Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe

By Laura Jockusch | Go to book overview

4
Writing History while Sitting on
Packed Suitcases
Holocaust Documentation in the Jewish Displaced Persons
Camps of Germany, Austria, and Italy

The Jewish Displaced Persons camps in Allied-occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy emerged as centers of Jewish Holocaust documentation during the years 1945–1949. The founders and activists of the historical commissions in these countries were survivors of eastern European backgrounds who either had been liberated from concentration and labor camps in Germany and Austria or, after surviving the war in eastern Europe, had fled westward in search of Allied protection and care. Unlike their colleagues in France and Poland, for the most part they were neither citizens nor prewar residents of these countries. As so-called Displaced Persons (DPs)—a category created by the Allies to describe foreign nationals who by accident of war found themselves outside the prewar borders of their countries of origin1—they saw their sojourn as a transitory inconvenience on the way to new lives overseas. Camps in the U.S. Zone of Germany held the majority of the roughly 250,000–330,000 Jews living as DPs in Germany, Austria, and Italy at some point during the four years after the war.2 Because this zone also had the largest network of historical commissions, it is the primary focus of this chapter, which also compares documentation activities among Jewish DPs in the British Zone of Germany and in Austria and Italy.

Of the twenty million people on the move in war-torn Europe in May 1945, eight million found themselves displaced from their homelands into the territories of Germany and Austria. They included forced and voluntary foreign laborers, POWs, concentration and labor camp inmates, and survivors of the notorious death marches by which the Germans had “evacuated” the surviving prisoners of their labor, concentration, and extermination camps in the east from the advancing Soviet army.3 Those liberated included 50,000–80,000 Jews in Germany and 20,000–30,000 in Austria.4 The Allied armies, in collaboration with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), set up

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Collect and Record! Jewish Holocaust Documentation in Early Postwar Europe
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