The German-Jewish couple Otto and Elga Nothmann had survived with their daughter Leonie in a Soviet forced labour camp in Karaganda (Kazakhstan). On the 3rd of March they reached Berlin, where they were first housed in the reception camp set up by the Jewish Community on Eichborndamm in Berlin-Wittenau. From there they wrote letters to their relatives asking for clothing.
“I am still so confused by all the experiences that I cannot yet believe that we are healthy and alive here after all the terrible experiences and hardships of the last few years […].”
After the end of World War II, Berlin became a place of refuge for millions of refugees and displaced persons (DPs). Several groups of people who had lost their homes through war, enslavement and persecution fell under the DP status.
In addition to former forced laborers, foreign contract workers and prisoners of war, Jewish displaced persons also found themselves in Berlin. They had been liberated from Nazi concentration camps or on death marches or were returning from exile. They called themselves she‘erit hapletah, (Hebrew for “the surviving remnant”, in Yiddish sheyres hapleyte). For most of them, Germany, as the land of the perpetrators, was the last place they wanted to stay.
Three larger transit camps for Jewish DPs were established in the destroyed city. Being housed in a camp again had a retraumatizing effect on many. But within a few months, the camps developed into self-governing small towns within the urban area of Berlin. The camps remained only until 1948, but some residents stayed in the city for the rest of their lives.
Letter from Elsa Nothmann from the collection of the Leo Baeck Institute New York.