Survivors in Post-War Europe
Out of eight to ten million Jews living in the territories controlled by the Nazi during the Second World War, between five and six million perished during the Holocaust- thousands of Jews were transported from the ghettos to the extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Majdanek where they were killed on arrival. In addition to these, hundreds of thousands died at the many concentration and slave labour camps that covered the Nazi-occupied Europe.
On 9 May 1945, the unconditional surrender of Germany signified the end of the Second Word War in Europe. In the aftermath, Germany, as was decided at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 and at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, was divided into four occupational zones: northwest Germany was placed under British control, south under American, east under Soviet and southwest under French. Berlin, which was located in the Soviet zone, was divided into West Berlin occupied by the Western powers and East Berlin which became the Soviet section.
One of the greatest challenges met by the Allied Control Commission, the supreme authority of the allied government in Germany was the fate of 9 million forced labourers and 80,000 concentration camp inmates who at the end of the war found themselves in Germany. The Allied forces have starting preparing for this problem already during the war. In November 1944 it was decided on creation of assembly centres for displaced persons, the so called DP camps, which were to be ran by UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration).
The primary goal of the army administration of the camps was to return DPs to their home countries as quickly as possible. ORT’s report from the time describes DP camps as ‘established and organized amid the ruins of a broken, bombed-out land, for men, women and children who had gone through seven years of hell- people without a country...harbouring one major desire, that of getting away from the scene of their misery and getting on, somewhere, somehow, to a happier land’. The repatriation of all the DPs was estimated to take about six months and indeed only between May and September 1945 about six million DPs left Germany.The idea that many DPs, may not want to return to their country of origin was not initially taken into account. Yet, two million DPs, including 50.000 Jews, refused to return to their homeland. This group began to grow from September 1945 as the first groups of Jews fleeing from anti-Semitic violence in Poland began illegally entering the American Zone of Germany. Later they were joined by Jewish refugees from Hungary Czechoslovakia and Romania.In consequence, by the end of 1946, two-thirds of Jewish DPs in Germany and Austria were people who were not directly involved in the Shoah, but survived Holocaust in hiding or in the USSR and later decided to flee Eastern Europe. By mid-1947, the Jewish DP population reached about 250,000 people housed in hundreds of DP centres- about 185000 of them in Germany, 45,000 in Austria and 20,000 in Italy.