DP Camps: Elizabeth
The following are excerpts from the journal of Elizabeth.
May 20, 1945
How good it feels to be writing again. I am using the margins of Unzer Shtimme (Our Voice), the camp newspaper, and the main Jewish newspaper in British occupied Curope to write. The last time I wrote I was in the Warsaw ghetto, and I thought not having much food was bad. Now I feel like I'm back from the dead of Dachau with my sisters. They are alive!
Now I am in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced persons (DP) Camp, the biggest camp in Germany. We cannot go home for Berlin is in ruins and our old home was probably destroyed in the Allied attacks. Others are here because the people in their old village tried to run them out when they came back. To come back to one's lifelong home, to find that all one's friends hate you would be simply terrible! I sometimes feel I am one of the lucky ones, as strange as it may seems.
I sleep in a tent with my family because the barracks have been burned by the British. They decided to rename our DP camp Hohne, but we survivors won't allow for squeamishness. It's a sort of tribute to the dead to keep the name. Many of the DP camps we passed on our way to Bergen-Belsen were on the sites of former concentration camps. Others, such as the one in Hamburg, are on the sites of houses and public buildings. There are hundreds of these camps in Germany, France, Italy and Belgium because 1.5 to two million people (200,000 are Jews) have no homes left.
I am glad we picked Bergen-Belson. Just three days after liberation, I am told a camp committee was formed. Mr. Josef Rosensaft is head of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Bergen-Belsen, and he lobbied the British army for better conditions along with Mr. Norbert Wolheim, another displaced Jew. We need lobbying. There is little food, sanitation is awful, and we are behind barbed wire with guards. It is like the British are taking up where the Germans left off!
July 8, 1945
Conditions here have improved, thanhfully. That made me sound like mommy adding "thankfully" and "mercifully" to everything. I miss her. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep. Rachel does too, but we keep quiet because Sarah may be listening. She won't tell what happened during the war, and we are worried about her.
Anyway, many organizations have come to help us DPs. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has set up a childcare center, a hospital, and a trade school. Also, the Society for Rehabilitation and Training (SRT) has set up another trade school that offers farming classes. I am taking typing classes at the trade school because I want to make money by becoming a secretary. Rachel watches children too old to go to the daycare center and too young for trade school. Each day we drop Sarah off at the JDC Childcare Center and go to school. Sarah should be going to school instead of us, but at least we are alive.
Many people talk of settling in Palestine and have applied for visas from the British. An American survey asked us to name two places of preferred resettlement. A lot of people answered, "Palestine" and "Palestine." When asked for a second choice, everyone responded "crematoria." I secretly have a dream of also living in our ancient homeland, but Rachel and I have decided to apply for visas to Canada, the United States, and Palestine. We just want to get out of Europe.
November 25, 1945
We have won! Mr. Rosensaft has petitioned the British army for a Jewish section of the camp, and we have got it! This makes us the only all-Jewish community in Europe. Before we Germans had to live with other Germans, some of whom were former Nazis. Jewish Poles had to live with other Poles, etc. They used to spit at us, and we were miserable. I'm happy that we're away from all that now! Plus, the Gentiles tried to take advantage of Jewish organizations which left less for us.
January 26, 1946
The British have ordered that no more DPs may be admitted to our camp. It is at maximum capacity, about 10,000 people. Lots of DPS have come here because we have a full society. There is a school for Sarah (I wanted Rachel to go, but she said she will work to earn money), sports leagues and cultural clubs. Rachel and I play in the female football league, but Peter was the real athlete in our family. He would have enjoyed this. My friend, Helena, is getting married this afternoon so I must prepare. There have been many marriages in Bergen-Belsen and thousands of births. We will rise above tragedy with joy!
March 18, 1946
The British have transferred responsibility for the camp to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. (UNRRA), which was founded in 1943 by the Allies and has since helped many DPs. I don't know what to think. This may make our visas to Palestine harder to obtain, but the British have not been administrators. We have heard nothing of immigration to any of the three countries we would like to reside. There are rumors it may take several years to leave.
June 8, 1947
It has happened! We are going to Palestine! I am so happy I could shout! Our visas came yesterday. We plan to join a kibbutz or collective farm where everything is owned by all members near Jerusalem. It will give us a sense of community again with others who have shared our experiences.
My friends Helena and Margaret are happy for me, but you can see the jealousy in their eyes. We are getting out and they are still here. Many people tried to go to Palestine illegally since the British are only letting 1,500 Jews in a month. They are afraid Arab nations will be offended. Most of the illegal immigrants were arrested and taken back here. Margaret, I believe, is going to join a kibbutz in France. The goal of those kibbutzim is to evenutally get all the people to Palestine.
I am going to end this journal now. My new life will have a new journal. I want to forget everything about this time, so I will bury my scraps of paper here in the grass of Bergen-Belsen. Maybe a flower will grow from the disintegrated paper. I'd like that - joy growing from grief.
This site gives statistics and information on the organizations who helped DPs. It is told in four short pages, so make sure to click next page.
This site provides information and details about the Bergen-Belsen camp. The men mentioned here are featured, if you wish to learn more about Josef Rosensaft and Norbert Wolheim
All images courtesy of http://www.ushmm.org