Holidays for Refugees
The aftermath of the 2nd world war left thousands of people living in camps mainly as a result of the Russian occupation of Eastern Europe. World refugee year was in 1956 and did much to alert the free world to the problem, but it was many years before all the camps were cleared. The articles below were written in the 60s. The first three written in 1962 record stories of children who came over in 1959
This pretty fair-haired girl came to England at the age of ten. She had a black eye and a broken nose given to her by her mother's boyfriend, and her luggage consisted of a biscuit tin with an old dress in it. Although we did what we could for her, she never learnt to speak comprehensibly. Possibly she suffered from slight cerebral palsy, as she understood English quite well. Unfortunately the government ordered her to be returned to Germany, and as her mother didn't want her, she was put in a mental home. I am certain that if anyone had adopted her and brought her up with care, they would have been more than rewarded for their efforts. She was always very conscious of and interested in people and things-she needed no teaching to take photographs with my camera.
Following publication of this website Irena's sister, Christine Mazurek, who also came over with her but stayed permanently in England, got in touch with us. She told us how her family had lived in Horst (Mariental), a small village where there had been a lot of fighting and drunkeness. She remembers after the 2nd world war how a boy playing on bombed ruins fell to his death. She and Irena came to England, but after this the rest of the children, Danuta, Maria, Helena, Zygmund, Romusch and Kazimier, were put into a Childrens' home. The last Christina heard from them was in 1974 following which the German authorities apparently denied them the right to keep in touch with her. There must be so many stories like this as all the children we helped came from families with problems, and I am very grateful to Christina for providing us with this extra information. (July 2012).
Maria, a tall twelve year old comes from a Berlin camp. Her parents are conscientious and loving. They have brought her up to be clean, well-mannered and
helpful, and they are saving hard to buy a house. Maria has stayed several times with a family in Wales and speaks English with a strong Welsh accent.
We welcome her at Little Pond House (The reception centre) because she can always help prepare the vegetables or keep the younger children in order.
Recently I met Reinhardt, who came over with a party of children, some of whom stayed with families in Sevenoaks. But he too bears the mark of an exile.
When I asked him. where he lived, he gave me his camp number-'Lager XVII'. He added that he lived in a house of five rooms with ten
other people (probably three families), but he emphasized that this was not a proper home-" Ich habe kein zu Hause mehr. " .
Short extracts published in mid 60s about children from various refugee camps.
There are nearly 182,000 foreign refugees in Germany. Only 1,000 of them are now left in camps, but 13,000 of the remainder are living in poor and inadequate housing conditions. Many of these have children who could be greatly helped by I.H.C. These figures of course do not include the many who have emigrated from Germany, nor the large number of German citizens who have moved over from the Russian zone. In Austria there are some 25,000 refugees, of whom 100 are in camps, and 1,500 living in sub-standard houses. These refugees include Displaced Persons, who lost their homes as the result of the last war, and many who have been forced to leave their country for fear of arrest, as well as those who "have voted with their feet". The influx rate is very small, owing to the strict frontier control, but there are still about 10,000 people entering Trieste each year from Yugoslavia.
FINKENWERDER CAMP (Berlin) - written in December 1964
After the Second World War, Russia took the eastern half of Poland for her . own defence, and reconstituted the new communist state of Poland by
annexing a large portion of East Germany. Many Germans were expelled from the area, but those who remained have now been fully integrated with the Polish people both in regard to education and opportunities for work. Many of them save up enough money to leave Poland, and by taking only a minimum of luggage they can travel to Hamburg where they hope to start a new life in the western world. Although it is usually possible to find them employment, their only accomodation is in Finkenwerder camp, where overcrowded and difficult conditions prevail. During the winter months the snow and cold climate force the family indoors where they may be living five to a room. Quarrels, disease, and other evils abound, and the children have nowhere to play. Herr Nietsche, the camp manager, has asked I. H. C, to give holidays to these children during the difficult winter months, and a party of thirty, mostly girls, aged six to eight years, will be coming on 2nd. February. Edmonton, Northwood, and Finchley, have been asked to consider them
SPORTALEE CAMP (Hamburg) - written by Jack Finch in 1967.
As far as I could gather Sportallee is the worst of the Hamburg camps, About eleven hundred people live there, either in Nissen huts, where they have to :make use of communal washing or W.C. facilities, or in a large barrack block. Accompanied by two of the foster parents) -we visited the huts of some of the children whom we had escorted back to Hamburg. That of Brigitte and Wolfgang was on the approach road so I passed it frequently. The children have deaf and dumb parents although they speak and hear quite normally themselves. The family of six have a tidy but unbelievably cramped hut. There was no floor space in the only bedroom as it was entirely taken up by the bed. The only daylight cane from a tiny window high up in the roof. Four children and the mother slept there, with the father on a bed-settee in the living room.. Uwe and Barbel's hut on the contrary was slightly better. The family had been there for 15 years; it was tidy; and the mother told me that she looked after her children carefully, and that they unlike Herbert next door had regular meals, We visited many other huts as well and our visit proved well. worthwhile.
The Russian occupation of Lithuania resulted in many of the inhabitants fleeing from their country into Germany. A large number have managed to establish themselves in various countries including the United States and Canada, but there remain many who, through reasons of bad health, poverty or other problems, have been unable to solve their difficulties. For about three years I. H. C, has been in touch with Herr Kurgonas, himself a Lithuanian, who feels very strongly about the pathetic plight of his countrymen. Delighted by I. H. C's offer to have some Lithuanians over, he is at present selecting a party of twenty-five to come on February 2nd. Ages will be between six and nine years, and it is intended to have fifteen girls and ten boys. They will spend one month at Little Pond House, and we hope that families in Exeter and the Isle of Wight will take them for a furthur two months.
RICHARD VALAITIS written in 1967
Seven year old Richard Valaitis first came to England with a party of Lithuanian refugee children in 1965. He had been living with his mother and
five younger brothers and sisters in two shabby rooms, part of an old barracks which had been turned into a refugee camp. The concrete staircase and
the long cold corridors were dirty and untidy and the whole atmosphere was one of drabness. His father had suffered many hardships following his
escape from Lithuania and his attempts to settle into the German life in Munster. Earlier that year he committed suicide by taking poison and his wife
and family found him dead the next morning. Richard had been very fond of him, and the loss affected him profoundly. No longer a smiling happy child
he became morose and difficult, and his mother found him impossible to cope with. In England he lost his tragic mask and became brighter, but a year
later back in Munster he was again bitter and silent. As a result it was decided that he should return here as soon as possible on a long term
sponsorship. Now he is staying on the Isle of Wight (where he was before), and when visited by Miss McEwen this month, who saw him at school
and talked to his teachers, he appeared much happier with every chance of making progress and settling down in this country. It is hoped that his
mother will allow him to receive a British education which will enable him to make his own way in the world.
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