During World War II, the Nazis deported between seven and nine million Europeans, mostly to Germany. Within months of Germany’s surrender in May 1945, the Allies repatriated to their home countries more than six million displaced persons (DPs; wartime refugees). Between 1.5 million and two million DPs refused repatriation.
Most Jewish survivors, who had survived concentration camps or had been in hiding, were unable or unwilling to return to eastern Europe because of postwar antisemitism and the destruction of their communities during the Holocaust. Many of those who did return feared for their lives. In Poland, for example, locals initiated several violent pogroms. The worst was the one in Kielce in 1946 in which 42 Jews, all survivors of the Holocaust, were killed. These pogroms led to a significant second movement of Jewish refugees from Poland to the west.
Many Holocaust survivors moved westward to territories liberated by the western Allies. They were housed in displaced persons camps and urban displaced persons centers. The Allies established such camps in Allied-occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy for refugees waiting to leave Europe. Most of the Jewish displaced persons were in the British occupation zone in northern Germany and in the American occupation zone in the south. The British established a large displaced persons camp adjacent to the former concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany. Several large camps holding 4,000 to 6,000 displaced persons each—Feldafing, Landsberg, and Foehrenwald—were located in the American zone.
At its peak in 1947, the Jewish displaced person population reached approximately 250,000. While the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) administered all of the displaced persons camps and centers, Jewish displaced persons achieved a large measure of internal autonomy.
Springtime is laughter time for children, but there was no laughter for three-year-old Betti Malek when the Germans crashed through Belgium and took Antwerp in 1940. She was one of numerous child refugees brought from Belgium to England, and one of the million of children who suffered during the five-and-a-half years of war, May 17, 1945. (AP Photo)
GERMANY – JUNE 06: Post WWII German refugees & displaced persons crowding every square inch of a train leaving Berlin (Photo by Margaret Bourke-White/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
Refugees fleeing the fighting have brought their bicycles and bundles into a school yard. 10th August 1944. A little girl is lying exhausted on a rolled blanket, while her grandmother is sitting next to her. Her white cap is a “bachelique” knitted crochet. Many people from the fighting in Mortaine, just to the south have been seeking refuge in Saint-Pois during August 1944. Mortaine was the final battle for Nornandy. Saint-Pois, Normandy, France. (Photo by Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images)
A handful of survivors from the 150 refugees who left Lodz in Poland two months earlier headed for Berlin. They are following railway lines on the outskirts of Berlin in the hope of being picked up by a British train. (Photo by Fred Ramage/Getty Images)
Grim-faced refugees stand in a group on a street in La Gleize, Belgium on Jan. 2, 1945. They are waiting to be transported from the war-torn town after its recapture by American forces during the German thrust into the Belgium-Luxembourg salient. (AP Photo/Peter J. Carroll)
20th March 1945: Refugees from across Central Europe queuing for food at an Allied Forces refugee camp in Germany after being displaced. (Photo by Allan Jackson/Keystone/Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Stream of refugees and people who have been bombed out of their homes moving through destroyed streets – 1945after end of war; on the left two soviet soldiers patrolling) (Photo by ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
25th October 1945: German refugees fleeing from the Russian zone in the first few weeks after the end of World War II in Europe. They are sleeping on straw in a makeshift transit camp at Uelzen in the British zone of Germany. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
3rd March 1945: German refugees crowding the market square at Juchen, Germany, a town captured by the US Army at the end of the Second World War. (Photo by Fred Ramage/Keystone/Getty Images)
Exhausted, homeless German refugees huddled in a city municipal building seeking shelter. (Photo by Leonard Mccombe/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
German civilian refugees prepare to flee war-torn Aachen, Germany as the battle for the doomed city draws to a close, Oct. 24, 1944. The refugees have been living in air-raid shelters as the battle for the city rages on. The Americans have about 4,000 of these refugees on their hands, who are being taken to a camp in Belgium and temporarily housed in a large school. (AP Photo/Keystone)
Women and children are standing at the roadside and are waiting for a transport possibility, in 1945. Photo by: dpa/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
German civilian refugees walking through the streets of Aachen, Germany, on their way to a safer area away from the combat zone, 15th October 1944. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
War refugees walking through Berlin with their whole belongings on 15th December 1945. Photo by: dpa DANA/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
Frenchwoman with two children and belongings loaded on a baby carriage seen in Haguenau, France on Feb. 20, 1945, before they started on their long trek to a safe rear area. They are some of the refugees leaving the town because of the planned withdrawal of the 7th U.S. Army. Many civilians prefer to leave their homes and seek safety in a rear area, rather than suffer another German occupation or risk being conscripted into the German Vollksturn. (AP Photo)
An attendant with white brassard (front, r) accompanies newly arrived refugees, in January 1946, through the refugee camp in Bebra. Photo by: dpa/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images