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Letter to the Director of the IRO

Waclaw Rubinstein had survived the Holocaust. The thing he longed most for after the Second World War had come to an end finally was a new home. To make this wish come true, he pinned his hopes on the International Refugee Organization that in fact helped and gave him the status of a displaced person (DP). Nevertheless, Rubinstein was to wait until February 1951, when ultimately Norway was willing to grant him asylum. With a view to somehow expediting his emigration, he had handed a 16-page long collage to Donald Kingsley, the then Director of the IRO – our find in the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS).

Rubinstein had taken great pains to join photos, letters, certificates, emigration destinations and quotations in a collage he dedicated to the Director of the IRO in a sort of exercise book. In it, Rubinstein depicted his situation as DP giving - with an overtone of irony - expression to his understanding for the overtaxed refugees’ organisation. “We know that you are a man who knows of no idleness and that thousands upon thousands of people are awaiting your decision on their future”, Rubinstein wrote at the time. “Nevertheless do I hope that you will listen in my case; I am a Warsaw dentist who has been working for more than five years on behalf of the UNRRA and the IRO.”

Immediately after the Wehrmacht had invaded Poland, Rubinstein had been seized in Warsaw and forcibly taken away - to the Vilnius ghetto first and then to a concentration camp. While confined to the ghetto in 1942, he had married his wife Stanislawa. The two survived. After the end of the war, Rubinstein openly admitted to the IRO that he did not care about which country would take him as long as “there is a job for me to do”.

Having planned to go to Australia initially, Rubinstein had made up his mind in favour of Canada and the USA later on, but was rejected time and again. These countries did not seem to have a need of professionally trained dentists. At last, Sweden came to be a likely candidate. “His willingness to choose a European country for immigration – contrary to the preferences of most other DPs – deserves mention”, an IRO letter of the time said. In the end, Sweden’s neighbour Norway was to be the definitive migration destination. So Rubinstein left Italian DP Camp Bagnoli on 26th February 1951 together with his wife Stanislawa, but had to stop off at Lübeck seeing the country of the perpetrators once again.

In response to Rubinstein’s collage, the Vice Director of the IRO wrote a formal letter in which he refused to comply with the former’s wish for funds facilitating his new start and compensating for his five years’ work as dentist in the DP Camp. “A refugee is granted accommodation, food, clothes and protection. (…) The organisation has done her bit by permitting you to practise your profession and to settle in a new country. We wish you and your wife much success in your new life.”