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Unexpected find about the family history

The original intention US American John Bendetson had in visiting the archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS) was to do some research for friends and acquaintances. But then pieces of his own personal family history emerged unexpectedly, and much to his surprise he found himself holding a copy of his birth certificate and photos of his parents from 1951 in his hands. Bendetson’s father Jan was one of many million people who were living in Germany as Displaced Persons after the end of World War II.

The National Socialists had deported the native Pole from Warsaw to Fulda as early as 1940 and made him a forced laborer. “I didn’t know anything about that. My father had hardly ever spoken about that period of time”, Bendetson tells. The next trace doesn’t appear until the end of 1944 and leads to a prisoner of war camp of the Wehrmacht, the Stalag IVb, in Mühlberg an der Elbe. Immediately prior to this Jan Bendetson had been involved in the Warsaw Uprising as an underground fighter of the Polish Home Army. “There was one time when a Wehrmacht soldier held a pistol to his head. The soldier’s comrades kept him from pulling the trigger, though. That is the only specific war event my father ever mentioned”, says Bendetson.

The Polish resistance fighter survived war and captivity. He stayed in Germany, not wanting to return to his home country, but to immigrate to the USA instead. He had himself registered by the Allies as a Displaced Person and then looked for and found work with the US Army. In 1946 he had a minor accident in a Jeep. “My father was taken to the hospital, and there he met my mother”, son John knows. She was a nurse at that time, born in Cologne; they got married after Jan had completed his architectural studies in Darmstadt, and in 1951 John was born. His birth was registered by the registry office in Bad Nauheim. In 1956 the young family finally managed to immigrate to the USA, and made a home for themselves in Connecticut.

Their various post-war stations and efforts made to emigrate are documented extensively in the DP files in the ITS archive. “The abundance of documentation is surprising”, Bendetson said on the occasion of his visit. ‟And the search efforts made by the ITS to find information go above and beyond what I had expected.”  However, despite the wealth of documents, there are still some questions that will have to remain unanswered because the war generation was silent on these matters. Meanwhile, John Bendetson has carried on his Polish-German-American story. He came to Germany in 1977 as a US soldier and stayed.