Displaced persons

Image - Ukrainian liturgy at the DP Camp in Burgdorf (1946). Image - A Ukrainian shoemakers workshop in a displaced persons camp in Germany.

Displaced persons [переміщені особи; peremishcheni osoby; DP's]. Designation for various categories of the approximately six million persons who, during and after the Second World War, found themselves away from their homeland in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Most of them were labor conscripts, war prisoners, concentration camp prisoners, refugees, and other victims of war. The term ‘displaced person’ was applied initially to citizens of German-occupied countries; after 1945–6, when most of them had returned to their homelands, it was applied only to those refugees who refused to return to their countries, particularly those that were Communist-dominated.

In the narrower sense the term ‘displaced person’ was used to refer to the forcibly deported, while anyone who fled the advancing Soviet troops for political or other reasons was called a refugee. In practice, however, the two terms were used interchangeably. The legal designation ‘stateless person’ was also sometimes applied to those who refused to return to their homelands. In 1946, after the repatriation of most displaced persons, about 1.2 million remained in Germany and Austria, including over 200,000 Ukrainians. They lived mostly in displaced persons camps in the three occupation zones of West Germany and Austria. About 80 camps were predominantly Ukrainian; other Ukrainian refugees lived in mixed camps, and 25–30 percent lived outside the camps.

International supervision of displaced persons was governed by a treaty signed by 44 states in Washington, DC on 9 November 1943. Aid to the refugees was provided first by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). Together with the occupational administration of Germany and Austria, UNRRA was primarily concerned with returning displaced persons to the countries of their origin. In 1947 UNRRA wound up its operations, and the International Refugee Organization (IRO) took charge of resettling the refugees. By 1952, when its activities ceased, IRO had resettled over 600,000 refugees from Europe to lands in the New World. The United States admitted the largest number of refugees, suspending the established immigration quota for East Europeans by the laws of 1948 and 1950 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953.

The Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees (ICR), which was set up in 1938 to replace the Nansen Office (see Fridtjof Nansen) and which functioned until 1947, provided legal protection and resettlement for the so-called Nansenites (émigrés from the former Russian Empire after the First World War). After the IRO ceased its activities, the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM), an agency independent of the United Nations (UN) and headquartered in Geneva, took charge of refugee resettlement. In 1951 the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in Geneva; it assumed some of the responsibilities of the former IRO, among them the legal protection of the refugees who remained in West European countries.

Most of the displaced persons emigrated across the Atlantic in 1947–52. The majority of those who stayed behind in Austria and Germany were either ill or too old to meet the requirements of immigration laws. These people needed continuing aid. Some stayed because they did not want to leave Europe. Most of them received asylum and found employment in various European countries while retaining their refugee status. Since most of them did not become naturalized citizens they came under the Geneva Convention on Refugees of 28 July 1951.

Ukrainian institutions that aided the displaced persons were the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee, the Ukrainian Catholic Relief Committee, and the Ukrainian Canadian Relief Fund. (See also Emigration.)

Isajiw, Wsevolod; Boshyk, Yury; Senkus, Roman (eds). The Refugee Experience: Ukrainian Displaced Persons after World War II (Edmonton 1992)
Dyczok, Marta. The Grand Alliance and Ukrainian Refugees (New York 2000)
Antons, Jan-Hinnerk. Ukrainische Displaced Persons in Der Britischen Zone: Lagerleben zwischen nationaler Fixierung und pragmatischen Zukunftsentwürfen (Essen 2004)

Vasyl Markus

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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