United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) officials arrived at Displaced Persons (DP) camps with different goals that reflected their diverse backgrounds and concerns. For some UNRRA officials, their post was merely an extension of their wartime military service. DP camps were initially treated as quasi-military installations, with many of the same structures and regulations. Other UNRRA officials came from a social work background and saw their roles as rehabilitative.1 Still others viewed their employment in DP camps as a job of last resort.2 In some instances, DP camp administrators or volunteers had been directly impacted by the war themselves. Indeed, UNRRA often actively recruited refugees and other expatriates due to their valuable language skills. Some of these individuals served as translators at trials, while others worked directly with survivors and the various aid organizations tasked with helping them.
Greta Fischer was born in 1910 in Budischau (present-day Budišov in the Czech Republic) to Leopold and Ida Fischer. She lived in London during World War II, but her parents stayed behind and eventually perished in Theresienstadt. In June 1945, Greta Fischer went to occupied Germany as a member of an UNRRA team to work at the International Displaced Persons' Children's Center established at Kloster-Indersdorf. During the summer of 1946, the DP children’s center was relocated to Prien am Chiemsee and Gstadt am Chiemsee where a cloister was converted to a home for Jewish refugee children from Eastern Europe. Fischer became director of the International Children's Center Hotel Kronprinz Prien, and she escorted a group of children to Toronto, Canada in 1948.
Fischer drew the map featured here in 1945 when she was working for UNRRA. The borders in the map are meant to reflect pre-1938 boundaries (prior to the Anschluss, Germany's annexation of Austria). Major Nazi camp centers such as Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau and Mauthausen are highlighted, with their subcamps noted in a small legend below the map. Fischer keeps a running count of concentration camps and subcamps by region, and comes to a total tally of 446. This number is, as we now know, a dramatic underestimate. According to the most recent research for the USHMM Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, camps in this region numbered over 1,000, plus an estimated 25,000 forced labor camps. The fact that this map is inaccurate—drawn as it is from the specific information of one UNRRA worker and the information she could gather up to that point—is not surprising. Rather, what is striking are the many ways in which Fischer has managed to depict a vast system from a limited perspective. Her source material was most likely based on the testimonies of other DPs, as well as contemporary UNRRA records. While she greatly underestimated the overall number of camps, her estimates of major subcamps for places like Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen hit relatively close to the mark.
Ultimately, we do not know the precise use or purpose of this map. Might it have served as a working document to aid in her work at the DP children's center? Might it have been a way for Fischer to attempt to make sense of her family's plight? Might it simply have been a way to visualize a growing body of information being understood at the DP camp? While its precise role is unclear, this map nevertheless demonstrates the ways in which the DP administration—sometimes composed of survivors themselves—was attempting to understand a vast network of incarceration and destruction in the early days of the postwar period.