July 3, 2003 (Ira Pilgrim)

Displaced Persons

The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.

Lord Acton

"Displaced persons,"(DPs) was the term applied to people who no longer had homes, during and after World War II. It is a very prosaic term for major tragedies. That is what has happened to many people in the Balkans. It is the same thing that happened before, during and after W.W.II. A part of Czechoslovakia had a large number of German speaking people. When Hitler's armies took what he called the Sudetenland, the Czech-speaking people were thrown out. After the war, the Czechs threw the Germans out, despite the fact that many of those people had been living there for many many generations. Gregor Mendel, the discoverer of genetics was one of those German-speaking inhabitants of the part of Czechoslovakia called Moravia. Presumably, his relatives and descendants were tossed out after the war. This despite the fact that Mendel was considered a Czech national hero, and that there is a museum dedicated to the man in Brno.

It seems as if those displaced people are basically irrelevant in the equation of war and politics. There is great concern about those who are killed and wounded. The terror produced by shelling and snipers are a cause for concern; but not the people who are being jerked around by both sides.

After W.W.II there were large numbers of DPs. The American army gave them food and dusted them with DDT to get rid of lice, and that was about it. I never found out what happened to those people. Presumably, most eventually settled down somewhere. The lucky, or clever ones settled in a part of Europe where they were able to find work and acquire a home of their own. How many died in the process, we'll never know. There were no records kept of these people. As far as officialdom was concerned, they didn't exist.

Stop and think what it would mean to you if armed people came to your house and said to you, "This is no longer your home; you have to leave." If you asked "Where should I go?" the answer would probably be "That's your problem!"

People whose houses have been bombed into rubble at least had a patch of ground and could think about rebuilding, but DPs didn't even have that. All that they possessed was what they were carrying with them. Most started out with a large load, but as they moved, the load diminished until many had just a suitcase, or nothing.

This has been happening in Central Europe for a long time. We thought that the end of Hitler would have meant the end of the whole business, but it hasn't. In Hitler's place we had Serbia's Slobodan Milosovic and, replacing Hitler's SS chief Heinrich Himler, Radko Mladic. Both have been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal as war criminals. Milosevic has been jailed and is being tried. Mladich is still free.

An American probably can't afford to be self righteous about kicking people out of their homes. That is what the US government did to the Indians.

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