World War II: Refugees--Country Trends

Figure 1.--Here we see two Belgian children that somehow made it to London after the Germans launched their long-anticipated Western invasion (May 1940). A few Belgians and Dutch refugees were able to get aboard vessel before the Germans closed the ports. Few other Belgians managed to do so. The press caption in an American newspaper read, "No Music in His Heart: This boy, according to the British caption, is shown carrying his accordian and leading his sister as they arrived here May 17 with a train load of other refugees from Belgium and Holland." The photograph was dated May 17. Notice how tightly he is holding on to his little sister.

The World War II refugee/displaced persons problem is an emensley complicated topic involving a large numbers of people. NAZI Germany was at the heart of the refugee problem, but the Soviet Union also played a major role. Other countries were involved in a variety of ways both in creating, attempting to utilize the refugee issues, and efforts to assist refugees. Belgian refugees featured prominently in World War I discussions, but this time there were relatively few. There were large numbers of French refugees, but after there country surrendered to the Germans, most retuned home after a montyh or so of flight. The Germans created large numbers of refugees in Pland by deporting Jews and Poles from areas annexed in Western Poland. The Jews were first ghettoized and then murderd. The Poles were left to their own devices in the General Government, but syuffered greatrly because of the German Hunger Plan. The refugee problem was at first limited because the early German vicgtories were so overwealming and swift. People in these countries had little time to flee and no where to which to flee. The ensuing guerrilla war in Yugoslavia did create refugees. The Gernman invasion of the Soviet Union created huge numbers of refugees with whuch Soviet authorities had difficulty coping, largely because a substantial part of the contry's agricultural land was occupied by the Germans. The Soviets also created many refugees. Courtries varied greatly in how they addressed the refugee problem over time. After the German surrender, the orincipal refugee problem was getting the millions of people brought into the Reich for forced labor home. Poland had an esoecially severe problem as the Soviets deported large numbers of Poles in eastern Poland to western Poland. While the Germans created much of the problem, there were also large numbers of German refugees. Furst they were fleeing the advancing Red Army. Than after tge War, the countries of Eastern and central Europe deported ethnic Germans.

America, Latin


Mexico accepted refugee children from the Spanish Cicil War.

America, North


The NAZI persecution of the German Jewish community and political opponents brought a wave of prominent individuals who made major contributions to America. Many described in gtaphic detail what was going on in Germany. There was long list of prominent individuals both from Germany and later the occupied countries that came to America, including Marlina Detrich, Peter Drucker, Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, ??? Salard, Edmund Teller, and many more. These many destinguised individuals made great contributions to American arts, medicine, music, science, and many other fields. America is much the richer for their invaluable contributions. Others were just children when they emmigrated before and after the War, but would make valuable contributions of their own: Madeline Albright, Peter Drucker, Andy Grove, Henry Kisinger, Tivi Nussbaum, George Sorros, and others. The publicity certainly affected how Americans thought about Hitler. It did not, however, affect the stringly isolationist views of most Americans, it may in fact only strengthened them--at least at first. Also America and other countries had severe limitations on immigration, especially Jewish immigration. The Depression caused many countries to limit immigration, to save avaialble jobs for unemployed Americans. Anti-semitism was also a factor. President Roosevelt was struggling at the time to gain support for his efforts to defeat the isolationists and assist the British and French which made an additional struggle on immigration virtually impossible.


Canada like America has along history of accepting refugees. A major test of this welcomig tradition for poppressed people occurred after the NAZI seizure of power in Germany (1930s). As with America, let alone countries with out a tradition of accepting refugees, Canada did not live up to its best traditons. Grman Jews as the NAZIS tighted their grip, pleased for entry visas from any country. Canada with vast unoccupied land grudgingly accepted a mere 4,000 German Jews. The Depression was pat of the reason, but more important was blatant and wide-spread anti-Semitism permeated Canada. As in the Unitd States, there was little public support for Jewish immigration. And considerable overt opposition. With the outbreak of the War, it was too late, but Canadian opposition to Jeish refugee immigration did not change until after the War. Europe was awash with displaced persons, including Jewih survivors of the Holocaust. With the horrifying stories of NAZI brutality and the Hoocaust emerged, Cananad becamemuch more receptive to the plight of refugees. In adiition, a growing economy created a demand for peope to fill jobs. Canada admitted hundreds of thousands of the displaced persons. There was no religous tests, so many Jews were among the new immigrants. The Canadin Government not only permitted immigrantions, nbut helped financetheir travel. And Canada began to play an active role in the new United Nations refugee organization.



The template for Japan's occupation policies were established by the May Incident (May 30, 1925), two decades before Japan invaded China. Japanese factory guards shot and killed workers. he Japanese used this incident to justified increased troop depoloyments. The Four Alls concept was conceived as a way of dealing with the Chinese. Brutality was a policy conceived by Japanese military ommanders to force thevhinese into compliance with Japanese rule. It has worked in Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuko. The Japanese in the process of invading China committed war crimes and atrocities on an unpresidented level against the Chinese civilian population. The most savage of these explosions of barbarity was the Rape of Nanking, after the fall of the capital Nanking. Here European diplomats and missionaries witnessed the brutality of the Japanese. It should be noted that these attrocities were not inherent in the Japanese character. The Japanese conduct and treatment of both prisionors and civilians during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I had been correct and in accordance with accepted international standards. The Japanese military invading China behaved very differently. The result was a huge refugee problem as the Chinese fleed Japanese occupied area. Not only were th Nationalist faced with huge waves of desperte period, but the Japanese seizure of gricultural areas meant lkess and less food was available to feed th refugees.


Some European refugees found safety in India. The Indian Government establoshed an organisation at the request of the British Government to care for civilian refugees from countries occupied by NAZI and Soviet agression. The countries included Poland, the Baltic States, Greece, Malta and other countries. At the time, the Soviet Union was a NAZI ally. The British did not want to care for these people in Britain itself out of security reasons. The numbers were not huge because it was so difficult to escape from these countries, but they were substantial. There are also reports to refugees from Yugoslvia, French, colonies, and British subjects from all over Middle East and Singapore. Camps were opened in India and staffs recruited to care for thousands of evacuees. As the war progressed, the European evacuees were joined by refugees from Asia fleeing the Japanese, including Burma, Malaya, Hong Kong and elsewhere. The camps continued to operate for some time after the War. Some of the camps were used by civilian internees from other Asian countries until they could get home. The Indian DP camps were not finally closed until 1950.


The Japanese did not attempt to colonize most of the areas they conquerd during the War nor were there Japanese ppulations in those countries. There were exceptions, including Taiwan, the Marians (especially Saian), Korea, Manchuria, and Saklin. These Jpanese in areas occupied by the Allies were repatriated along with the Japanese military. We are less sure about the fate of civilians in areas occupied by the Soviets. After the War the issue of Japanese orphans arose. These were Japanese children left behind and children of local women fathered by Japanese soldiers, both in consenting circumsances and rape. Unlike the Germans, the Japanese did not bring large numbers of slave labor from the occupied countries into the Home Islands. The only exception was Koreans drafted for labor service.


World War II created the greatest refugee crisis in European history. It began 6 years before the War with Hitler's appoitment as Chancellor (1933). Large numbers of Jews fearing the worse fled Germany. As the ininital ant-emeric measures were not as bad as anticipated, this flow slowed for a while. When the NZIs began arresting anti-NAZIs, Communists, and critics, there was also a flow of political refugees. Jewish refugees increased again after the imposition of the Nuremberg Race Law (1935) and Kristallnacht (1938). Until Kristallnacht, NAZI policy was to drive ut the Jews after stealing their property. Beginning with Kristallnacht, leaving Germany became increasingly difficult. At the same time Germany;s aggressive policies set in motion refugee flows in other countries, bginning with Austria and Czechoslovakia. And then with war and occupation not only we see millions of refugees fleeing repression, front line combat and bombing, cities being evacuated, ethnics cleansings, roundups, mass murder, and workers drawn or forced into the Reich to solve the labor shortage as workers were conscripted for the front. Millions more desceded into poverty and want because of the War. Others found themselves homeless because of the war. The War sent Europe in motion. People were in motion throughout the War. People had tpo leave burned out towns. Parents sought safety for their children. For some there wre welfare agencies set up to help. For others they were in their own, especually Jews and Slavs in the occupied East. Here the killing was a najor German war goal. And as the War went against Germany, the Germans themselves became refugees. And at the end of the War millions of released POWs and foced laborers added to the refugee flow and the great mass of hungry people wandering the continent. One estimate suggests that a total of about 60 million Europeans became refugees during the World War II era. And even 5 years after the War there were more than a million people who were still in DP camps.


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Created: 12:49 AM 6/21/2009
Last updated: 9:12 PM 11/5/2016