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Displaced persons from Estonia records

Identifier: IHRC3033


Collection consists of materials documenting the life of displaced persons from Estonia in several DP camps in allied-occupied Germany after World War II. Collection is organized into 2 series. Series 1 contains materials regarding camps in US, French and British zones of occupation and are mainly about Estonian schools in DP camps, Estonian National Committees, National Groups and other organizations, Estonian Red Cross Committees and UNRRA-IRO [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration-International Refugee Organization]. Also included are various documents (correspondence, articles, reports, memoranda, bulletins, newsletters, lists, meeting minutes, regulations, instructions etc.) concerning DP-status and emigration. The documentation is primarily in Estonian, presence of English-language materials is indicated in the folder-level inventory below. Series 1 consists of 7 subseries and 26 boxes (1. Camp Augsburg-Hochfeld, boxes D1-D6 2. Camp Geislingen, boxes D7-D8 3. Camps in US Occupation Zone, boxes D9-D16 4. Camps in French Occupation Zone, boxes D17-D18 5. Camps in British Occupation Zone, boxes D19-D25 6. Red Cross and Gold Fund, boxes D25-D26 7. Miscellaneous, box D26), where box D23 contains 2828 cards with biographical information on Estonian prisoners of war in Uklei Camp. Series 2 consists of ca. 51,000 cards with biographical information on Estonian DPs. All cards were microfilmed in 1993 by the Estonian Archives in the USA, Lakewood, New Jersey. For availability, please contact the Lakewood Archives.


  • 1945-1950

Language of Materials

Mainly in Estonian. Included are materials in English, German, French, and Russian.


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.


After the end of World War II in Europe in 1945, Germany and German-occupied Austria were divided into four occupation zones by the allied coalition (USA, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union). At that time, there were several million foreigners in Germany, who happened to end up there for different reasons. The foreigners were gathered into DP (Displaced Persons) camps. There were about 42,000 Estonians in the occupation zones of the Western countries, and in 1945, there were over 150 DP camps were they were located. Henceforth, the camps were consolidated and their number decreased. By the end of 1946, there were 31,221 Estonians in German DP camps, of whom 53% were in the American, 43% in the British and 4% in the French zone. About 10,000 Estonians lived outside the camps. There were also DP camps in Austria, where about 1,500 Estonians lived. Estonians lived together with Latvians, Lithuanians, Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities, and there were few camps with only Estonians. The largest Estonian camps were in Geislingen, Augsburg and Lübeck, with several thousand Estonian refugees in each. Among other tasks, the coalition partners had to take care of the refugees (displaced persons) in their respective zones. The refugees were also looked after by various international refugee organisations and the Red Cross. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) had authority over the camps and was responsible for the maintenance costs. Directors appointed by UNRRA managed the camps, but nationality-based committees were formed in the camps and these organized the internal life. In 1947 UNRRA completed its work and the DP camps were transferred to the authority of the International Refugee Organization (IRO). IRO organized the resettlement of the refugees in other countries. The circumstances in a DP camp largely depended on the specific military power administering the zone and on the refugee organisation. The living conditions differed considerably. Some refugees were accommodated in well-ordered sanatoriums in pretty natural spots, while others had to make do with unheated sports halls. Some camps housed only Estonians, others had representatives of many nationalities. In order to establish whether the camp inmates qualified for international assistance, screenings were carried out. During such testing, every camp inhabitant had to answer certain questions and pass a health check. Screenings started almost immediately after the camps were set up and occurred repeatedly. The thoroughness of screenings varied, depending among other things on the head of the camp and his political views. The refugees were scared of the screenings as they feared that the information thus acquired would be passed on to the Soviet representatives, and the refugees would be forcefully repatriated. The camp life was on the whole unstable and the inhabitants constantly feared being sent back to the Soviet Union. Soon after the Estonian refugees were settled in DP camps, they organised Estonian Committees. Their main task was to arrange daily life in a camp (the inhabitants usually had to work in the kitchen, look after the whole territory, secure order, heat the buildings, etc.), convey information to people and communicate with other camps. Working with the young was considered essential: kindergartens and schools started in DP camps, and the Baltic University was founded in the British zone. Other activities included scouts and guide groups, handicraft, choirs, folk dance and drama circles and sport. On Sundays, church services were held. In August of 1947, a song festival for Estonians in Germany took place in Augsburg, with over 5,000 Estonians participating. In the beginning camp newsletters were issued for disseminating information, later, newspapers were published, the largest being “Eesti Rada” in Augsburg and “Eesti Post” in Geislingen. The magazine “Kauge Kodu” was published in Kempten. Estonian-language books were also printed in Germany. For vocational training, workshops were established in the camps and courses were organized in locksmith work, driving, electro-technology, photography, sewing, handicraft, etc. Every DP was entitled to a regular small amount of ‘pocket money’, the chances of finding work outside the camp were limited. After the Second World War, the Soviet government sought to have the refugees forcibly repatriated. False propaganda, as well as coaxing and intimidation, were used to influence the refugees. The refugees needed to work hard at explaining to the Allied occupation forces why they wanted to avoid being sent back home. At the end of the 1940’s and beginning of the 1950’s the majority of Estonian refugees left Germany. The first countries that accepted unlimited numbers of refugees were Great Britain and Belgium, but most Estonians settled in the United States, Canada and Australia. In 1951 the DP camps discontinued their activities. Those who refused to resettle or were unable to do so, were integrated into local society, a process which was completed by the early 1950s. At the beginning of 1945, all the Estonian soldiers in Germany were concentrated in one division and hurled at the Silesian front. In May of 1945, they tried to retreat through Czechoslovakia to surrender to the Western Allies in order not to fall into the hands of Soviet Union. A large portion (about 6000 men), however, were taken prisoner by Czech partisans, who turned them over to the Russians after a few weeks. The 20th Division Reserve Regiment, which was located in Denmark, surrendered to the British in May of 1945. Estonian prisoners of war spent most of spring-summer of 1945 in large open-air camps surrounded by barbed wire (for instance, there were a total of 300000 prisoners in Bad-Kreuznach). During the summer, these large camps were eliminated and the majority of the prisoners released, although suspects, soldiers and officers from specific units, as well as foreigners, including Estonians, were moved to more secure prison camps in Germany and France. In these camps, the prisoners were housed in tents and barracks, where they lived during the winter of 1945 to 1946. The fate of those in British zone was the best, in total, there were about 3500 Estonian prisoners of war in those camps. The larger camps were in Uklei (3400 men), Putlos (1188 men), Neuengamme and Zedelghem (almost 2800 men). At the end of August 1945, the Estonians in Neuengamme were transferred to Uklei. In September 1945, the Uklei camp was eliminated, and the Estonian prisoners were transferred to the Zedelghem camp. On the way, many Estonians escaped. The Lübeck Estonian Committee succeeded in securing DP status for these men and they were placed separately in the Arnimruhe barracks camp. The rest, who did not escape, remained in prisoner of war camps for about seven more months. A group of Estonian aviators from Norway and 70 Estonians from a Belgian war prison in Brussels were brought to Zedelghem in addition to the Uklei camp contingent. The British did not detain Estonian officers and suspicious soldiers longer than ordinary solders, as opposed to the Americans, who held 120 Estonian officers in the Darmstadt civil internment camp until the judgment of the Nürnberg Court at the beginning of November 1946. After their release, the British, as opposed to the Americans, gave DP status to the Estonian prisoners of war. About 750 men were taken prisoner by the Americans. Bigger Estonian contingents are known to have been in the following prison camps: Naumburg (50), Bad Kreuznach (83), Auerbach (148), Darmstadt (95–100) and Regensburg (333). In France, Estonians were mostly located in the following American prison camps: Cherbourg (73, of whom 48 were handed over to Soviet Union), Mailly (60), Marseille (45, of whom 18 were handed over to Soviet Union) and Bolbeck (25). Those in French camps included Estonians who were taken prisoner by French units, but also quite a number who were handed over by the Americans. The treatment in French camps was worse then in American or British camps. The French handed Estonians over to Soviet Union and, as opposed to the British and Americans, forced them to work reconstructing war-torn France. Estonian prisoners of war worked as miners, and in the countryside as field hands. Imprisonment in French camps was also longer, many were not released until the autumn of 1947.


38 Linear Feet


Collection consists of materials documenting life of Estonians in displaced persons camps in Germany. The records include correspondence, articles, reports, memoranda, bulletins, newsletters, lists, meeting minutes, regulations and instructions. Topics include Estonian schools, National Committees, Red Cross Committees and general life of DPs. Included are also ca. 51,000 cards containing biographical information on Estonian Displaced Persons after World War II. The cards are arranged in alphabetical order by the surnames of individual persons. All cards were microfilmed in 1993 by the Estonian Archives in the USA, Lakewood, New Jersey. For availability, please contact the Lakewood Archives.


Materials are organized into 2 series.


Collection transferred to the IHRC from the Estonian Archives in the U.S.A. (EAU) in 2003-2005. It was processed and described as part of a collaborative project between the Estonian Archives in the USA (Lakewood, New Jersey), the National Archives of Estonia (NAE), and the IHRC Archives in May 2014. of the National Archives in Tallinn, Estonia, Pille Aguraiuja and Birgit Nurme worked with IHRCA staff on the project.

Inventory of the Displaced Persons from Estonia records
IHRC Archives
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area