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-Roma 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, and 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 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 filling out Berkes' questionnaire for him—Berkes could speak English fluently but could neither read nor write the language—suggested that Berkes lacked intelligence because he was Roma. 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.