After the Second World War, the International Refugee Organisation improvised shelter wherever they could for Displaced People. Primarily this was in military barracks, but also in hotels, castles, hospitals, private homes and even in partly destroyed buildings. By the end of 1945 there were literally hundreds of DP Camps throughout Europe, controlled and managed by the Americans and the British. As people found homes refugees were consolidated into fewer camps which meant a lot of moving. While the immediate concern was to provide shelter, nutrition and basic health care, conditions were generally harsh with restricted rations and curfews. All refugees came to these camps not only emotionally broken, but physically debilitated. Having experienced terrible hardships, including lack of food, personal hygiene and medical care, they also had to deal with the after effects of oppression, constant fear, terror and even abuse. People were often sick, lice-ridden, traumatised and very suspicious. But together they made the best of it; their personal experiences became a shared experience, and community spirit prevailed. Camp residents set up churches, choirs, newspapers, sports groups and schools. They also organised song festivals and wherever possible people picked up their trade or profession and began to work and teach others. They were filled with high hopes and anticipation. My parents and I were amongst those displaced people, and this is the story of how we arrived in Australia.
My Latvian parents met and married in a refugee camp in Germany. As much as they would have wanted, they could not go back to a Latvia ruled by Communists. So after months and months of waiting, and months and months of moving from camp to camp we were finally accepted by Australia. All countries accepting refugees after the Second World War had strict rules and regulations, and one of the regulations for Australia was that a child had to be two years of age. I was not yet of age, so we had to wait, and we had to keep moving ~ we lived in a constant state of preparedness. This of course was very stressful, especially with a baby, for we never knew what the following day would bring. And moving was never easy ~ we were loaded into open trucks with only what we could carry, often at night in wind and rain. When a camp couldn’t take us, we stayed in the trucks overnight covered with blankets. It wasn’t easy trying to feed, change and settle a baby in the back of an open truck filled with strangers. At times there was no food or water, let alone clean nappies; survival was a day-at-a-time experience, and my parents got through every minute of it. They found the strength and the faith to go on, to do their best, to give and to love. Yes, it is always at the hardest of times that the human spirit shines the brightest.
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