Displaced Persons after the Holocaust 11th Grade U.S. History
Lesson Overview: This would be part of a unit on World War II, dealing with the response and aftermath of Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups. After spending years in concentration camps, the survivors of Hitler’s Final Solution faced even more barriers as they tried to regain their lives. Displaced Person (DP) camps became long-term settlements for Jews who could not return to their native lands because of rampant anti-Semitism and who were unable to emigrate to Palestine or the United States because of stringent immigration restrictions.
Standards Addressed: History/Social Science:
Response of the administration to Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups
Reasons for nation’s changing immigration policy
Language Arts: 2.4 Write historical investigation reports that analyze several historical records of a single event…
English Language Learner (ELL) Strategies:
Use of Supplementary materials:
First-person accounts, cluster chart
Adaption of Content: Small groups and whole class discussion, study guide, journal, writing, speaking, listening.
Engaging Scenario: Imagine this: You are 17 years old and have miraculously survived Hitler’s Final Solution. You have been living in a concentration camp, doing slave labor for three years. You haven’t seen your family since the Nazis deported them from the Warsaw Ghetto. The war ends and you’re liberated, but to what? You have nothing: no family, no identification, no clothing, and no money. Your body is emaciated leaving you sick and with little strength. Who are you? Where are you going? Who wants you? What did you do to deserve this? What are you going to do?
Divide class into 5 groups.
Give each group a handout containing a personal story of a survivor and a study guide to complete.
Groups will read their story, highlight meaningful information, and complete the study guide.
Groups will report out with teacher using a cluster chart on the board to record their findings.
Discuss what the survivors had in common, how they were different.
Next, ask students to pretend they are in a DP camp and to write a journal entry in which they describe their surroundings, daily life, feelings, fears, and hopes for the future, and where they would like to live. Encourage them to get inside the skin of a survivor. Journal entries will be graded using the attached rubric.
Lesson developed for Teaching American History Project by Linda Brant, 2005 Study Guide
Names of Students
Read the personal account of a survivor and complete the following information.
Name of survivor:
Country of birth:
Date of Birth:
List 2 personal facts about this person:
List 2 or 3 concerns that this person relates:
Write one thing that you would like to tell him/her if you could meet them today.
Is there anything in this account that requires further explanation? Describe.
After the war was over and after my experience after the liberation, there was a period of time of two weeks that I was in Poland. There was—I don’t know how to explain this, but this was a Polish man that had several little carts, and they were leaving the German village. They had a large Polish flag, and they said anybody that wants to go and join him back to Poland can do so. And I lived with the, with the Germans, with the French ex-prisoners of war at that time, and I said to myself, “I should go because maybe my mother came back. Maybe my aunt came back. My first responsibility is to see who came back, so I will go back to my city.” So I joined this caravan, and, indescribable journey, we finally reached Warsaw. Warsaw was reduced to rubble. It was unrecognizable, and I had to go to Lodz from Warsaw. I had no money, I had no clothes, I had no luggage, I had nothing. I was just—and there was a man with a semi truck, sort of. And I found out that this man standing there, he said, “Hop on, you can go with me.” And I hopped on, and we traveled to Lodz. And he stopped on the way, and he went to eat. I didn’t want to tell him I’m hungry. We drove all the way to Lodz. He never thought of giving me a piece of bread, but I reached Lodz. And when I went to the house that we lived in before, the Polish superintendent who took care of the building reacted with tremendous surprise---not elation, but surprise that I survived and came back. And what for? He said, “You don’t even have to go to your place because the Germans emptied it. They took the carpets and everything. There is nothing left and other people live there.” I said, “Maybe something is left, I want to go up.” And I went up, and they wouldn’t let me in.
Starting with nothing, starting with absolutely, not a document, not, not, uh, identification, uh, not a piece of clothes. That, that’s how we, we started life after, after the war, at least I did, and, and, uh, the survivors. And, uh, the British were very helpful, and very trusting. If I would have said, “I’m XYZ, from Poland, and I don’t speak German,” they would have had to believe me because I had—nobody had anything to prove. I told them who I was, I told them where I came from, I told them I want to go to the west and they believed me, and they wrote out documents to that effect, because there was no other way to, prove anything. So, we did not know much what was going on. I was lucky because I spoke a little English, so I got a job in the British officers’ mess.
(Copyright United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.)
I was, and I’m speaking from a personal point of view, and I know I’m not the only one, there I was, an orphan, a survivor of unspeakable pain and atrocities of the war, and nobody extended a helping hand during the war. Now, after the war, wouldn’t you think we would have priority to go out or to get out of Germany? But no, I had to wait three long years. There were quotas. There were always quotas. There were quotas to get into the United States. My…when I finally did get a hold of my family in the United States…because I remembered my grandmother’s address…I still, I mean, they guaranteed that I would not be a burden to the government, and yet, I had to wait three long years before I was allowed to come to the United States. Meanwhile, I tried on my own to get a student’s visa, and I attended the University of Heidelberg for over a year, but that would have given me a student visa. I must say that the people at the University bent over backwards to accommodate me. There were such gaps in my education, formal education. It was nonexistent, and yet I took some tests and they helped me and I was accepted as a full-time student. And I will never forget that. But I still had to wait three years to come to the United States, and I don’t think that was right, to treat us in such a way.
(Copyright United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.)
During the war years I lost what other kids had. I lost my family, home, friends, happy school years. I had to forget that I was growing up and needed an education. I had to go to work and forget about life. The Germans beat me. Many times I was under the pistol from the Gestapo, suffered, and I was more than sure I would be burned in a concentration camp, like all of my family and friends. Then finally the war ended and I was liberated by the Russian army. I lived in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany and dreamt about my freedom in the United States or Israel. Once I decided to do something about my future, I wrote a letter to an uncle of mine who lived in Wilmington and asked him for help. He did it. He sent me an affidavit. His son, who was a captain in the Air Force in the United States Army, was in Germany. He found me and took me with him and I stayed with him and his wife for one year. He helped me to come to the United States. I waited a long time for the day I can land in a free country, where there is no difference of what race or religion you are, where everybody is free and happy. All kids are going to school and enjoying life. I waited a long time and got what I waited for so long. I received my passport on the 17th of November, 1947 and I sailed from Bremenhaffen on the “Ernie Pile” under the care of the Committee for European Children.
(Source: Yad Vashem Archive)
The Jews’ desire to live is unbelievable. People got married; they would take a hut and divide it into ten tiny rooms for ten couples. The desire for life overcame everything—in spite of everything, I am alive, and even living with intensity.
When I look back today on those three years in Germany I am amazed. We took children and turned them into human beings, we published a newspaper; we breathed life into those bones. The great reckoning with the Holocaust? Who bothered about that…you knew the reality, you knew you had no family, that you were alone, that you had to do something. You were busy doing things.
I remember that I used to tell the young people: Forgetfulness is a great thing. A person can forget, because if they couldn’t forget they couldn’t build a new life. After such a destruction to build a new life, to get married, to bring children into the world? In forgetfulness lay the ability to create a new life…somehow, the desire for life was so strong that it kept us alive, otherwise there would have been suicides.
But that’s not all. Now I see most of all that what saved us was the struggle for Palestine. The struggle for Palestine made us realize that this was the main effort we had to make. The struggle for Palestine meant taking young people and giving them a Zionist education, teaching them Hebrew, sending them on illegal immigration, smuggling people into Israel. We were at the stage of action. Doing something gave our lives meaning…that’s what kept us alive.
(Source: Yad Vashem Archive)
Write a one-page journal entry describing your life as a displaced person. Include your surroundings, daily life, feelings, fears, and hopes for the future. Include where you would like to emigrate.