A major challenge facing many survivors of the Holocaust was the question of where to go to when their homes and communities had been destroyed. Many who could not or did not want to return found themselves in Displaced Persons (DP) camps which were initially run by the Allies and then by the UN. One of the largest of these camps was at Bergen-Belsen, adjacent to the site of the former concentration camp. More than 10,000 Jews were still living there in late 1945. One of them was Anita Lasker (now Anita Lasker-Wallfisch) who had survived Auschwitz and Belsen.
My closest friends, Hélène Wiernik, Hélène Rounder and Violette Silberstein, and all the others who had countries to go back to, had left Belsen and gone ‘home’. No one had any idea what they would find on their return but at least they had somewhere to start searching. That was not the case with us. It would not have crossed our minds to consider Germany or Breslau, by then in Russian hands, as our ‘home’…
The complexities for our liberators in sorting out the unprecedented chaos were enormous; but it could not be expected of the average British army officer who had been sent to fight a war that he should be able to grasp fully the significance of the term ‘displaced person’. That was precisely what we were, displaced persons. The question was, where could we be ‘placed’?...
Our worries about establishing where we were to go and how we might organise going anywhere at all, grew daily. We were in touch with our relatives and everyone had offered us hospitality. But how to translate these offers into action was another matter. Europe was in turmoil. Immigration policy was not a priority anywhere… There was no apparatus to deal with people like us. We were that new species, Displaced Persons; and, let’s face it, we were something of an embarrassment all round.
Anita was finally able to come to the UK in 1946. However, others remained in the DP camps for several years.
Photo: Jewish inmates of Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp, 1945-46; United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Hilde Jacobsthal Goldberg
Testimony: Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Inherit the Truth 1939-1945 (Giles de la Mare, 1996)