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 in different groups based on their countries 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 Nazi Germany such as Austrians, Germans and Japanese, were referred to as “enemy DPs”. In addition, there were stateless DPs, such as Soviet DPs, who were to be repatriated as quickly as possible according to the Yalta Agreement—without consideration of personal preference. An additional group formed those who had been racially, relilgiously or politically persecuted and placed into concentration camps by the Nazi regime, and who have been liberated by the Allies.

Thus, DPs were an inhomogeneous, large group of people, who had more or less suffered for years under the Nazi regime, and rightfully had continued animosity towards the German population. It was the responsibility of the local occupational military government to care for and to guide this group of people. As victims of the Nazi regime, the Heilbronn DPs - a group composed of slave laborers from Russia, Poland, the Balkans, France, the Netherlands, and Italy - had the solidarity and help of the occupational government. On the other hand, the DPs in Heilbronn represented a 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).

In the barracks the DPs received bigger food rations than the German population.They also could obtain luxury goods that were not available in the city. The reason why the Americans did this was 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 Soviet citizens returned to their home country by fall 1945, even if it was against the citizens' will to return to the Soviet Union. In Heilbronn this repatriation to the USSR ended in June 1945. After that, the Priesterwald Barracks, which had primarily been occupied by Russians, were then mostly occupied by 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 an UNRRA survey of the allied zones of occupation in the west 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. An UNRRA statistic from December 7, 1946 reveled that a total of 4,399 DPs lived in the barracks of Heilbronn; the majority of them 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 after the barracks became more permanent. Numerous factors played into this decline: the permanent allocation of the dwelling, which could have been 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 forced to financial contributions to the DP community. From the first day of Allied occupation 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 was involved in certain crimes, such as theft and black market trade. Documents show that proportionally only a 14 percent increase in one-time events occurred in relation to the German crime rate. Publicly and openly, the Nazi propaganda had a lasting effect on the population, in which forced laborers were judged as “inferior” and were “allowed” to work for the German economy, but had no rights.

In the end, the International Refugee Organization (IRO, since July 1, 1947 a successor organization of UNRRA) solved the DP problem by placing 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 June 30, 1950. From this point only selected camps continued to operate as passage stations for emigration. Belonging to this group was the Schwabenhof (former Priesterwald Barracks) in Heilbronn, which was the first to lose its DP camp status March 31, 1951, while the Badener Hof (former Ludendorff Barracks) closed June 15, 1950 and the DP Hospital January 31, 1951. Despite these closings a number of DPs remained implacable due to age, illness, missing vocational qualification etc. 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 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.