Family Structures in Migration and Resettlement


Displaced Family with NCWC Staff Person

The Church often speaks of the family as one of the primary building blocks of society. The family was also one of the only sources of comfort and familiarity for many refugees and DPs in postwar Europe, as they found themselves herded into camps run by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, or UNRRA, which often offered accommodations little better than those they had experienced under the Nazis. Those who had been separated from their loved ones during the wartime turmoil often formed new or surrogate families. Some couples took orphaned children under their care and described them as their own in a kind of de facto adoption.  Others, as in the case of the Zielezinski family described in one of these documents, began a relationship and a family from a chance meeting in a factory or camp during or after the war. Despite the chaos that had swallowed up an entire continent, the mundane details of life also went on as these couples had children and tried to provide for them as best they could.

  • What details do these documents include in order to make these DP families more relatable to an American audience?
  • Are US Catholic efforts at resettlement more geared towards families, or individuals? Why might it be helpful to the cause of resettlement to speak of Displaced Persons in a family context?

Life for refugee families in the DP camps after the war was complicated by the fact that the UNRRA often wanted them to return to their Eastern European homelands, in order to relieve the agency of the responsibility of caring for so many. While initially the DPs’ camps had contained resources for families, such as schools for the children and occupational classes for adults, the UNRRA sometimes tried to make camps as unwelcoming as possible in order to induce the DPs to leave. Schools were closed and families, even those with sick children, shuttled from camp to camp, as various Polish-American newspapers indignantly noted (Anna Jaroszynska-Kirchmann, “The Mobilization of American Polonia for the Cause of the Displaced Persons”, Polish American Studies Vol. 58, No.1 (Spring, 2001), 41).

  • How do these documents depict life for children in the DP camps? How do adults spend their time?
  • Why do the authors of these documents think it is so important for US Catholics to be quick in their project of resettling DPs and finding real homes for them?