Collections > Electronic Theses and Dissertations > "Gateway to Freedom": The Friedland Refugee Transit Camp as Regulating Humanitarianism, 1945-1960

Using the refugee transit camp located in Friedland, Lower Saxony as a case study, this dissertation examines the efforts in West Germany to aid and resettle millions of persons displaced during and after World War II. These uprooted populations included foreign victims of the Nazi regime (forced laborers, prisoners of war, and concentration camp survivors), Germans evacuated from bombed-out cities, Germans fleeing or expelled from from Eastern Europe, and German soldiers who were demobilized and released from prisoner of war camps. Established by order of the British military government in September 1945, the camp at Friedland functioned as the lynchpin for a system designed to collect, aid, register, and resettle displaced populations as quickly as possible. As such, this study describes the operation of the camp as a regulating form of humanitarianism that not only aided refugees with food, shelter, and medical services, but also turned unmanageable masses into settled individuals with claims on the postwar welfare state. Between 1945 and 1960, the camp processed over 2.1 million individuals. Given the scope of the crisis, this intervention to ameliorate suffering and restore social order depended on the work of German civil authorities, the British military government, and German, British, and international charities. This study of the Friedland camp makes three major contributions to scholarship on postwar displacement in Central and Eastern Europe. First, it demonstrates how improvisational efforts at Friedland became formalized into a comprehensive system of regulation in which the camp played a crucial role. Second, examination of groups processed at Friedland shows that the postwar unsettling of populations was both broader in scope and longer lasting than previously recognized. Groups whose dislocation was tied to the war included evacuees, released military and civilian prisoners of war, young refugees from the Soviet zone, and “resettlers” who left Poland. Third, this dissertation deconstructs the mythology of Friedland as the “Gateway to Freedom” by analyzing credible elements of myth, counter-examples to it, and officials’ cultivation of the camp’s public image.