View of the Zeilsheim displaced persons camp. Zeilsheim, Germany, 1945.
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Md.
For the survivors, returning to life as it had been before the Holocaust was impossible. Jewish communities no longer existed in much of Europe. When people tried to return to their homes from camps or hiding places, they found that, in many cases, their homes had been looted or taken over by others.
Returning home was also dangerous. After the war, anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Polish cities. The largest anti-Jewish pogrom took place in July 1946 in Kielce, a city in southeastern Poland. When 150 Jews returned to the city, people living there feared that hundreds more would come back to reclaim their houses and belongings. Age-old antisemitic myths, such as Jews' ritual murders of Christians, arose once again. After a rumor spread that Jews had killed a Polish boy to use his blood in religious rituals, a mob attacked the group of survivors. The rioters killed 41 people and wounded 50 more. News of the Kielce pogrom spread rapidly, and Jews realized that there was no future for them in Poland.
Many survivors ended up in displaced persons' (DP) camps set up in western Europe under Allied military occupation at the sites of former concentration camps . There they waited to be admitted to places like the United States, South Africa, or Palestine. At first, many countries continued their old immigration policies, which greatly limited the number of refugees they would accept. The British government, which controlled Palestine, refused to let large numbers of Jews in. Many Jews tried to enter Palestine without legal papers, and when caught some were held in camps on the island of Cyprus, while others were deported back to Germany. Great Britain's scandalous treatment of Jewish refugees added to international pressures for a homeland for the Jewish people. Finally, the United Nations voted to divide Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. Early in 1948, the British began withdrawing from Palestine. On May 14, 1948, one of the leading voices for a Jewish homeland, David Ben-Gurion, announced the formation of the State of Israel. After this, Jewish refugee ships freely landed in the seaports of the new nation. The United States also changed its immigration policy to allow more Jewish refugees to enter.
Although many Jewish survivors were able to build new lives in their adopted countries, many non-Jewish victims of Nazi policies continued to be persecuted in Germany. Laws which discriminated against Roma (Gypsies) continued to be in effect until 1970 in some parts of the country. The law used in Nazi Germany to imprison homosexuals remained in effect until 1969.
AUGUST 3, 1945
HARRISON ISSUES REPORT ON JEWS IN GERMANY
US special envoy Earl Harrison heads a delegation to the displaced persons' camps in Germany. Following World War II, several hundred thousand Jewish survivors are unable to return to their home countries and remain in Germany, Austria, or Italy. The Allies establish camps for displaced persons (DPs) for the refugees. Most Jewish DPs prefer to emigrate to Palestine but many also seek entry into the United States. They remain in the DP camps until they can leave Europe. Harrison's report underscores the plight of Jewish DPs and leads to improved conditions in the camps. At the end of 1946 the number of Jewish DPs is estimated at 250,000.
JULY 11, 1947
REFUGEE SHIP SAILS FOR PALESTINE DESPITE BRITISH RESTRICTIONS
Many Jewish DPs seek to emigrate to Palestine, despite existing British emigration restrictions. (In 1920, Great Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations to administer Palestine, and administered the territory until 1948.) Despite the restrictions, the refugee ship Exodus leaves southern France for Palestine, carrying 4,500 Jewish refugees from DP camps in Germany. The British intercept the ship even before it enters territorial waters off the coast of Palestine. The passengers are forcibly transferred to British ships and deported back to their port of origin in France. For almost a month the British hold the refugees aboard ship, at anchor off the French coast. The French reject the British demand to land the passengers. Ultimately, the British take the refugees to Hamburg, Germany, and forcibly return them to DP camps. The fate of the refugee ship Exodus dramatizes the plight of Holocaust survivors in the DP camps and increases international pressure on Great Britain to allow free Jewish immigration to Palestine.
NOVEMBER 29, 1947
UNITED NATIONS VOTES FOR PARTITION OF PALESTINE
In a special session, the United Nations General Assembly votes to partition Palestine into two new states, one Jewish and the other Arab. Less than six months later, on May 14, 1948, prominent Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion announces the establishment of the State of Israel and declares that Jewish immigration into the new state will be unrestricted. Between 1948 and 1951, almost 700,000 Jews emigrate to Israel, including more than two-thirds of the Jewish displaced persons in Europe. Holocaust survivors, the passengers from the Exodus, DPs from central Europe, and Jewish detainees from British detention camps on Cyprus are welcomed to the Jewish homeland.