The full German text of this article can be found in Themenheft 6 Vom DP- Lager Landsberg ging die Zukunft aus. This article traces the origin and history of the camp between 1941 and 1945.
Camps in the Landsberg Area During the Last Year of the War
During the last year of the war, 1944/ 45, the town of Landsberg and the surrounding county contained a dense network of camps for foreign workers, prisoner of war camps, and so- called "Judenlager" (camps for Jews) . On October 9, 1944, Dr. Moos, a member of the county legislature sent a set of statistics to the mayors of all townships in the county of Landsberg and Schongau which listed 21 camps with 5,251 inmates. These figures did not include a second "Judenlager" (camp for Jews) which was still being built. The figures did include camps for prisoners of war from Poland, Russia, and France, and camps for male and female "Ostarbeiter" (workers deported from countries to the East of Germany) . These prisoners were working for various local firms for instance for the DAG (Dynamit Aktien Gesellschaft) , the Bawa (Bavarian Plow Works) , the Bavarian Waterworks, and the Organization Todt which provided labor for armament projects. Eight camps for Jews were mentioned separately. Between July 15 and August 15 of l944, a total of 9,000 concentration camp prisoners, 3,000 foreign workers, and 3,900 German workers were listed as working on one of the three bunkers, the one named "Weingut II" which is now a repair facility for the German Air Force (Luftwaffenwerft 31) .
The Situation at the End of the War
On April 27, 1945, when American troops advanced from Augsburg into the Landsberg area, they encountered the horrors of the concentration camp Kaufering IV (where 268 prisoners were burned alive by the retreating SS- guards) . But the Americans also encountered many groups of surviving prisoners from different countries, and their numbers created almost insurmountable problems.
The French concentration camp survivors from the several camps in the Landsberg area joined the French soldiers from prisoner of war camps and went west in the direction of France. This was not possible for the Russian prisoners of war, for the Poles, and for the "Ostarbeiter", the workers from countries now occupied by the Russian Army. For one thing, the railroad connections to the East had been destroyed during the battle for the city of Munich. Therefore, the authorities had no choice but to find accommodations for these people here in Landsberg.
Among the people who had been deported to the Landsberg area, the Jewish concentration camp prisoners were an especially large group. After living through and surviving the holocaust, they were unable to return to their native countries. They were physically and psychologically so exhausted that they could not undertake the strenuous journey home.
Those in authority coined the name "Displaced Persons" for the people who had been deported from their native countries.
The Founding of the DP- Camp Landsberg
The DP Camp Landsberg was founded o May 9, 1945, two days after Germany had officially capitulated. At this point in time, the camp comprised all persons who had been deported to the Landsberg area. As a location for the camp, the American military government selected the former German Army base called "Saarburg Kaserne". Although this army base had received its name from Hitler himself, it provided comfortable accommodations for the deported people. Naturally, tensions quickly arose among the various groups of deported persons. The two major groups were the Jewish victims of Nazi racism and the nationals from many East European countries who had been persecuted for political reasons. While one group realized that their families had been exterminated, the other group understood that they would return to their native countries.
The feelings of the DPs were later eloquently described by Samuel Pisar who survived one of the concentration camps in the Landsberg area and later became an internationally known advocate of the rights of ethnic minorities. He called the DP- Camp a "decompression chamber" and said it helped him come to grips with the horrors of the holocaust and to find his way back into the ordered existence of normal, everyday life.
The First Weeks
The first time that a representative of the Displaced Persons, a Dr. Valsonok, made a public statement was during a meeting of an action committee of the city of Landsberg which the Americans had organized for May 11, 1945. For the first time approximate figures become known of the numbers of inmates in the various camps. I St. Ottilien it was 406, in Utting several hundred, in Holzhausen and Unterigling 250, and there was a rumor that 800 persons were on their way from a camp in Augsburg. In addition, Dr. Valsonok speculated that in every village another 20- 100 foreigners could be found; at this time the Saarburg Kaserne already held 4,400 people. The situation was not pleasant and could even be called chaotic. The water supply is totally inadequate, so that currently only the kitchen and the infirmary has running water. With great seriousness, Dr. Valsonok pointed out that among the people on the former Army base there were also survivors of the camps for the sick, Kaufering I and IV, and that there was the possibility of a typhoid epidemic. Two cases of typhoid were already reported from the St, Ottilien camp, but none so far from the DP- Camp Landsberg.
During the action committee' s meeting on May 25, 1945, we get the first accurate figure of the total number of displaced persons in the Landsberg DP- Camp; it is 6,870. This amounts to 65% of the total population of Landsberg at that time which was10,245 people. The conditions at the camp must have been oppressive, especially since the Americans immediately put a double barbed wire fence around the former Army base in order to make it secure. This fence was not torn down until September of 1945, when Major Irving Heymont took charge of the DP- Camp.
The Jewish DP- Camp
Until September of 1945, the camp contained diverse groups of deported people. But after Major Irving Heymont assumed command of the camp, it became a purely Jewish DP- Camp. This is why the history of this camp- - to be told in these pages- - is so important. As Prof. Simon Snopkowski, the chairman of the Jewish communities in Bavaria, expressed it, at the Landsberg DP- Camp, "the State of Israel was tried out at a pre- government stage".
Return to Life
The Jewish- American historian Abraham Peck said that Landsberg was the birth place of the holocaust, the place where the holocaust happened in its final and most cruel phase, where people were tortured to death under the Nazi motto "Arbeit macht frei" (work will make you free) , but he noted that this was also the place where the "rest of the saved ones" tried to go beyond the holocaust, where they regained their courage and dignity and seized on work as a human value, a value which was crucial in rebuilding their own country. Thus the DP- Camp Landsberg represents not only the end of the holocaust but also a rebirth of life. Many of the men and women who helped to make Israel into the country that it now is survived the holocaust in one of the camps in the Landsberg area. They were trained in a craft or profession here and learned how to build a democracy, how to regain their religious values, and how to prepare for "Eretz Israel" .
In the DP- Camp Landsberg, many young inmates too part in an experiment that taught them social life from childhood to adolescence and adulthood; this was the experience of the kibbutzim for the children who had lost their parents in the holocaust. It was an experiment that was conducted in nine different units. In those units, the principles of political life were practiced by the young people from the ground up.
Schools in the DP- Camp
The schools in the camp were overseen by a Dr. Oleiksi, a Jewish concentration camp prisoner from Lithuania. He did an exemplary job in setting up class rooms and work shops. His influence was also pervasive in cultural matters. Dr. Oleiski later became a prime mover in Israel' s system of vocational education. Even at Landsberg, he already had the gift of persuasiveness and the ability to find practical solutions for social problems.
The Kibbutz Movement
The members of the kibbutz movement requested that while they were waiting to emigrate to Israel, they should be given a few farms that had formerly belonged to Nazis. They refused to work singly on German farms. In the years after 1945, nine kibbutzim were founded in the county surrounding Landsberg, and they ranged in ideology from socialist to orthodox religious.
The Camp Newspaper
Since Major Heymont, the commander of the camp, could not find any Hebrew typesetting equipment, he proposed to use Latin fonts and phonetic Yiddish. The camp newspaper therefore appeared under the title "Jiddische Landsberger Cajtung". It was printed by the Landsberg printing company of Neumayer, and the bill was paid by the county legislature.
The camp paper also contained want ads, wedding announcements, and items having to do with political education. In addition, the paper became the mouthpiece of the camp committee.
Elections in the DP- Camp
In September of 1945, preparations were made for the first democratic elections in the camp. These elections were scheduled for October 21, 1945, and they were contested by parties from all groups among the DPs. The newspaper was an important platform for the expression political opinions. In addition there were flyers, election rallies, and discussions. During a big election rally on the night before the elections, one speaker said it was fitting that the first free elections among Jews since their liberation should be held in the town where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf. The "Ichud Block" won the elections with a respectable margin.
Visit by Ben Gurion
On the day of the elections, Ben Gurion, the founder of the State of Israel, came to the Landsberg DP- camp for a surprise visit. One contemporary remembers: "For the people here, Ben Gurion appears to be God Himself! It seems as if he represents everyone' s hope to be able to emigrate to Palestine. . . . Never before have we experienced such a burst of energy. I don t believe that even the visit of President Truman would have generated so much excitement."
It' s a Long Journey
The history of the Landsberg DP- Camp was the subject of a 1949 documentary film by the actor and director Israel Becker. The title of the film was Lang ist der Weg (It' s a Long Journey) . Becker' s film does not stir up passion and hate but wants to instill in the viewer a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. On June 24, 1949, a German paper, the Landsberger Nachrichten , had this to say about the film: "For us citizens of Landsberg, the scenes taking place in Landsberg are of special interest. We see the big camp, we see the various workshops, we see the training of the DPs in all economic areas, and we witness the great Jewish conference in the in- door riding school, a conference which eventually led to the formation of the State of Israel."
The St. Ottilien Declaration
On May 27, 1945, a liberation concert was organized at the St, Ottilien monastery. It was attended by four hundred persons who saw this occasion as a celebration that was at once religious and political in nature.
Life is Victorious- - The Birth Rate Rises
Women played a special role in the She' erith Hapletah movement. The movement had resolved that the Jewish people should not die out, because otherwise Hitler would have achieved his goal. Thus the Jewish population which survived the holocaust developed a strong will to perpetuate their lives through their offspring. Their love of children was best illustrated in a poem entitled "Cum jidiszn kind" which was published in the camp newspaper, Jiddische Landsberger Cajtung.
One of the many people born in the Landsberg DP- camp is the director of the Jewish Archives of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, Dr. Abraham Peck. He was born here on May 4, 1946. His parents both considered themselves members of the She' erith Hapletah. Their son has treasured his parents' memories and has been keen to research and to pass on to future generations the history of the Landsberg DP- camp. For instance, on September 10, 1989, he gave the keynote speech when a memorial plaque was installed at the site of the former Landsberg DP- Camp. He did this to honor the memory of his mother who had recently passed away.
Many pictures have been preserved of proud Jewish mothers holding their children in their arms or taking them for strolls through the city of Landsberg in their baby carriages. Thus Landsberg is not only the birth place of many Jewish people but also the place of their earliest childhood memories.
The DPs in the camp took a great interest in the formation of the State of Israel. The camp paper published world news that was of interest to Jewish people, and everyone made preparations for emigration, but they did not know for sure where they were going.
Representatives of the Town of Landsberg Visit the Camp
On December 1, 1948, Jacques F. Palustre and the leadership of the international refugee organization invited a number of official representatives of the town of Landsberg to visit the DP- camp for the first time. At this time, the number of DPs had sunk below 3,000.
There is a five- page report by the Landsberg mayor Thoma that records this visit. In this report, the representative of the labor unions, Pöschl, made the following observation: "In public meetings, we occasionally notice anti- Semitic comments. People around here have apparently forgotten that the concentration camps in the area were the major reason Landsberg was not bombed by the Allies. One has to make it clear to these people that the Jews and the Anti- Fascists had been persecuted by the Gestapo for 12 years. It must never happen again that we as democrats allow such people to seize power. . . . It is our firm intention to make sure that the American authorities help the displaced persons to resume safe and ordered lives. We hope that the requests of the workers' organizations will be granted so that we can be convinced that we are indeed living in a democratic society." And Jacques Palustre, the chairman of the refugee organization, addressed these concluding remarks to the officials from the town of Landsberg: "Speaking for the camp committee, I hope that your visit has achieved its purpose. We had no contact before now. The meeting has shown that many Landsberg citizens had no idea what life in the DP- camp is like. As on the outside, people here also put in eight hours of heavy work every day. I am convinced that after this visit you will think differently about this camp."
Visit of the Israeli Consul
On January 13, 1949, the first representative of the new State of Israel visited the DP- camp Landsberg. Dr. Chaim Hofman, who was himself a survivor of the Kaufering camps, gave a speech to his fellow holocaust survivors. Its topic was "The One- Year Anniversary of the State of Israel." In this speech, Dr. Hofman said that the State of Israel is the product of hard work and of the will and determination of the Jewish people who are fully capable of self- administration. The events of the last year have brought more honor to the Jewish people than the preceding 2000 years. - -"Join us," Dr. Hofman told the Landsberg DPs. Then he reminded them that three years earlier he himself had been a prisoner in the Landsberg concentration camps, but he also said it was in the Landsberg DP-camp that the first Zionist organization in all of Germany was created and that it was also at Landsberg that the first Jewish vocational training school was founded, a school which became the blueprint for many such schools in their future Jewish home land. He also pointed out that leading figures of the new Sate of Israel--such as the current prime minister Ben Gurion--received their schooling at the Landsberg DP-camp. Even though many other countries were willing to accept the DPs, Dr. Hofman once more called out to his audience to consider becoming " free citizens in a free Jewish country."
At the end of Dr. Hofman' s visit in January of 1949, the chairman of the camp committee, Waldman, expressed the hope that "the Landsberg camp would be completely cleared out within a few months. " By April of 1950, the size of the camp had shrunk to1,500 persons. The Landsberg camp eventually turned into a refuge for the inmates of other camps that had been dissolved.
The Closing of the DP-Camp
In October of 1950, 1,100 inmates remained in the camp On October 10, there appeared a news story in a German paper, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, saying that "On the orders of General McCloy, DPs clear barracks for American troops." The Landsberg barracks were supposed to be cleared out by November 1, 1950. At that date, there were still 1,096 DPs in the camp, but the camp seems to have been dissolved by April 24, 1951.
So it was sometime between November of 1950 and April of l951 that the history of the last DPs in the Landsberg area came to an end. This chapter of Landsberg history remained forgotten for one whole generation until it was reopened by the former commander of the camp, Irving Heymont, who was now a retired NATO colonel. With the help of the citizens group "Landsberg im 20. Jahrhundert" (Landsberg in the 20 th Century), Heymont revived the memory of the Jewish DP-camp at Landsberg.