What Did Holocaust Survivors Do After Liberation? Part One: Displaced Persons Camps

This post is part one of a series of posts adapted from a research paper that I wrote during my sophomore year of undergrad. This is not meant to be an exhaustive look at DP camps, but a look at the conditions Holocaust survivors faced and one Jewish camp in the American zone. For more information about DP camps, please visit my sources at the bottom of this post.

Life after the Holocaust isn’t a topic that comes to light very often. What did survivors do? Where did they go? Almost everyone has some knowledge of the horrors of the Third Reich but far fewer people possess knowledge of the life that waited for their victims once liberation came. It was impossible for life to go back to normal…there was no normal anymore.

When the war in Europe ended in May 1945, millions of Europeans were left displaced. We don’t know the exact number. Figures vary greatly, even among historians, but the task of putting the lives of the Jewish, Romani, homosexual, and political prisoners that survived concentration camps as well as the lives of Europeans displaced by war wasn’t easy.

Postwar Destruction

Destruction in postwar Europe, circa 1945. Image via my family archives.

One option that survivors had were the displaced persons camps (DP camps) set up in the occupation zones (American, Soviet, British, and French). The camps were often established in either the remains of the concentration camp or in German army barracks. They were set up by the Allies to give survivors a safe place to stay while they regained their strength, tracked down surviving family members, gathered the paperwork needed to immigrate, and/or become acclimated to life outside of a concentration camp. They were small communities with schools, synagogues/churches, hospitals, and recreation areas. This post will discuss DP camps, particularly the Landsberg DP camp near Munich, Germany in the American-occupied zone. Much of the information in this post comes from the letters of US Army Major Irving Heymont, head of the Landsberg camp from September-December 1945.

To understand what a survivor of the Holocaust faced after liberation, it’s important to understand the atmosphere in Europe, particularly Germany and Poland. Anti-Semitism was prevalent in pre-war Europe and obviously, the effects of years of Nazi propaganda were strong and didn’t immediately disappear (in some ways, it survives to this day.) Jewish survivors often faced physical and verbal attacks, known as pogroms. Primo Levi, a Jewish-Italian survivor of Auschwitz, wrote, “We felt we had something to say, enormous things to say, to every single German, and we felt that every German should have something to say to us…”

Survivors who returned to their hometown to try to reclaim their pre-war property were met with “violent opposition” from the current owners of their homes. According to one of the men who witnessed such an attack, the Polish police often did nothing to stop the attackers. The events that transpired under the Third Reich paired with the residual hate left most survivors with the desire to get out of Europe as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, it took time for that to even be a possibility. In the meantime, those that stayed in DP camps found that they weren’t always the refuges they were intended to be. Major Irving Heymont, himself Jewish-American, of the US Army told the Landsberg camp committee that “the army came to Europe to fight the Nazis, not stand guard over their victims.” Heymont didn’t want to be in charge of the camp and statements like the aforementioned show his true feelings. Regardless, this attitude wasn’t exclusive to Landsberg. Julius Spokojny spent time in the Wildflecken DP camp, also in the American zone. Spokojny wrote, “…after the concentration camp, there was still a concentration camp, only without annihilation, without gas chambers, but the same closed camp. With armed guards.”

Protests took place at the White House when Americans found out about the treatment of survivors by US troops. President Truman decided to investigate the situation and sent Earl G. Harrison, then a member of the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, to inspect a few camps in the American zone. Harrison’s report aligns with Spokojny’s comments about Wildflecken. In his report, Harrison wrote,

As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of SS troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy.

Truman immediately took action, writing a letter to General Eisenhower in August 1945 stating that the Americans had a responsibility to show the German people that “we abhor the Nazi policies of hatred and persecution” and that the best way to demonstrate this was to treat the survivors with dignity. This letter led to improved treatment of the DPs as well as the improvement of the camps becoming a priority in the American zone. With new men being put in charge of the camps and the turbulent atmosphere, this policy took time to sink in. In September 1945, Major Heymont, then only 27 years old, became the head of the Landsberg DP camp in Germany.

The Landsberg DP camp was set up after the liberation of nearby Landsberg concentration camp, a subcamp of Dachau. This camp was part of “Kaufering IV.” If this name sounds familiar or the photo below looks familiar, it’s probably because this is the same camp that was liberated in episode 9 of Band of Brothers, “Why We Fight.”

Kaufering IV

Kaufering IV shortly after liberation. Image via USHMM.

Heymont’s letters to his wife give us clear view of what life in Landsberg was like. According to Heymont, the unit that was in charge before he got there had done nothing more than ensure the rations were distributed. He wrote that the residents, 6,000 total with 5,000 being Jewish survivors of Dachau and its sub camps, “appear demoralized beyond hope of rehabilitation. They appear to be beaten both spiritually and physically, with no hopes or incentives for the future.”

He went on to reveal his biggest struggle with the camp: the sanitation, or lack thereof. He described the camp as being, “filthy beyond description. Sanitation is virtually unknown. Words fail me when I try to think of an accurate description.” Due to the lack of sanitation in concentration camps, disease spread rapidly. Many survivors were liberated with typhus and lice. Cleaning the DP camp would stop the spread of disease among survivors as well as US soldiers and civilians in the surrounding areas. It’s also true that cleanliness can help you feel human.

There were two reasons for the condition of the camp: supply shortages left them with few cleaning supplies and the camp residents, having been dehumanized, malnourished, and used as slave labor for years, were not in any condition to clean. This left him extremely frustrated. Heymont wrote his wife an entire letter, several pages long, on the condition of various parts of the camp. The pots, pans, and stoves of the non-kosher kitchen were “encrusted” with grease and food debris and appeared not to have been cleaned in weeks. Meat was laying on the floor of the walk-in freezer as all of the meat hooks were rusty. The kosher kitchen was somehow worse than its non-kosher counterpart and there was human excrement on the floor of the kitchen’s storeroom. Of the bathrooms he wrote that they “beg description” and “the washrooms and toilets had an intense acrid odor that almost caused me to vomit.” The hospital was described as a “bright spot” with only small infractions and the schools were also surprisingly clean.

Landsberg DP Camp

Landsberg DP Camp, circa 1945-1948. Image via USHMM.

With all of that in mind, it’s important to realize that not all DP camps were in the condition Landsberg was in at this point in time. On September 28, 1945, Major Heymont and General Onslow Rolfe, the Assistant Division Commander, took a trip to the Fohrenwald DP camp near Wolfratshausen. This camp was “beautiful,” set up well, and run well. This visit inspired him. It’s also around this time, and probably not coincidental, that he seems to become more sympathetic towards the residents. In the same letter he mentions the Fohrenwald visit, he mentions a speech he gave to the camp in which he said,

Because I know what you have suffered, I want to assure you that I do not intend to see Landsberg another prison camp. We did not conquer the Nazis so we could have the hollow honor of standing armed guard over the victims of Hitler.

This is a far cry from his previous statement saying that the Army wasn’t responsible for standing guard over the victims of the Third Reich. In the same speech, Heymont stressed that he understood that under the Nazis, work meant death and that the US Army didn’t intend to work them to death. As the Army began to understand the survivors’ point of view, camp rules began to change. Residents no longer needed a written pass to leave the camp and the guards at the gate were withdrawn as they were reminiscent of guards outside of concentration camps. Only one soldier remained at the main gate to help camp police and keep unauthorized Germans from entering. The most symbolic change came when the barbed wire surrounding the area, left from the concentration camp, was finally torn down.

Heymont and Rolfe

General Onslow Rolfe (top, right) and Major Irving Heymont (top, center) speak to Jewish DPs in the Landsberg DP camp. Image via USHMM.

At first, DPs in camps, in all occupation zones, were organized by nationality. It seems that Jewish survivors were mostly unhappy with this system. They wanted to be seen simply as Jewish, not Polish Jews, German Jews, or Hungarian Jews. Once the US Army realized this, populations were moved around and many camps became Jewish or non-Jewish. Landsberg became a Jewish DP camp in October 1945.

Since post-war Europe was divided into four occupation zones, it’s interesting to look at the differences between DP camps in the different zones. It was mentioned that Jewish residents in Landsberg, and most camps, wanted to be seen as Jewish and nothing else. In Starye Dorogi, a transit camp for Italians in the Soviet Union, things were different. Primo Levi, who spent time in the camp, said that the Soviets were impartial toward the residents and saw them simply as Italians, disregarding whether they were Jewish or not. This seemed to suit Levi, as he said the rest was ‘vsyo ravno’ or “all the same.” Another stark contrast comes with the physical treatment of the residents. Residents of American camps were certainly not treated the same as the soldiers themselves. In Star Dorogi, it seems that they were.

One constant in all of the camps was the desire for privacy. This is a completely understandable desire as survivors hadn’t experienced privacy in years. Ghettos didn’t allow for much solitude and privacy in a concentration camp was impossible. Unfortunately, almost every camp was overpopulated and privacy was still in short supply. Heymont was struck by the residents’ “intense desire” for it, to not be part of a mass as they had been for so many years. Residents strung blankets up and rearranged wooden lockers to create partitions. In From Ashes to Life, Lucille Eichengreen wrote about her time in a British DP camp where she shared a room with six or seven other women and, like Landsberg, the bathroom was dormitory style. Since most DP camps were established in the remains of concentration camps or army barracks, arrangements similar to Lucille’s and those in Landsberg were extremely common.

Major Heymont, later to become Colonel Heymont, was commander of the Landsberg DP camp for only three and a half months. According to Abraham Peck, who was born in the camp and went on to become director of the Academic Council for Post-Holocaust Christian, Jewish and Islamic Studies at the University of Southern Maine, Heymont’s work shouldn’t go understated. He called the Landsberg DP camp a “turning point” in Jewish history and explained that “Heymont allowed these people their own sense of humanity.” Holocaust survivors needed humanity.

Farewell dinner

Farewell dinner for Major Irving Heymont and Captain David Trott. From left to right: Ala Gringauz (nee Bergholz), Dr. Abraham Glassgold, UNRRA director, Major Irving Heymont, Captain David Trott and Dr. Samuel Gringauz. Image via USHMM.

Landsberg went on to become the center of Jewish cultural life in the American zone. In 1947, the camp population stood at 4,500 residents. They had a school system that spanned all ages, from pre-K to college and included a Talmud Torah (field of study dealing with Jewish law) and a Yeshiva (institution dealing with religious texts such as the Talmud and Torah). DPs in the camp ran newspapers, including the ‘Yidishe Tsaytung’ (literally, Jewish Newspaper), a radio station, and a theatre group. As we’ll see in the next post in this series, Jewish DPs were eager to reclaim their culture and went about it with impressive speed and efficiency.

Religion in Landsberg

Most DP camps remained in operation until the early 1950s when occupation forces withdrew. The Landsberg DP camp closed in October 1950.

For more information about displaced persons camps, please check out the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and my sources below.


Sources (contains affiliate links)

After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in Postwar Germany by Michael Brenner
The Reawakening by Primo Levi
Among the Survivors of the Holocaust by Irving Heymont
From Ashes to Life by Lucille Eichengreen
Before – During – After by Siegfried Halbreich
A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal

US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Earl G. Harrison
Irving Heymont, 90, Commanded Displaced Persons Camp After WWII by Patricia Sullivan
ORT and the Displaced Person Camps

Historic Oak View County Park

A few weeks ago, I visited Historic Oak View County Park here in Raleigh. Despite living just a few miles from the park for over six years, I’d never been! I took advantage of the nice weather to explore.

Beginning in the 1830s, Oak View was a working farm for around 150 years, growing Southern staples like cotton and tobacco. During that time, it belonged to several high-profile families in Wake County, with the county acquiring it in 1984, decades after it ceased being a working farm. By 1984, it was made up of 72 acres of land, a fraction of its former size. Wake County planned an office park on part of the land, used the historic house for storage, and slated 17 acres of the orchard and several historic farm buildings for demolition. The Wake County Historical Society organized a citizens committee to raise funds and several county commissioners became involved with the project to save the park. In 1991, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1995, it became the first historic park in the Wake County park system.

Today, the park is comprised of several historic buildings, a museum, visitor’s center, a Farm History Center, a pecan grove, fruit orchard, and small cemetery.

This is the main house, built around 1855. In the 1940s, a Colonial Revival-style addition was added (to the right of the main structure). Now it’s a small museum!

Library1

Inside the library of the main house. Behind me was a fireplace and shelves of old books reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast (on a much smaller scale!)

KitchenHouse

This is the plank kitchen behind the main house. In the south, kitchens were detached from the main house to eliminate extra heat in the living space. This is the oldest building on the property, having been built in 1825 and served as the house’s kitchen until the 1940s!

Barn1

One of the barns on the property. You’d never know that the interstate is visible from the park. It feels like you’re away from modern life for a minute.

CottonBail

A bale of cotton beside the cotton gin house. I didn’t take pictures inside the house because it was so dark. You’re able to walk upstairs and downstairs in the house, which I thought was so cool! The cotton gin house was built around 1900 and processed the cotton from Oak View Farm as well as surrounding farms.

Chicken

And they have livestock! On the day I went, I only saw the chickens but they have goats as well. I was a little sad that I missed the goats but since I live so close (and I really didn’t explore much of the park), I’ll have to go back!

Park1

For more information about Historic Oak View County Park, click here!

What I Read in October

It’s already November, which means it’s time to share what I read in October! For past “What I Read” posts, click hereFull disclosure, this post contains affiliate links.

What I Read in October

The Last Jew of Treblinka by Chil Rajchman
This book is special simply because so few survived Treblinka. It was a death factory, where victims were hurried off the trains and straight to the gas chambers. The story is horrifying and chronicles the absolute worst humanity has to offer. For those same reasons, it’s an important one.

Murder in Little Egypt by Darcy O’Brien
Little Egypt is a sleepy area in southern Illinois. The town doctor, Dale Cavaness, treats nearly everyone in Little Egypt and they trust him wholeheartedly. There is a lot they don’t know about him, though. When one of Dale’s sons turns up dead, it looks like a horrible accident. But is it? You guys, this book is wild. I stayed up past midnight on more than one occasion because I couldn’t put it down. If you’re into true crime, you’ll definitely want to pick this one up.

Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy Tyson
Blood Done Sign My Name is part memoir, part story about a small southern town in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. Tyson grew up in Oxford, NC and in 1970, the town saw the murder of a young black man by a white store owner and his sons. Tyson talks about the Civil Rights Movement across the country, particularly in the south, and what it was like to grow up in that environment. It’s a fantastic book and unfortunately, it still feels very relevant in 2017.


Like this list? Pin it!

What I read in October

Creepy Historical Podcasts for Halloween

Because I love podcasts and I’m sure many of my readers do, too, I’ve compiled a list of some of the creepiest episodes of some of my favorite podcasts, all of which have a basis in history. Just so you know, many of these episodes deal with murder (although none get too graphic if my memory serves correctly) so proceed with caution if you’re sensitive to that or have little ears listening.

Creepy Podcasts for Halloween

Lore

If you’re looking for a creepy podcast, you’re looking for Lore. (And now it’s a show on Amazon!) Really, the entire series is perfect listening for the month of October but I have a few favorites…

Mary, Mary

The Big Chill (I swear, I think about this story at least once a week.)

Negative Consequences

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Lizzie Borden and Her Axe

The Bloody Benders

Spring-Heeled Jack: Mystery Assailant!

The Sisters Fox: They Talked to Dead People

Ghosts of History: Winchester Mystery House

HH Holmes and the Mysteries of Murder Castle, parts one and two

The Belle Gunness Episode: Who was the Mistress of Murder Hill?

Criminal

Pearl Bryan

Poster Boy

One Eyed Joe

You Must Remember This

Charles Manson’s Hollywood
This entire series is phenomenal and I recommend listening to the whole thing but if you only want the creepiest, this episode covers the Tate/LaBianca murders

Haunted Places

This podcast is brand new (these are the only two episodes out so far!) but it’s perfect for Halloween.

 The Cecil Hotel

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories

Edgar Allan Poe, parts one and two

The Black Dahlia, parts one and two

Bugsy Siegel, parts one and two

Villisca Axe Murders, parts one and two

The Mystery of the Somerton Man/Taman Shud, parts one and two

The Zodiac Killer, parts one and two

If you need a little palate cleanser but still want to hear about spooky things, here are some podcasts covering creepy topics that are meant to educate and entertain, not scare!

Stuff You Should Know

What’s the Deal With Rasputin’s Death?

(Approximately) 10 Things That Vanished Mysteriously

The Dark Origins of Fairy Tales

How Haunted House Attractions Work

Do Zombies Really Exist?

How Exorcism Works

The Tomb by HP Lovecraft

Berenice by Edgar Allan Poe

Halloween Scarefest (2014)

Sawbones

Reanimation

Medical Cannibalism

Corpse Theft and the Resurrection Men

The Unkillable Phineas Gage

Aah, Real Monsters!

Do you have other recommendations? Let me know in the comments!


Like this list? Pin it!

Creepy Podcasts for Halloween Pin

13 Vintage Halloween Pictures to get you in the Holiday Spirit

It’s mid-October, which means Halloween is right around the corner. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t really feel like Halloween to me. It might have something to do with the temperatures outside or maybe it’s because I haven’t had any apple cider. To get both you and I into the holiday spirit, I combed the archives (lots of archives, actually) to bring you thirteen vintage Halloween photos!

Wait wait, lets set the mood with some music. Try this song, or maybe this one.

Alright, now let’s see what we’ve got here…

2720790706_8fde57d45c_z

“Trick photo” of a decapitated man, ca. 1875. Image via George Eastman Museum.

halloweenpic1

Costumed passengers at the Tallahassee Municipal Airport, 1984. Image via Florida Memory. (Can you imagine showing up to the airport like this today?!)

2573263772_a20c0c4700_z

The Nereidian Club, a synchronized swimming club, swim with a skeleton at Duke University, date unknown. Image via Duke University Archives.

11855767246_afd19fae82_z

Halloween party flyer from Duke University, 1976. Image via Duke University Archives.

9261216155_825676b5da_z

Halloween party flyer from the Duke Graduate Student Association, date unknown. Image via Duke University Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15099409636_b954175030_z

Monster College graduation at Knott’s Berry Farm, 1990. Image via Orange County Archives.

10594484016_28201fa388_z

Ghostly image created via double exposure, 1899. Image via National Archives UK.

 

halloweenpic2

Underwater witch in Rainbow Springs, FL, 1950s. Image via Florida Memory.

8124977181_c81f8e5950_z

Agar Adamson in a very impressive Napoleon Bonaparte costume at a ball in Toronto, 1898. Image via Library and Archives Canada. (It appears that Canadians do Halloween right.)

35896686071_d353d9cde5_z

Elvira and friends at Knott’s Berry Farm’s Halloween Haunt, 1986. Image via Orange County Archives.

33583135986_b6bc0ea5fa_z

Halloween party at the Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh, NC, 1950. Image via State Archives of North Carolina.

2942820068_039f3421ef_z

Press photo for The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, 1969. Image via Mousetalgia.

halloweenpic4

NC State students dressed as Paul Stanley and a scarecrow, 1991. Image via NCSU Libraries.


Like this post? Pin it!

Vintage Halloween Pictures