Sh'erit ha-Pletah (Hebrew: שארית הפליטה, lit. 'the
surviving remnant') is a biblical (Ezra 9:14 and
1 Chronicles 4:43)
term used by
Jewish refugees who survived the Holocaust to refer to
themselves and the communities they formed in postwar Europe following
the liberation in the spring of 1945.
Hundreds of thousands of survivors spent several years following their
repatriation in Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany, Austria, and
Italy. The refugees became socially and politically organized,
advocating at first for their political and human rights in the camps,
and then for the right to emigrate to British Mandate of Palestine,
most of which became the Jewish
State of Israel
State of Israel where the majority
ended up living by 1950.
1 Formation of the DP camps
2 Humanitarian services in the DP camps
3 From representation to autonomy
4 Political activism
5 A community dedicated to its own dissolution
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Formation of the DP camps
School children at
Schauenstein DP camp in 1946
In an effort to destroy the evidence of war crimes, Nazi authorities
and military staff accelerated the pace of killings, forced victims on
death marches, and attempted to deport many of them away from the
rapidly shrinking German lines. As the German war effort collapsed,
survivors were typically left on their own, on trains, by the sides of
roads, and in camps. Concentration camps and death camps were
liberated by Allied forces in the final stages of the war, beginning
with Majdanek, in July 1944, and Auschwitz, in January 1945;
Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Mauthausen, and other camps were
liberated in April and May 1945.
At the time of Germany's unconditional surrender on 7 May 1945 there
were some 6.5 to 7 million displaced persons in the Allied occupation
zones, among them an estimated 55,000  to 60,000 Jews. The
vast majority of non-Jewish DPs were repatriated in a matter of
months. The number of Jewish DPs, however, subsequently grew many
Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe migrated westward. It is
estimated that a total of more than 250,000 Jewish DPs resided in
camps or communities in Germany, Austria, and
Italy during the period
from 1945 to 1952.
In the first weeks after liberation, Allied military forces improvised
relief in the form of shelter, food, and medical care. A large number
of refugees were in critical condition as a result of malnutrition,
abuse, and disease. Many died, but medical material was requisitioned
from military stores and German civilian facilities. Military doctors
as well as physicians among the survivors themselves used available
resources to help a large number recover their physical health. The
first proper funerals of
Holocaust victims took place during this
period with the assistance of Allied forces and military clergy.
Shelter was also improvised in the beginning, with refugees of various
origins being housed in abandoned barracks, hotels, former
concentration camps, and private homes.
Austria came under Allied military administration, the
commanders assumed responsibility for the safety and disposition of
all displaced persons. The Allies provided for the DPs according to
nationality, and initially did not recognize Jews as constituting a
separate group. One significant consequence of this early perspective
was that Jewish DPs sometimes found themselves housed in the same
quarters with former Nazi collaborators. Also, the general
policy of the Allied occupation forces was to repatriate DPs to their
country of origin as soon as possible, and there was not necessarily
sufficient consideration for exceptions; repatriation policy varied
from place to place, but Jewish DPs, for whom repatriation was
problematic, were apt to find themselves under pressure to return
General George Patton, the commander of the United States Third Army
and military governor of Bavaria, where most of the Jewish DPs
resided, was known for pursuing a harsh, indiscriminate repatriation
policy. However, his approach raised objections from the
refugees themselves, as well as from American military and civilian
parties sympathetic to their plight. In early July 1945, Patton issued
a directive that the entire
Munich area was to be cleared of displaced
persons with an eye toward repatriating them. Joseph Dunner, an
American officer who in civilian life was a professor of political
science, sent a memorandum to military authorities protesting the
order. When 90 trucks of the Third Army arrived at Buchberg to
transport the refugees there, they refused to move, citing Dunner's
memo. Based on these efforts and blatant antisemitic remarks, Patton
was relieved of this command.
By June 1945 reports had circulated back in the United States
concerning overcrowded conditions and insufficient supplies in the DP
camps, as well as the ill treatment of Jewish survivors at the hand of
the U.S. Army. American Jewish leaders, in particular, felt compelled
to act. American
Earl G. Harrison was sent by president Truman
to investigate conditions among the "non-repatriables" in the DP
camps. Arriving in
Germany in July, he spent several weeks visiting
the camps and submitted his final report on 24 August. Harrison's
report stated among other things that:
Generally speaking... many Jewish displaced persons and other possibly
non-repatriables are living under guard behind barbed-wire fences, in
camps of several descriptions (built by the Germans for slave-laborers
and Jews), including some of the most notorious of the concentration
camps, amidst crowded, frequently unsanitary and generally grim
conditions, in complete idleness, with no opportunity, except
surreptitiously, to communicate with the outside world, waiting,
hoping for some word of encouragement and action in their behalf....
...While there has been marked improvement in the health of survivors
of the Nazi starvation and persecution program, there are many
pathetic malnutrition cases both among the hospitalized and in the
general population of the camps... at many of the camps and centers
including those where serious starvation cases are, there is a marked
and serious lack of needed medical supplies...
...many of the Jewish displaced persons, late in July, had no clothing
other than their concentration camp garb-a rather hideous striped
pajama effect-while others, to their chagrin, were obliged to wear
German S.S. uniforms. It is questionable which clothing they hate the
...Most of the very little which has been done [to reunite families]
has been informal action by the displaced persons themselves with the
aid of devoted Army Chaplains, frequently Rabbis, and the American
Joint Distribution Committee...
...The first and plainest need of these people is a recognition of
their actual status and by this I mean their status as Jews... While
admittedly it is not normally desirable to set aside particular racial
or religious groups from their nationality categories, the plain truth
is that this was done for so long by the Nazis that a group has been
created which has special needs...
...Their desire to leave
Germany is an urgent one.... They want to be
evacuated to Palestine now, just as other national groups are being
repatriated to their homes... Palestine, while clearly the choice of
most, is not the only named place of possible emigration. Some, but
the number is not large, wish to emigrate to the United States where
they have relatives, others to England, the British Dominions, or to
...No other single matter is, therefore, so important from the
viewpoint of Jews in
Austria and those elsewhere who have
known the horrors of the concentration camps as is the disposition of
the Palestine question...
...As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the
Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in
concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead
of S.S. troops.
Harrison's report was met with consternation in Washington, and its
contrast with Patton's position ultimately contributed to Patton being
relieved of his command in
Germany in September 1945.
The number of refugees in the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah continued to grow as
displaced Jews who were in Western Europe at war's end were joined by
hundreds of thousands of refugees from Eastern Europe. Many of these
were Polish Jews who had initially been repatriated. Nearly 90% of the
approximately 200,000 Polish Jews who had survived the war in the
Soviet Union chose to return to Poland under a Soviet-Polish
repatriation agreement. But Jews returning to their erstwhile
homes in Poland met with a generally hostile reception from their
non-Jewish neighbors. Between fall 1944 and summer 1946 as many as 600
Jews were killed in anti-Jewish riots in various towns and cities,
including incidents in Cracow, around August 20, 1945; Sosnowiec,
on October 25; and Lublin, on November 19. Most notable was the pogrom
in Kielce on July 4, 1946, in which 42 Jews were killed. In the
course of 1946 the flight of
Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe
toward the West amounted to a mass exodus that swelled the ranks of
Germany and Austria, especially in the U.S. Zone.
Although hundreds of DP camps were in operation between 1945 and 1948,
the refugees were mostly segregated, with several camps being
dedicated to Jews. These camps varied in terms of the conditions
afforded to the refugees, how they were managed, and the composition
of their population.
In the American sector, the Jewish community across many camps
organized itself rapidly for purposes of representation and advocacy.
In the British sector, most refugees were concentrated in the
Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp
Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp and were under tighter control.
Humanitarian services in the DP camps
The Allies had begun to prepare for the humanitarian aftermath of the
war while it was still going on, with the founding of the United
Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), on 9
November 1943. However, the beginnings of the agency were plagued by
organizational problems and corruption. The military authorities
were, in any case, reluctant to yield significant responsibility for
the DP assembly centers to a civilian organization, until it became
clear that there would be a need to house and care for the DPs for an
extended period of time. At the point when it was supposed to
begin its work the UNRRA was woefully understaffed in view of the
larger than expected numbers of DPs, and additional staff that were
hastily recruited were poorly trained. The agency began to send
staff into the field in summer 1945; its mission had been conceived
mainly as a support to the repatriation process, including providing
medical services, and assuring the delivery of adequate nutrition, as
well as attending to the DPs' needs for comfort and entertainment;
however, it often fell short of fulfilling these functions. As of
15 November 1945, the UNRRA officially assumed responsibility for the
administration of the camps, while remaining generally subordinate to
the military, which continued to provide for housing and security in
the camps, as well as the delivery of food, clothing, and medical
supplies. Over time the UNRRA supplemented the latter basic services
with health and welfare services, recreational facilities, self-help
programs, and vocational guidance.
By the time that the UNRRA took the reins of administration of the
camps, the Jewish DPs had already begun to elect their own
representatives, and were vocal about their desire for
self-governance. However, since camp committees did not yet have any
officially sanctioned role, their degree of power and influence
depended at first on the stance of the particular UNRRA director at
the given camp.
The UNRRA was active mainly through the end of 1946 and had wound down
its operations by mid 1947. In late 1947 a new successor organization,
International Refugee Organization
International Refugee Organization (IRO) absorbed some of the
UNRRA staff and assumed its responsibilities, but with a focus turned
toward resettlement, as well as care of the most vulnerable DPs,
rather than repatriation.
A number of other organizations played an active role in the emerging
Jewish community in the DP camps. The American Jewish Joint
Distribution Committee ("Joint") provided financial support and
supplies from American sources; in the British sector, the Jewish
Relief Unit acted as the British equivalent to the Joint; and the ORT
established numerous vocational and other training.
From representation to autonomy
The refugees who found themselves in provisional, sparse quarters
under military guard soon spoke up against the ironic nature of their
liberation, invoking an oft-repeated slogan "From Dachau to
Feldafing." Working committees were established in
each camp, and on July 1, 1945 the committees met for a founding
session of a federation for Jewish DP camp committees in Feldafing.
The session also included representatives of the
Jewish Brigade and
the Allied military administration. It resulted in the formation of a
provisional council and an executive committee chaired by Zalman
Grinberg. Patton's attempt at repatriating
Jewish refugees had
resulted in a resolve within the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah to define their own
destiny. Bolstered by the support from Harrison and Patton's
frustrated attempts at forcing a solution upon them, the various camp
committees convened a conference for the entire
Sh'erit ha-Pletah on
July 25 at the
St. Ottilien camp. The delegates passed a
fourteen-point program that established a broad mandate, including the
establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine with UN recognition,
compensation to victims, participation in the trials against Nazi war
criminals, archival of historical records, and full autonomy for the
As it turned out, the American and British sectors developed
independent organization structures.
The center for the British sector in
Germany was at the Bergen-Belsen
DP camp, where
Josef Rosensaft had been the primus motor for
establishing what became the Central Committee for Displaced Persons
in the British zone. In the American sector,
Zalman Grinberg and
Samuel Gringauz and others led the formation of the Central Committee
of the Liberated Jews, which was to establish offices first in the
Deutsches Museum and then in Siebertstrasse 3 in Munich.
The central organizations for
Jewish refugees had an overwhelming
number of issues to resolve, among them:
Ensuring healthy and dignified living conditions for the refugees
living in various camps and installations
Establishing political legitimacy for themselves by establishing a
constitution with a political process with debates, elections, etc.
Facilitating and encouraging religious, educational, and cultural
expression within the camps
Arranging for employment for the refugees, though not in enterprises
that would contribute to the German economy
Supporting the absorption in the camp infrastructure of "new" refugees
arriving from Eastern Europe
Resolving acrimonious and sometimes violent disputes between the camps
and German police
Managing the public image of displaced persons, particularly with
respect to black market activities
Advocating immigration destinations for the refugees, in particular to
the British Mandate in Palestine, but also the United States,
Australia, and elsewhere
Military authorities were at first reluctant to officially recognize
the central committees as the official representatives of the Jewish
refugees in DP camps, though cooperation and negotiations carried
characteristics of a de facto acceptance of their mandate. But on
September 7, 1946, at a meeting in Frankfurt, the American military
authorities recognized the
Central Committee of the Liberated Jews
Central Committee of the Liberated Jews as
a legitimate party to the issue of the Jewish displaced persons in the
What the people of the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah had in common was what had
made them victims in the first place, but other than that they were a
diverse group. Their outlook, needs, and aspirations varied
tremendously. There were strictly observant Jews as well as
individuals that had earlier been assimilated into secular culture.
Religious convictions ran from the Revisionist group to Labor Zionists
and even ideological communists. Although
Yiddish was the common
language within the community, individuals came from virtually every
corner of Europe.
There was lively political debate, involving satire, political
campaigns, and the occasional acrimony. The growth of Yiddish
newspapers within the camps added fuel to the political culture.
The political environment of the community evolved during its years of
existence. In the first year or two, it was predominantly focused on
improving the conditions in the camps and asserting the legitimacy of
the community as an autonomous entity. Over time, the emphasis shifted
to promoting the Zionist goals of allowing immigration into the
British Mandate in Palestine; political divisions within the Sh'erit
ha-Pletah mirrored those found in the
At every turn, the community expressed its opposition and outrage
against British restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine. In
the British sector, the protests approached a level of civil
disobedience; in the American sector, attempts were made to apply
political pressure to alleviate these restrictions. The relationship
Sh'erit ha-Pletah and British authorities remained tense until
State of Israel
State of Israel was formed. This came to a head when Lieutenant
Frederick E. Morgan
Frederick E. Morgan - then UNRRA chief of operations in
Germany - claimed that the influx of
Jewish refugees from Eastern
Europe as "nothing short of a skillful campaign of anti-British
aggression on the part of Zion aided and abetted by Russia...
[meaning] death to the British." (Morgan was allowed to remain in his
post after this comment but was fired when making similar comments
In late 1945, the UNRRA conducted several surveys among Jewish
refugees, asking them to list their preferred destination for
emigration. Among one population of 19,000, 18,700 named "Palestine"
as their first choice, and 98% also named "Palestine" as their second
choice. At the camp in Fürth, respondents were asked not to list
Palestine as both their first and second choice, and 25% of the
respondents then wrote "crematorium".
All the while, the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah retained close relationships with
the political leadership of the Yishuv, prompting several visits from
David Ben-Gurion and other Zionist leaders. While officially detached
from the committees, there was considerable support for clandestine
immigration to Palestine through the
Aliya Beth programs among the
refugees; and tacit support for these activities also among American,
UNRRA, Joint and other organizations. A delegation (consisting of
Norbert Wollheim, Samuel Schlumowitz, Boris Pliskin, and Leon Retter
flew to the United States to raise funds for the community, appealing
to a sense of pride over "schools built for our children, four
thousand pioneers on the farms... thousands of youths in trades
schools... self-sacrifice of doctors, teachers, writers...
democratization... hard-won autonomy," and also met
with officials at the US War Department and Sir Raphael Salento over
the formation of the International Refugee Organization.
Over time, the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah took on the characteristics of a
state in its own right. It coordinated efforts with the political
leadership in the
Yishuv and the United States, forming a transient
power triangle within the Jewish world. It sent its own delegation to
Zionist Congress in Basel.
A community dedicated to its own dissolution
With the exception of 10,000–15,000 who chose to make their homes in
Germany after the war (see Central Council of Jews in Germany), the
vast majority of the Jewish DPs ultimately left the camps and settled
elsewhere. About 136,000 settled in Israel, 80,000 in the United
States, and sizeable numbers also in Canada and South Africa.
Although the community established many of the institutions that
characterize a durable society, and indeed came to dominate an entire
section of Munich, the overriding imperative was to find new homes for
the refugees. To make the point, many of the leaders emigrated at the
first possible opportunity. Both overt lobbying efforts and
underground migration sought to open for unrestricted immigration to
Palestine. And the camps largely emptied once the state of Israel was
established, many of the refugees immediately joining the newly formed
Israel Defense Forces
Israel Defense Forces to fight the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
The Central Committee in the American sector declared its dissolution
on December 17, 1950 at the Deutsche Museum in Munich. Of the original
group that founded the committee, only rabbi
Samuel Snieg remained for
the dissolution. All the others had already emigrated, most of them to
Israel. Rabbi Snieg had remained to complete the first full edition of
Talmud published in Europe after the Holocaust, the so-called
The last DP camp, Föhrenwald, closed in February 1957, by then
populated only by the so-called "hardcore" cases, elderly, and those
disabled by disease.
While most Holocaust survivors view their time in the DP camps as a
transitional state, the
Sh'erit ha-Pletah became an organizing force
for the repatriation of the remnant in general and to Israel in
particular. Its experience highlighted the challenges of ethnic groups
displaced in their entirety without recourse to their original homes.
It also demonstrated the resolve and ingenuity of individuals who had
lost everything but made a new life for themselves.
Some struggled with survivor guilt for decades.
Aftermath of World War II
Bereavement in Judaism
^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Liberation." Holocaust
Encyclopedia. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
^ Königseder, Angelika, and Juliane Wetzel. Waiting for Hope: Jewish
Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany. Trans. John A.
Broadwin. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2001. 15.
^ Berger, Joseph. "Displaced Persons." Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd Ed.
Vol. 5. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 684-686; here: 684.
Berger cites historian Jehuda Bauer as estimating that 200,000 Jews in
total emerged alive from the concentration camps.
^ Pinson, Koppel S. "Jewish Life in Liberated Germany: A Study of the
Jewish DP's." Jewish Social Studies 9.2 (April 1947): 101-126; here:
^ According to Königseder and Wetzel (p. 15), in September 1945 there
were a total of approximately one million DPs remaining, who, for
various reasons, such as political differences with the new regime in
their homeland, or fear of persecution, were considered to be
^ a b "Displaced Persons". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 16.
^ Mankowitz, Zeev W. Life between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of
the Holocaust in Occupied Germany. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Press, 2002. 13.
^ Mankowitz, 12-16.
^ Mankowitz, 16.
^ Brenner, Michael. After the Holocaust: Rebuilding Jewish Lives in
Postwar Germany. Trans. Barbara Harshav. Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1997. 15.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 31.
^ Mankowitz, 52-53.
^ Report of Earl G. Harrison. As cited in United States Holocaust
Memorial Museum, "Resources," Life Reborn: Jewish Displaced Persons,
1945-1951 [online exhibition]. Retrieved 30 May 2014.
^ Königseder, Angelika, and Juliane Wetzel. Waiting for Hope: Jewish
Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany. Trans. John A.
Broadwin. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2001. 45.
^ Engel, David. "Poland since 1939." The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in
Eastern Europe. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
^ "Serious Anti-Jewish Disturbances in Cracow; Local Council Blames
Reactionary Poles." Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 21 August 1945.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 46.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 43.
^ a b Shephard, Ben. The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second
World War. New York: Knopf, 2011. 138-164.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 28.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 28-29.
^ Shephard, 140, 145-146.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 29-30.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 97.
^ Königseder and Wetzel, 64-65.
Angelika Königseder and Juliane Wetzel: Waiting for Hope: Jewish
Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany. Evanston, Illinois,
2001. Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-1477-1
Leo W. Schwarz: The Redeemers: A Saga of the Years 1945–1952. New
York, 1953. Farrar, Straus, and Young.
Mark Wyman: DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945–1951. Ithaca, 1989
and 1998. Cornell University Press.
Eli Barnavi (ed.): A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People. New York,
1992. Schocken Books.
Juliane Wetzel, "An uneasy existence: Jewish survivors in Germany
after 1945," in: Hanna Schissler (ed.), Miracle Years. A cultural
history of West
Germany 1949-1968, Princeton, Oxford 2000, S.
Angelika Königseder and Juliane Wetzel, "DP Camp 1945–1950: The
British Section", in: Erik Somers/René Kok (eds.) Jewish Displaced
Persons in Camp Bergen-Belsen 1945–1950, Waanders Publishers Zwolle
2003, S. 42-55.
Zeev W. Mankowitz, Life between Memory and Hope, The Survivors of the
Holocaust in Occupied Germany, Cambridge University Press, 348 pages,
ISBN 0-521-81105-8, ISBN 978-0-521-81105-7
Ha-Dimah (The Tear), by Rafael Olewski, published by Irgun She'erit
Hapleta Bergen-Belsen Be-Israel, Tel-Aviv, 1983.
Françoise Ouzan, "Rebuilding Jewish identities in Displaced Persons
Camps in Germany" (French version: La reconstruction des identités
juives dans les camps de personnes déplacées d’Allemagne),
Bulletin du Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem, vol. 14,
2004, pp. 98–111
List of Displaced Persons Camps
Jewish Virtual Library: DP Camps
The Anguish of Liberation and the Surviving Remnants on the Yad Vashem
The Return to Life in the Displaced Persons Canps: A Visual
Retrospective on the
Yad Vashem website
United States Holocaust Museum: The Aftermath
Nürnberger Institut für NS-Forschung und jüdische Geschichte des
20. Jahrhunderts e. V. Jüdische DP Lager und Gemeinden in der US Zone
/ Jewish DP Camps and Communities in the US Zone
(www.after-the-shoah.org) (bilingual online encyclopedia).
Knab, Florian C. "Displaced Persons im besetzen
"The Will to Live" - Time Magazine, July 12, 1947
Guide to the Displaced Persons Camps and Centers Photograph Collection
(RG 294.5), at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York, NY
Guide to the Displaced Persons Camps and Centers Poster Collection (RG
294), at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York, NY
Displaced persons camps in post-World War II Europe
Sites in the
München Neu Freimann
Braunau am Inn
Ried im Innkreis
Sites in the
Sites in Italy
Santa Maria di Leuca
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Victims of Nazism
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Books and other resources
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Shtetls depopulated of Jews
Timeline of deportations of French Jews
Timeline of the Holocaust
Timeline of the Holocaust in Norway
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Risiera di San Sabba
Extermination through labour
Human medical experimentation
Concentration Camps Inspectorate
End of World War II
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