a A

Exercise on Emigration to Australia

For two weeks, Ruth Balint has been studying documents from the record group on Displaced Persons (DPs) at the archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. In so doing, she focused on the post-war migration movement to Australia. “The records from the immediate post-war period are a thrilling read and of enormous importance”, says the historian and senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

What did happen in the camps? Which criteria had to be met by the migration candidates so that they could in fact leave for the country of their choice? Which was the perspective the survivors put their fate in? Examining the files, the historian ‘asked the archives’ these questions. “I have spot checked the names of emigrants and looked into their CM/1 files”, explains Balint. CM/1 (the abbreviation of Care and Maintenance) files are called those application forms Displaced Persons (DPs) lodged for assistance at the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) between 1947 and 1951. The information provided in these questionnaires was crucial to the candidates’ eligibility to gain assistance to leave for another country.

“The applications reflect the sort of criteria relied on by immigration selection officers. It is interesting to read and analyse in particular the ways in which those seeking eligibility for IRO assistance described their wartime pasts.” Balint cites one of many examples of a man who succeeded in getting his permit to leave in the second attempt only. “His first application was considered suspect, and so he was rejected. It was not until he appealed and rendered a more detailed, and different, account of his previous activities during the war that he got his permit”, reports Balint. The prospects for eligibility were particularly good for former forced labourers from Eastern Europe reluctant to be repatriated to their native countries for what they often classed as political motives.

Australia was frequently behind the USA, Canada and Argentina in terms of preferred destination. “The Australian Government launched an advertisement policy”, says the historian, “for the purpose of attracting immigrants who were considered young, healthy and fit in order to provide manual labour for building and mass construction projects. “By 1951, about 180,000 DPs whose original home places had mostly been in the Baltic States had sailed to Australia.