As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they encountered and liberated concentration camp prisoners. Many of the prisoners had survived death marches into the interior of Germany. After liberation, most Jewish survivors were unable or unwilling to return to eastern Europe because of antisemitism and the destruction of their communities during the Holocaust. Those who did return often feared for their lives. Many homeless Holocaust survivors migrated westward to territories liberated by the Allies, where they were housed in displaced persons camps (DP) and refugee centers while waiting to leave Europe.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
With the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in May 1945, tens of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors were liberated in concentration camps across Europe.
The Allied powers each occupied zones of Germany and Austria. The cities of Berlin and Vienna were also divided into occupied zones.
To house and care for survivors and refugees, the Allied powers established DP camps throughout their occupation zones and in Italy
The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration managed hundreds of DP camps.
Large numbers of Jewish DPs were in camps and centers in the American and British occupation zones of Germany.
They received considerable assistance from Jewish agencies. By mid-1947, the Jewish DP population reached about 250,000.
The horrors of the Holocaust, coupled with postwar antisemitism and violence, prompted most survivors to try to leave Europe.
In increasing numbers, Jewish survivors chose Palestine as their most desired destination; many others sought entry to the United States.
However, the United States continued to restrict immigration and the British, who maintained control over Palestine, severely limited Jewish immigration there.
Thousands of Jewish refugees sought to evade British restrictions on entry into Palestine.
They fled using escape routes that crossed Europe, followed by grueling sea voyages.
"Brihah" (the Hebrew word for "flight" or "escape") was the name given to the postwar, organized emigration from eastern Europe into the Allied-occupied zones and Palestine.
Over 90 percent of the refugee ships headed for Palestine were intercepted by the British navy.
British authorities forcibly removed the refugees to detention camps, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.
By 1948 the British held over 50,000 Jewish refugees in squalid internment camps on Cyprus.
They also returned refugees on the immigration ship "Exodus 1947" to Europe, where the refugees were incarcerated.
The May 14, 1948, declaration of the State of Israel opened an era of unrestricted Jewish immigration to the new state.
Between 1948 and 1951, more than half of the Jewish DPs in Europe freely entered Israel.