Displaced Persons Camps
After they were liberated, many Jews went to live in displaced persons camps (DP camps).
These camps were set up by the Allied forces and United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to provide a temporary home for hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by World War II.
DP camps became places of cultural, spiritual and educational renewal.
Schools were established within the camps for Jewish youth who needed a place to learn. Community leaders recognized the importance of preparing refugees for immigration and they organized training schools to teach trades and skills that would prepare them for a new life in a new country.
How did time spent in DP camps affect Jewish youth?
A DP Camp Classroom
Clips of a kindergarten class in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp. Germany, circa 1945.
Imperial War Museums.
A sign reads “KINDERGARTEN 9-12, 2-5” with German text underneath. Close-ups of young children at their desks show them opening pads of paper, interacting with each other, smiling and drawing. Children line up to receive a cup of milk, glancing at the camera and smiling. A woman in uniform distributes cookies to children sitting on the ground.
“The [DP] camp inhabitants managed to organize a rich and lively cultural life. There were political parties, religious and secular organizations, a theatre and a school, even an orchestra. There was also a soccer team with some champion players…
The camp also published a Yiddish newspaper, called Oyfgang, using the Latin alphabet. There was a Jewish school for children…
At the Jewish school, I regained my childhood at age thirteen or fourteen. I had friends, older and younger, to play with. Some of them spoke Yiddish or Russian. Others spoke Polish or Romanian. But we understood each other.”
Did you know that?
After World War II, more than
Jewish refugees lived in DP camps and urban centres in Germany, Austria and Italy.
Attending School in a DP Camp
Starting a School in Eggenfelden
“I was aware of the housing problem. Like several other residents, however, I felt that an even greater problem was the lack of schooling for the younger members of the camp’s population who were growing up illiterate. We decided to do something about it. We talked to the camp committee and got their agreement to provide premises for a school. I contacted the district leaders of the UNRRA-supported Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) trade school system and obtained full support for a vocational school in Eggenfelden with myself as principal. In the camp, we also organized an elementary school and designated a staff of teachers and a principal. I managed to get school supplies from the nuns at a local convent and had a carpenter make simple school benches and blackboards. As soon as the school opened, the children rushed in.”
“My First Good Childhood Memories”
Did you know that?
Between 1944 and 1947, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) provided assistance to more than
refugees in DP camps. This help included access to cultural activities and retraining, as well as financial support for emigration.
Learning through ORT
Learning New Skills
“I enrolled to study electronics. In no time at all, we’d covered the entire high school curriculum — subjects ranging from physics and mathematics to chemistry and drawing. We were trying to make up for lost time. We had excellent teachers for every subject, but our instructor for electronics and physics was especially good. His name was Maik, and he was not much older than us, but he always said, ‘As long as I know one more lesson than you, that’s all it takes.’”