Journal Article

‘Out of the Huts Emerged a Settled People’: Community-Building in West German Refugee Camps

Meryn McLaren

in German History

Volume 28, issue 1, pages 21-43
Published in print March 2010 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gerhis/ghp106
‘Out of the Huts Emerged a Settled People’: Community-Building in West German Refugee Camps

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Between 1944 and 1958, the western zones of Germany had to absorb over nine million refugees who had fled or been expelled from their homes east of the Oder-Neiße rivers or had left the Soviet zone. Owing to these large numbers and the catastrophic housing conditions, many had to spend varying periods of time in camps. This article looks at refugee camps for German refugees in three West German Länder to examine the extent to which community-building can be seen to have taken place between 1945 and 1960. The development of the refugee camp phenomenon is traced, from the initial policies to ensure a quick turn-around, to the transformation of many camps into Wohnlager, providing facilities for everyday living, social events and employment. Perceptions of outsiders are analysed and found to show that they were rarely able to recognize instances of community growth. This may be largely explained by political considerations and concern over the social effects of living in a refugee camp environment. Finally, the article turns to Camp Poxdorf/Hagenau in Mid-Franconia to demonstrate how a refugee settlement with a thriving social life was able to emerge from an unremarkable hut camp. The conclusion places the refugee camps in the wider context of the postwar history of the FRG, arguing that fears surrounding ‘asocials’ in camps reflected wider fears about society, but, like the rest of the population, refugee camp residents were working towards achieving a state of normality. Camp communities can be seen to have aided integration by providing an environment where the residents could get used to their situation and look to the future.

Keywords: Reichsdeutsche; Vertreibung; Poxdorf; refugees; Displaced Persons; postwar Germany

Journal Article.  12521 words. 

Subjects: European History

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