A Displaced Persons camp is a temporary facility where a displaced person is coerced into forced migration.
A displaced person may also be referred to as a forced migrant.
The term is mainly used for camps established after World War II in West Germany, primarily for refugees from Eastern Europe and for the former inmates of the Nazi German concentration camps.
As the war ended, these people found themselves in unfamiliar places facing an uncertain future. Allied military and civilian authorities faced considerable challenges in resolving the problem of displaced persons. Since the reasons for individuals’ displacement varied considerably, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force classified them into a number of categories: evacuees, war or political refugees, political prisoners, forced or voluntary workers, Todt workers, former forces under German command, deportees, intruded persons, extruded persons, civilian internees, ex-prisoners of war, and stateless persons.
In addition, the origins of these people varied considerably. They came from every country that had been invaded and/or occupied by German forces. Although the situation of many of the Displaced Persons could be resolved by simply moving them to their original homes, this could not always be done. A good example being that many borders changed and the location placed in a new country . . . Additionally, many could not return home for fear of political persecution or retribution for perceived (or actual) collaboration with Axis powers. Optimal solutions were elusive for a large minority.
The United States was late to accept displaced persons, which led to considerable activism for a change in policy. Earl G. Harrison, who had previously reported on conditions in the camps to president Truman, led the Citizens Committee on Displaced Persons that attracted dignitaries such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Marshall Field, and others.
Meeting considerable opposition in the United States Congress, with a bias against Eastern European intellectuals and Jews, Truman signed the first Displaced Persons Act on June 25, 1948, allowing entry by 200,000 displaced persons, then followed by the more accommodating second act on June 16, 1950, allowing entry for another 200,000.
This quota included acceptance of 55,000 ethnic Germans and required sponsorship of all immigrants. The American program was the most idealistic and expansive of the Allied programs, but also the most notoriously bureaucratic. Much of the humanitarian effort was undertaken by charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross and the Lutheran World Federation and various ethnic groups.
Of the 400,000 displaced persons the US, admitted from Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1957, of them 137,450 were European Jews.
On January 16, 2012 I turned eighty-four years old, being able to spend that day with my immediate family was more than I could wish for. My early life was a road less traveled, one that my children’s generation can never experience. Looking back some would say that my family was stolen from me due to the events that continued after World War II. I want to talk about those events, but I will call on the help of my children, Adrian, Heidi, Karen and Michael to give me the comfort and emotional support necessary to accurately tell the story of my unusual life journey.
I am of German descent but was born in Poland, this may sound a little confusing, and it is, however you will understand how this came about after reading the pages of my memoir. I was never a Polish citizen; my parents and my grandparents were all German. I was a German living in Poland, the part of Poland that was invaded and ruled by Germany during WW II. Then later invaded by the Russians who forced the Germans out at the end of WW II. I witnessed such indescribably pain, harm, and suffering inflicted on people of varied nationalities. First, the Germans placed this violent disrespect upon the Jews and Poles and then later, the Russians retaliated. No single group of people was spared any suffering during WW II.
To share my story while I am still alive is a unique experience. My story is not one of regret, bitterness or resentment, but rather a story told out of love for my fellow man. I learned at the young age of sixteen, when taken from my mother, that life would be different for me. Different to today’s standard is how I would describe my younger years. It is to that extreme that I want my family, and future generations, to be strengthened by my story. Ironically, my childhood experience is an integral part of what has now become part of my families’ roots!
I am thankful that I was raised by a loving, gentle, kind mother and a strict, confident, proud father, because together they taught me that whatever life hands out, or what ever hand of cards you are (literally) dealt, you have no choice but to make the most of them. This theory, or belief, will become more apparent to future generations as they read my story. My children were subjected to this attitude first hand whilst growing up, yet knowing one’s roots as generations evolve can become the necessary equipment to instill courage when traveling any road, under whatever circumstance.
Some of my journey may horrify you and other parts you will find difficult to believe, but when you read of my love for family, you will know in my heart that I do not regret the early part of my life in the least, the latter part has made it all worth living, like the cherished reunions I had fourteen years ago with lost family members. Those experiences have made up for the multiple decades of years not having them in my life. When I celebrated my eighty-forth birthday in January, all my family and friends were at Stratford Court, where I live today.
Life is not easy getting old. It’s especially hard not having the loved ones who have passed before me. I miss my wife, Barbara, immensely. She passed away in January 2010, I feel lost without her and I want to join her. That first year she was gone I continued to live in our home in Belleview, FL., with our son Michael. I experienced loneliness far beyond the tortures of labor camps. Nothing can ever replace her.
In January 2011, I ended up in ICU for a week with congestion heart failure, pneumonia and atrial fibrillation. I was hallucinating and had wandered outside at 3 a.m., it was wintertime—no shoes and jacket—but I was trying to help the Germans who were outside. Life comes back at you in the weirdest ways. My son, Michael, came to my rescue; he had no idea what was going on with his dad. Infections, like pneumonia, can play tricks on your mind. After being checked out of the hospital, I was released to a skilled nursing facility. My daughter, Heidi, wanted me to be closer to her and her husband, Mike.
I moved into a retirement community called, Stratford Court, in Palm Harbor, Florida. After daily rehab to help me walk again, I now use a walker to safely get around. After spending my eighty-third birthday in the skilled nursing section, I was released to a new apartment in the Independent Living section, where I spend my time today.
When you read my life story you will understand how obsessed I became with food, I would take it, steal it, or cook it in the camps. It was my comfort. A man will do anything if he is hungry, today I’m not hungry—I just don’t like the food here at Stratford Court. I made some new friends playing poker, another obsession of mine, but when your poker-playing buddies pass away, playing cards is not much fun anymore. As much as I may be ready, and want to go, I’m writing my story as a parting gift to a family whose love I cherish, and if the days turn into weeks, or months, I will remind myself of the philosophy I have always lived by:
Make the best of whatever life throws at you!
PROLOGUE . . . by Heidi Thoricht
On a lazy summer day, at the Washington International Airport, dad and I anxiously boarded the airplane that would take us to Germany, but unfortunately unbeknown to us, we were about to begin a miserable four hours of confinement on a huge jumbo jet that wouldn’t be taking off because of air conditioning problems. No one is allowed to get off the plane! The pilot announced. We were told that if we didn’t leave by 9 p.m. that night, we wouldn’t be leaving until the next morning. Thankfully, at some godforsaken hour, we finally lifted off with the air conditioning finally cooling our impatient spirits.
During the flight we experienced a lot of turbulence and everyone had to sit down. Low and behold, I was suddenly about to experience one of dad’s obsessions, it was a riot! The stewardess had asked him to hold her liquor cart during the emergency. Well, dad gladly obliged, he was more than happy to help; he saw his chance, and right before my eyes he began taking numerous, tiny liquor bottles right out of the cart. I couldn’t believe it, but knowing the stories of his past, I was touched by his obsession to take or steal, that having been ingrained in him from his days in the labor camps. We didn’t drink the little bottles on the plane; we saved them for later, consuming the liquor while enjoying the story of my dad’s natural impulses.
After we arrived in Frankfurt, a day later, I immediately went to call Jenny; she needed to know that we wouldn’t be getting to Dresden at the pre-arranged time. Hearing my voice she became instantly excited expecting us to have arrived—they were going to meet us at the airport. I was tired, exhausted, and a little overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak German but somehow managed to get the message across to her. At the Frankfurt terminal, we immediately re- arrange our flight to Dresden. Happily seated next to my dad, as our flight to Dresden embarked, I thought of my mom. This trip was bitter sweet for us both. Dad’s sister, Jenny, was about to celebrate her seventy-firth birthday, and my mom, who suffered with knee problems, hadn’t been able to travel with dad. I enthusiastically took her place. The flight went smoothly and although we were late, there was Jenny, with her son Juergen and his wife, waiting our arrival holding a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
My dad finally got to see his sister after forty-four years! It was very emotional for us, we were all so very happy—we hugged, laughed and cried. Over the days that followed we shared memories catching up on life during the many lost years. Jenny (Eugenia Thoricht/Schroder) is my dad’s sister, and Juergen Schroder is her son. Jenny didn’t speak any English, Juergen could speak broken English and I was able to communicate a little with him. We also got to meet Juergen’s family, which included his wife Renate and their two sons, Andree and Tino. On our trip, another treat was the food; we got to eat good German food, which was wonderful. I loved the experience of being able to buy fresh herring sandwiches from vendors right on the street.
We would hang out with Jenny, Juergen and his family, enjoying cookouts and talking about everything and everyone, we had so much fun. One thing that I found strange was that their dinners would always start with desert and champagne, I soon got used to that. We would drink beer, play games, match up with ping-pong games, and travel the town sightseeing, enjoying the stores and museums. Even after almost fifty years, buildings in Dresden were still in the process of being resurrected from the war bombings.
My dad and I left Jenny and Juergen for two days and took the train from Dresden, to Stuttgart, and then onto Backnang. Dad wanted to go back to the town where he lived before he took the boat to the United States—we traveled from East Germany to West Germany. Dad was anxious to see if he could find anyone he knew when he had lived there. But, after arriving in Backnang, he found that the town no longer looked the same, it had all changed and been modernized, but he still insisted on finding where he used to play cards. It was a place called the “Rathaus”, and to his dismay nothing of city was recognizable. But for me, on the other hand, I liked being in West Germany most people spoke English, and I was able to communicate in a foreign country. In East Germany, if I wandered out to the store, I had to rely on my instincts to get back home—not being able to speak German prevented me from asking directions. When dad walked around the town remembering his past, it made him very depressed—he suddenly became unhappy and sad. He wanted to get back on the train and go home, but I quickly talked him out of it, convincing him that we should stay in a hotel overnight, which we did.
The next morning, I got to experience another funny incident of my dad taking things. When we went down to breakfast, the hotel offered a magnificent buffet. There were a variety of breads, assorted meats and every kind of cheese imaginable spread out on a long table for guests to help themselves. Immediately, and to my horror, my dad started taking/stealing the food. Standing next to me and right before my eyes, he would wrap different bread, meat and cheese in napkins, and then stuff them in his pockets. I couldn’t help but to smile—another moment to fold away. During the long train ride back to Dresden my dad pulled out the stolen food he had stuffed in his pockets, and together we shared a very special feast. I really enjoyed the liverwurst sandwich, and to this very day I still remember how good that sandwich tasted!
Our trip soon came to a close and we said our goodbyes, our hearts were filled with lots of memories of a wonderful trip, and a happy family reunion. On the flight back, once we got to Frankfurt, I was again faced with more drama—not being able to speak German, and knowing that the shuttle to the terminal was twenty minutes late, I couldn’t get anyone to help me. We needed to hurry, I didn’t want to spend six hours stuck in the Frankfort airport, or worse yet, overnight. I decided that we would do it on foot—I needed my dad to run! He did, and I remember fearing that it might give him a heart attack. We finally made it to the gate, but they had closed the plane door and would not let us board. I was in a flap, but not dad, when I turned around there he was calmly sitting with a circle of Russian’s telling them all about his life in their country, they were discussing different machines that were made in Russia. I was dumbfounded, there was my dad, fifty years later, sitting with a group of Russian men, not feeling any animosity after all they had done to him. I smiled knowing that it’s time that makes all this possible.
We didn’t know it, but there had been another flight scheduled to the States. We finally got on that plane an hour later. We arrived safely in Washington, DC. But dad still had another flight to get him home to Florida. I organized everything and left him there, but no sooner had I arrived home, I got a call. Dad had missed his plane. Well, my wonderful, sometimes forgetful, dad ended up spending the night with me while his luggage was happily on its way to Florida.