When World War II and the Holocaust ended in 1945, roughly eight million people were left uprooted and homeless.1 To house and feed such a large number of people, the United States helped to establish hundreds of Displaced Persons (DP) camps in occupied Germany, Austria, and Italy.2 While these facilities were only meant to provide temporary shelter, their residents often became stuck in them for a long time. It typically took months—if not years—before the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the International Refugee Organization (IRO) could help DPs complete all of the steps necessary for their resettlement.3
The residents of the Deggendorf DP camp in Bavaria founded schools and vocational training centers, set up a synagogue and a library, published two newspapers, and organized cultural events and programming.4 Margret Simon Hantman, a Jewish survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, arrived in Deggendorf during the fall of 1945 and launched a theater group with other residents. They regularly put on plays and musical revues for which they made their own costumes and props. One of the revues featured Margret and five other dancers in self-made dresses patterned on the American flag. They were accompanied by a seventh dancer, dressed up like the Statue of Liberty. While Hantman's dress hints at the important role the United States may have played in the imagination of many Deggendorf residents, the US was not the first choice of destination for many DPs.
Hantman, for instance, had not originally planned on immigrating to the US. She was a Zionist who had always imagined herself settling in Palestine, but she had no family except a cousin in St. Louis. As she would later explain, "It was a little strange, being a Zionist all along, and then deciding to come to America. But I had no relatives, I was too young, and I was tired of camp life, so I decided to come to America."
Although the US had not been her first choice, Hantman considered herself lucky. Together with other DPs, she boarded an American military ship in May 1946. She would later recall that when she arrived in New York harbor and saw the Statue of the Liberty for the first time, she "really felt safe."5