
Würzburg. December 21, 1947.