The National Museum of
American Jewish Military History

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Rescue & Renewal:GIs and Displaced Persons

Rescue & Renewal: GIs and Displaced Persons

Chaplain Eli Bohnen with children in a displaced persons camp, Bad Gastein, Austria (1945). Gift of Eli Bohnen, Yaffa Eliach Collection donated by the Center for Holocaust Studies, Museum of Jewish Heritage, New York.

With the end of World War II, almost 8 million persons displaced by the war were in Germany and Austria. They included concentration camp survivors, former prisoners of war, forced laborers and ethnic Germans from Poland and Czechoslovakia. Most of the displaced persons were quickly repatriated or resettled, but for Jewish survivors this was generally not an option. Jewish survivors had no intention of returning to countries where they did not feel welcome and which had, in fact, become vast Jewish cemeteries. Immigration quotas and the British blockade of Palestine kept them in the DP camps longer than most; often three years or longer after World War II ended. Displaced persons were housed in German army barracks and former slave labor and concentration camps. Jewish soldiers identified with their fellow Jews. Often they could speak in a language survivors understood and were responsive to their needs. They helped locate relatives and provided food and clothing and other assistance. Jewish chaplains were heavily involved, providing for spiritual needs, improving living conditions in the camps and paving the way for eventual departure from Europe. This exhibit is divided into two sections. The first is on the rescue of survivors of history's greatest crime against humanity. The other is on the role of Jewish GIs in helping DPs toward a new life.