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Project on Displaced Persons in Middle Hesse

The cooperation agreed between the International Tracing Service (ITS) and Gießen University brought another group of students of the University’s History Faculty to Bad Arolsen on 15 June 2012 where they pursued research in the ITS archives. Their group included four students taking part in a project of the European history workshop titled “Displaced Persons in Middle Hesse 1945-1960 – Working with one another, alongside one another, or against one another?”. “We are exploring the culture that evolved in the DP Camps”, explains student Andriy Kazymyriv. “One essential pillar of our project is the documentation that the ITS archives keep on the survivors of persecution and forced labour.”

Developed on the basis of a students’ initiative, the project intends to shed light on the DPs’ lives, their situation in post-war Germany, their everyday lives, their coexistence with the Germans and the traces they have left. Their experiences and those of relatives and scholars is to be a constitutive element of the research work. “The liberation of Germany in May 1945 not only meant the end of their suffering for the victims of Nazi rule, but also an unsecure future”, relates Kazymyriv. “The DPs had no certainty as to whether and when they would or could return to their home countries.”

The Ukrainian-German collaboration project initiated by the cooperation partners Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, the Institute for Applied History at Gießen University and further research institutions in the Ukraine is meant to contribute to re-assessing and widening the local remembrance culture, all the more so since this period of post-war history up to now has hardly been paid any scholarly attention to. The project focuses on the lives of Ukrainian nationals whose share of the DPs was fairly high. “The fact that our team includes two students from the Ukraine facilitates cooperation with our partners enormously”, reports Professor Hans-Jürgen Bömelburg, the University’s representative taking charge of the project.

The students expect the ITS archives to give answers to the questions in which camps in Middle Hesse Ukrainian DPs had been staying and which their lives had been like before. The documents shall also cast light on the national identity most Ukrainians had to redefine for themselves after new borders had been marked out in East Central Europe (Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Jewish or stateless). The scholars also study the information the DPs gave the Allies when asked about their future plans – to return to their old homelands, to emigrate to a third country or maybe even to remain in Germany. “In the end two decades had passed until the last DP had left the camps of the Western occupation zone”, says Kazymyriv.

The project organisers aim to prepare a travelling exhibition which will portray both, the forgotten camp culture and the individual fates of the DPs. To give further authenticity to their project, the students are searching for contemporary witnesses who were staying as DPs in Middle Hesse and who are willing to report on their experiences of the time. Contemporary witnesses are invited to report to the Secretariat of the Faculty for Eastern European History at Justus-Liebig University in Gießen, contact: Lidia Gläsmann, phone ++49/ 641-992 82 51, email: lidia.glaesmann@geschichte.uni-giessen.de