Displaced Persons Camp

Hochfeld DP Camp, Augsburg, Bavaria, Germany was one of the hundreds of refugee camps set up by UNRRA, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration after the Second World War to provide shelter and other basic necessities for the thousands of refugees who fled the Soviets and the Nazis. People from all three Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were at Hochfeld.

Coming up with ideas for my blog can be a challenge. Too often, I start a post and for some reason, my will to work on it falters and comes to a halt. Occasionally, I come up with ideas when I’m not even looking for them, something sparks, and I take off, not even noticing how many hours I’ve been pounding the keyboard and searching for illustrations. I was going through old photos when I came up with these from my family’s collection taken during our time at Hochfeld.

Hospital in Augsburg where I got my start in life.

I was very small when we left Germany so I don’t remember much. We had a two-room apartment because two of my uncles, my mother’s older brother, and my father’s younger brother were with us. They had the multi-functional main room and my parents and I had the second room. Not every family was as fortunate.

Courtesy of the Dankers family archive.

Here’s what Mr. Dankers said about their DP living quarters: “Mom making dinner in our exquisite single room suite containing kitchen, living, dining, bed, rec & bath-room in Displaced Persons Camp Augsburg/Hochfeld in Germany, March 1951. Thank you, dear parents, for eventually taking my sister & me to the Land of Opportunity in America.”

Mr. Ohaks, my uncle Nikolaijs, and yours truly.

Mr. Ohaks was the building supervisor. I don’t know why he’s in the photo with us. Maybe he’s the one who set up the photo session. I also don’t know where the ball came from. Maybe it was in a CARE package from America. Founded in 1945 CARE (Cooperative for Assitance and Relief Everywhere, originally Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) is one of the largest and oldest humanitarian aid organizations. I’ve known about CARE practically forever but only now looked up the meaning of the acronym. It’s still in existence.

My other uncle, Alfons, and his friend.

Alfons never mentioned this lady. The only information I have about her came from my mother. He and this woman had a romance. She was married but escaped Latvia without her husband. Perhaps he was a soldier who had been reported killed in action. In Germany, she learned that her husband was still alive and returned to him in Latvia. When she got there, she learned that he’d divorced her and married someone else. The Soviets would not allow her to return to Germany. I don’t know if this sad experience was the reason my uncle never married.

I borrowed parts of this tragic romance for one of the characters in my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart.

Hochfeld apartment block. The man with the pipe is my uncle, Nikolaijs. I don’t think this is where my family and I lived. Hochfeld was merged with another smaller DP camp.
Nikolaijs is the man in front.

I believe this is a street scene in Augsburg with Hochfeld DP camp in the background. Folks, if you have photos with no information written on them please do so for the sake of those who come after you.

I don’t know if this photo was taken somewhere in Augsburg but I don’t know where else it could have been taken.

Nikolaijs is in the middle. He lost part of his leg in the war.

My mother, Nikolaijs, and I.

I’m sad because Nikolaijs, my favorite uncle, was about to leave for the United States where he’d found sponsors in Pennsylvania. He wasn’t as afraid to change the diapers of a baby girl as my father and my other uncle. Koļa (Kolya) would read to me at bedtime. After a while, when he didn’t return to the main room, my mother came in to check on us. Koļa had read himself to sleep while I was all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I’m still a night owl.

My other uncle, Alfons, leaving for America.

All refugees departing for their new homes had tags on their clothes as if they were packages that might get lost in transit. I guess it makes sense since they didn’t speak English well or at all. Except that this was Germany and the Baltic refugees could speak German.

Alfons’ first home in America was on a farm in South Dakota.

Another friend, Ģirts, on his makeshift scooter. His family went to Australia.

Life for kids in a DP camp could be fun and almost normal. Determined that their culture and language not be lost refugees set up schools for their children. They also put on plays and concerts.

My mother once took me to a Latvian preschool. A teacher and my mother accompanied me to the classroom. When we entered the room, the children surged to their feet, as Latvian children do to show respect for the teacher, I was terrified. I was probably three and had never seen anything like that in my life. It must have seemed as if the other kids were about to attack me. I ducked under my mother’s arm and ran to the workshop where my father was learning goldsmithing. My mother never said, and I never asked, whether she ever took me back or gave up on that portion of my education.

This is another incident that I used in my novel assigned to my heroine’s daughter Dzintra, who was also at Hochfeld. Except that Dzintra has two grandmothers to run to.

Photo from my laissez-passer. A passport issued by the United Nations to stateless people.

My mother probably knit that little sweater for me. I’m wearing a sun brooch that my father made for me. I still have it and still wear it.

The sun in Latvian mythology is a mother goddess. Her symbol represents protection, harmony, perpetual motion, and the power of life.

Good-bye Germany. Hello, America!

A Home for an Exile’s Heart is about the life of a Latvian refugee, Līvija Galiņa after they find a new home in Seattle, Washington in a neighborhood where one of my mother’s cousins, her mother, and son also lived communally with another Latvian family. Only the living arrangements are the same in my story as in real life.

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14 thoughts on “Displaced Persons Camp”

    1. That’s too bad, Girts. I’ll turn Exile into a print-on-demand paper of hardback that you might be able to buy. My cousin, who lives in Adelaide, was able to buy and read
      “The Dissicent’s Wife” ebook, which is available on my Amazon page. Thanks for reading my blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Living history. Powerful post bringing that time and the plight of displaced persons to the fore. I was very interested to read about the way your family’s stories formed your novel, Exile, which I enjoyed very much.


    1. Thanks so much, Judy. I’m glad to know that you found my story powerful abd that you enjoyed Exile very much. I just wish history like this didn’t keep on repeating itself over and over in one lifetime.


      1. Yes, I was thinking of Ukraine when I wrote that, but unfortunately, there have been so many displacements. BTW, in your blog headline did you mean to write “Displace” rather than “Displaced”?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I was thinking of Ukraine, too. I think of it and its people often. You’re right. There are way too many people forced from their homes. Oops, I didn’t notice I’d left the D off displaced.


    1. Thanks foir you comments, Peggy. My father said my mother didn’t have enough milke to nurse me but I don’t have rickets or anything. I forgot to mention that she talked about trading on the black market but the only detail she mentioned was fear of being caugh. I also forgot to mention the “milk lines” where women lined up to get milk rations. But I mention milk lines in Exile.. I’m glad you love my brooch. I do, too.


  2. I find these stories quite fascinating. I understand the upheaval and loss that is in their background but it is a form of living history. I especially love the fact that you still wear the brooch your father made for you as a toddler.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks soi much for your kind words,, Niall. It’s gratifying to know that you find my stories fascinating and that you love that I still wear my brooch. I also wear the Nameja ring he made for my mother and several other brooches. It’s sad tha this history keeps on repeating itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for commenting. I noticed that it looks like it did not register my entire initial post. This is my initial post:

        Everyone has a story, and I found a year of my Latvian mothers story as a 14-year-old, war orphan, without a family, in a German displaced persons camp. She wrote of her experience. She squirreled it away in secret, for all of these decades. And I found it when she died. the University of Latvia was interested because these first person accounts are very rare. It’s kind of like Anne Frank diary of a young girl. But of an experience that even fewer people are aware of. I mention this because I am looking for a translator. They transcribed it almost immediately at the University of Latvia. But they said that they have a long backlog on the actual translations that are needed in that department. If anyone is out there who knows English perfectly and Latvian perfectly, and would be interested in reading this in translating it into English, please contact me at 301-943–6952. It was about 140 pages hand written on very small notebook pages. I don’t know how many words it ended up being, or how long it was relative to the resulting transcribed typed pages.

        Liked by 1 person

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