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What Happened To Concentration Camp Prisoners Immediately After Liberation?

Updated August 2, 2019 352.0k views14 items

World War II concentration camp liberation began on July 23, 1944, when Soviet soldiers entered the Majdanek camp in Poland. Efforts by multiple nations to find and free prisoners continued into 1945. However, the story of the Holocaust doesn't end with the liberation.

Many recall the haunting pictures of prisoners in the camps, but there is more to these people's stories after the war. Sadly, many of the survivors who were found in places like Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz died shortly after being rescued due to disease, starvation, or suicide. Others survived and faced the long and difficult process of rebuilding their lives from scratch. For anyone who's ever wondered about the experiences these astonishing survivors went on to have, here are a few of the things concentration camp prisoners went on to do after the war.

  • Many Couldn't Return To Their Homes

    The obvious first thing a survivor of a concentration camp would want to do upon release is return home. For a few survivors from Germany, their homeland was what they now considered "cursed soil." They wanted to be as far away from it as humanly possible.

    Many survivors couldn't return to their homes at all. In those cases, their homes were either destroyed or they had no surviving family members. Even sadder was that many of the European communities that survivors hailed from were rife with anti-semitism and going back was still too dangerous a prospect. For these reasons, many survivors sought to leave Europe altogether. 

  • There Were Revenge Killings

    On April 29, 1945, American soldiers came to liberate the concentration camp Dachau. There, they found thousands of naked, emaciated corpses piled into box cars. There was a recently used gas chamber, piles of human excrement, splattered human brains on floors, and a few victims still alive but starving and critically ill.

    They also found combative, resistant German soldiers who tried to fight them off. Horrified by what they saw, some of the American soldiers rounded up the German guards and shot them on the spot. Taking advantage of their freedom before the troops could organize their escape, prisoners took their own revenge. Several accounts describe inmates beating their former captors to death, including one who stomped on a German guard's face until it was completely destroyed. Approximately 50 German guards died that day.  

  • Immigration Restrictions Remained In Place

    Despite the dire need for safe haven, many countries had restrictions on the number of survivors that they would accept post-Holocaust. While America eventually admitted 400,000 displaced persons between 1945-1952, they were initially quite reluctant. The U.S. admitted only 16,000 people the first year after the liberation.

    This was a continuation of America's wartime policy. The country turned down hundreds of thousands of visa applicants. They even turned away a ship full of refugees during the war, forcing the ship to return to Europe, a veritable death sentence for its passengers. Other countries had similar limits. For example, entry into Palestine was severely restricted until the establishment of the State of Israel in May, 1948. Many displaced persons attempted to enter illegally. Those who were caught were held by British authorities in detention centers in Cypress. 

  • A Jewish State Was Established In Palestine

    Photo: Pixabay

    In 1948, Israel was established as a Jewish state. About half of the displaced persons living in Europe immigrated there before 1950. Israel remains a hot-button political issue. When Israel was first established, Palestine was a British colony, and the decision was made without the approval of the Palestinian people. The creation of Israel displaced hundreds of thousands of Arab Palestinians.

    Since then, there has been significant fighting over territory with casualties on both sides. Those who support Israel believe that considering what the Jewish people have endured, they deserve their own state, free from anti-semitism. Those who don't support Israel's claim on the land don't necessarily disagree with this, but do not believe this freedom should come at the expense of the Palestinian people.