They were called displaced persons camps or DP camps after World War II. By the end of 1945, somewhere between eleven to twenty million people found themselves facing an uncertain future, uprooted from their homes by the terror and ravages of war.
They came from Eastern Europe, the Baltic States, concentration camps, labor camps and prisoner-of-war camps. They lived in one of the hundreds of DP facilities located throughout Europe.
Conditions were varied and sometimes harsh. Shelter was often improvised. Accommodation varied from camp to camp. Buildings such as military barracks, schools, hospitals, hotels, private homes and even airports were used.
Allied military and civilian authorities faced considerable challenges resettling them. Processing took time. It took years. Six years to be exact: 1947 to 1953.
In the interim, the people created a sense of communities in their ‘camps’. Using their many useful skills, they set up churches, synagogues, newspapers, workshops, theatres, sports events, and even universities. German universities were also required to accept a quota of DP students. Some found work locally, but most relied on the generosity of charitable organizations to provide relief.
As safe as their lives appeared, they couldn’t afford to be complacent. Based on the 1945 Yalta Conference agreement, Soviet Union insisted that the refugees in the American, British and French sectors who were or at some point had been Soviet citizens be sent back to Russia. News quickly filtered through the camps that officials had complied with the directive. Many now lived in daily fear that they would be next.
A new fight for survival emerged among the refugees. It was to avoid extradition. They would misrepresent their origins, their ages, flee or resist. Finding a new homeland became urgent for many.
Charli Mills’ November 4th Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction challenge was to write a frozen story in 99 words (not more, no less).
This week we are celebrating Remembrance Day. I could not help but think about the millions whose lives that were disrupted, frozen in fear by World War II and the generosity of the Allied countries that opened their borders to allow immigration through labor programs.
My tale is spun around a true story about a burly Baltic refugee who was petrified the Allies would turn him over to the Soviet Union. His applications to Canada had been rejected; his brother’s had been accepted. It was the night of the dance, honoring those who were leaving for Canada in the morning.
“Imouttahere,” Tom hollers, the music drowning his words. No one stops him as he pushes his way through the throng of dancers, out the hall and into the brisk winter air. He marches over to the jeep and jumps inside.
He starts driving, tires skidding as he exits the parking lot.
His brother was on his way to Canada. Why not him?
“It’s not fair!” he yells. “It should’a ‘bin me.”
He pumps his fist against the steering wheel and presses on the accelerator.
Tom never saw the frozen ice or the tree as the jeep rammed into it.