Displaced Persons (DPs) in Heilbronn


After World War II, the winning Allied forces coined the term “Displaced Persons“ (DPs) as “civilians who lived outside the borders of their mother countries; who, in the broadest terms, through the effects of war, became foreigners who either desired to return home or became alien residents.” Thus, DPs are one of the most unique post-war groups. Officially, they were divided based on their country of origin: UN-DPs were citizens from UN member states; “ex-enemy DPs” included those from Italy, Finland, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Citizens of nation states which either temporarily aligned or collaborated with Germany, such as Austrians, Germans and Japanese, were referred to as “Enemy DPs”. In addition, there were stateless DP’s, such as Soviet DP’s, who were to be repatriated as quickly as possible in the Yalta Agreement—without consideration of personal preference. In addition, these groups were often composed of those who were persecuted by the National Socialist regime for their racial, religious or political identities, and placed into concentration camps, from which they were now freed.

Thus, DPs were an inhomogeneous, large group of people, who had more or less suffered for years under the National Socialist regime, and rightfully had continued animosity towards the German population. It was the responsibility of the local occupational military government to care and guide this group of people. As victims of the National Socialist regime, the Heilbronn DPs—a group composed of forced labor groups from Russia, Poland, the Balkans, French, Dutch and Italians—had the solidarity and help of the occupational government. On the other hand, the DPs in Heilbronn represented a not small potential unrest in the occupied city. Over time small gangs developed, participating in armed robbery and pillaging, and sometimes murder and homicide.

In order to improve the situation, the Americans, with the support of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), installed two large DP-camps in two barracks in Heilbronn (Priesterwald Barracks and Ludendorff Barracks).

During the war many of these former forced labor workers were occupied in the greater periphery of Heilbronn.

In the barracks the DPs received greater food rations than the city’s German population. In addition, they could also receive luxery goods that were not avalible in the city. The Americans tried to structure the barracks in such a way to provide additional comforts not available in the city, as a way to discourage plundering and robbing local residents.

The goal was to bring the DPs, as quickly as possible, back to their native countries. For the Dutch, French and Italians, this was relatively easy to implement. However, the Yalta Agreement required that all Russians return to their home country by Fall 1945, even if it was against the citizen’s will to return to the Soviet Union. In Heilbronn this return to the USSR ended in June 1945. Thereafter, the Priesterwald Barracks, which were primarily occupied by Russians, was occupied primarily with Polish residents.

The more clearly it appeared that the new Polish state would turn to Soviet influence, the more polish residents were hesitant to return to their homeland. According to a UNRRA survey of the West-zone in May 1946, 80 percent of the polish DPs rejected repatriation. Gradually, the DP-Barracks, which were originally thought to be a temporary solution, developed as permanent structures, as seen throughout Heilbronn. A UNRRA statistic from December 7th 1946 reveled that a total of 4,399 DPs lived in the Heilbronn Barracks; the majority were Polish (3,150 in Priesterwald and 1,166 in the Ludendorff Barracks). In the DP hospital, the former military hospital at Jägerhaus street, housed a total of 452 persons, 368 of which were Polish. By 1949 there were a total of 4,245 DPs in Heilbronn.

The German population’s acceptance and support for the DP camps decreased over time – particularly as the barracks became more permanent. Numerous factors played into this decline: the permanent allocation of the dwelling, which one could have used by the displaced native Heilbronn population; the access to a better food supply, which in 1948 amounted to 2,000 calories, while the ordinary German consumer had to be content with 1,550 calories a day; and finally, residents were resentful that the city administration were required to financial contributions to the DP community. From the first day of occupation onwards many Germans developed a prejudice of the DP population as “criminals or thieves”. In reality, the criminal statistic confirmed that in both Heilbronn and other places, the DP population were involved with certain crimes, such as theft and black market trade. As it was published at the time, proportionally only a 14 percent increase in one-time events occurred in relation to the German crime rate. Publicly and openly, the National Socialist propaganda had a lasting effect on the population, in which immigrant workers were judged as “inferior” and were “allowed” to work for the German economy, but had no additional rights.

The DP problem was solved in the end through the International Refugee Organization (IRO, since July 1, 1947 a successor organization of UNRRA), which directed DPs with emigration countries. The DP Immigration Law from 1948 brought 200,000 persons to the United States. Further important host countries were Australia, Great Britain and Canada. Gradually the DP-camps in Germany were dissolved. The work of the IRO ended officially on June 30, 1950. From this point on only selected camps continued to operate as passage station for emigration. Belonging to this group was the Schwabenhof Barrack in Heilbronn, which first lost its DP Barrack status on March 31, 1951; while the Badener Hof closed on June 15, 1950 and the DP Hospital on January 31,1951. Despite these closings a number of DPs remained implacable (due to age, illness, missing vocational qualification etc.) remained. This group became known to German residents as “homeless foreigners”. It was clear that the remaining DPs were often weaker, older, past working age people, who had to live on social welfare. Once again, the readiness to integrate the DPs into the larger German Federal Republic society was not very favorable. From the 774 DPs that stayed at Badener Hof, 318 were registered on social welfare assistance. Many of the “homeless foreigners” housed in sheds in the former brickyard in Neckargartach.