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International Refugee Organization Questionnaire of Bela Berkes

Bela Berkes
International Tracing Service Archive

Many Displaced Persons (DPs) hoping to immigrate to the United States in the years following World War II had survived the war in their home countries only to be displaced by postwar political developments. Rising Soviet influence in Eastern Europe supported the establishment of several new Communist governments in the late 1940s, and many people fled the region in order to escape political persecution and violence. 

The featured document describes how Hungarian Romani musician Bela Berkes survived the war and the German occupation of Hungary1 in his native Budapest before fleeing the country when Communists took control. This questionnaire from the International Refugee Organization (IRO)2 suggests that Berkes’ status as a famous violinist helped protect him from the anti-Romani policies of the Hungarian and German authorities during World War II.3 Berkes remained in Budapest until after the war ended, when his son was arrested by Soviet authorities on suspicion of spying for the US government. 

The Soviet Union dominated postwar Hungary for years after the Red Army liberated the country from German occupation in early 1945. Soviet-backed Hungarian Communists gained control of the government by 1949.4 Berkes became fearful of being arrested, so he decided to flee the Communist regime and immigrate to the US or Canada. Because his son already held US citizenship and his daughter-in-law lived in New York City, the US was Berkes' first choice. The rising international tensions of the early Cold War and growing anticommunist sentiment in the US made American policymakers and immigration officials sympathetic to anticommunist political refugees such as Berkes.5

The identity of Berkes' interviewer is unknown. The broken English in the written replies suggests that this person may have been a multilingual DP working as an interviewer for the IRO or a foreign-born US citizen working with the IRO's Italian mission. The official who filled out Berkes' questionnaire for him—Berkes could speak English fluently but could neither read nor write the language—tried to suggest that Berkes lacked intelligence because he was a Romani man. Although Berkes described exactly why he was opposed to the Communist regime and why he feared for his safety, the official wrote: "Of course beeing a musichian and a gipsy one cannot awhait of him to explain objections strictly and scienticly expressing his pol. ideals in detail [sic]."

Berkes' status as a well-known musician helped him survive the war and escape postwar political persecution, though his fate thereafter remains unknown. However, many other Romani refugees faced enormous obstacles to emigration in the years following World War II.

For more on World War II and the Holocaust in Hungary, see Randolph L. Braham, The Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary, Condensed Edition (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000); and Randolph L. Braham and Scott Miller, eds., The Nazis' Last Victims: The Holocaust in Hungary (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002).

For more on the work of the IRO, see the related item in this collection, Film of Displaced Persons Registering with the International Refugee Organization.

Romani peoples were targeted for annihilation by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, and between 250,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti were murdered by the Nazis and their allies. For a brief introduction to the experiences of Roma and Sinti during the Nazi era, see the Experiencing History collection overview for Roma and Sinti in Nazi Germany.


Anti-Romani discrimination continued after the war in many places throughout Europe. For more on the ongoing postwar discrimination faced by Hungarian Roma, see Balázs Majtényi and György Majtényi, A Contemporary History of Exclusion: The Roma Issue in Hungary from 1945 to 2015 (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2016). 

For more, see Peter Kenez, Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944–1948 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). 


For more on anticommunist Hungarian refugees immigrating to the US during the early Cold War, see Carl J. Bon Tempo, "'From Hungary, New Americans': The United States and Hungarian Refugees," in Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008): 60–85. 

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
International Tracing Service Archive
Accession Number IRO Application, Bela Berkes, Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives
Date Created
September 23, 1949
Page(s) 1–4
Rome, Italy
Document Type Report
How to Cite Museum Materials

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