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Searching for Eye Witnesses of DP Camps in the French Zone

Her intention to write a dissertation on displaced persons in the French-occupied zone in post-war Germany has led Julia Maspero to the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS). “I attempt to find out from where the DPs originally had come, what they had gone through during the war, how they got along in the DP camps and where they ended up finally”, explains the doctoral candidate at Sorbonne University in Paris her project. She is also trying to find eye witnesses of the time.

While most displaced persons in the French zone had been former forced labourers, their number also included people who had survived concentration camps and captivity. At the end of the war, an approximate total of 423,000 DPs were staying in Germany’s French zone. By the beginning of the year 1948, their figures had gone down to 42,000 inmates, mostly coming from Eastern Europe. The forced labourers from the Western states had returned to their home countries. The Soviet nationals were repatriated largely, too, some of them voluntarily, others forcibly. “The French occupation powers supported the Russian Army’s endeavours to repatriate the people” said Maspero. Cooperating the Frenchmen hoped to accelerate, in turn, the return of the Alsatian prisoners of war who had done military service in the German army.

Though having been freed from Nazi terror, the DPs did not enjoy any citizens’ rights. “They were not at all allowed to move freely between the zones and had to apply for a passport even if the journey they planned was short”, relates Maspero. One third of the DPs were living in flats or on farms, the remaining two thirds in camps. The DPs were obliged to work and trained in preparation of their emigration at the same time. “The subject has hardly been explored in France,” knows the doctoral candidate. “In recent years, however, the general interest in the topic has been growing, all the more so since some of the DPs from the French zone had immigrated to France subsequently.”

The documents of the French administration for the occupied zone constitute the main source of Maspero’s research paper. Today, the mentioned documents are kept at the Colmar archive. Other research sources she profited by were the archives of Koblenz and Freiburg, the Institute for Contemporary History and the Federal Archive. “I can think of more questions than answers yet”, admits the Frenchwoman with a little understatement. “During my visit to ITS, I have come across many ideas. Presumably I will concentrate on a particular DP Camp and retrace the DPs’ individual fates using the documentation kept here.” In particular the questionnaires of the Allies offer an interesting perspective, so she thinks. “My objective is not only to describe administrative procedures, but also to lend a personal character to my research paper. After all, what is concerned here are individuals’ fates”, so Maspero.

For her research project, Julia Maspero is still searching for eye witnesses. Whoever was himself or herself a DP or knew any DPs, may contact her by phone, number 01520-5303467, or by email.