Following the end of World War II, Deggendorf was established as a medium sized displaced persons’ camp, located in the Bamberg District of Germany which fell under the American-occupied zone. At its capacity, it housed around 2000 Jewish DPs, many of whom were former inmates from Theresienstadt. Deggendorf is recognised as having had a particularly active community of refugees who were extensively engaged in social and cultural activities, vocational training, and rehabilitation of those who had suffered during the Holocaust. Many had no pre-war homes to return to, following the devastating impact of events on Jewish families and communities across Europe. Ultimately, the DPs remained in a kind of limbo whereby they had to face the sudden erasure of their past but recover from their wartime experiences. At the same time, they had to make plans for an often-uncertain future, in a new home state. As such, Deggendorf served as a safe place in which Jewish DPs could recuperate, establish new friendships or relationships, and plan for the next phases of their lives. As the inmates noted in their ‘Memory Book’:
“We have no reason to be afraid. On the contrary, we can be hopeful. We are on the way of regaining our self-respect and based on this we enter into our new life, into a life of liberty”.
In the camp, newspapers were published and distributed, and a library was established, alongside a synagogue, theatre group and a kosher kitchen. Indeed, Jewish life began to flourish again, despite the difficult living conditions in which the DPs found themselves. The camp even issued and administered its own paper currency of ‘Deggendorf dollars’. Similarly, the Organisation for Rehabilitation through Training ran a school that offered the DPs a chance to train in various occupations. The camp’s first director, Carl Atkin, joined the UNRRA and reported for training in Washington, D.C. on April 12, 1945. On August 23 of that year, he led UNRRA Team 55 to Deggendorf. His mission was clear: to stabilise the food supply, manage overcrowding, improve the impoverished camp infrastructure, establish a democratic leadership, and manage housing facilities. Carl and his team also sought to enrich cultural life with lectures, concerts, and various performances. As the ‘Memory Book’ documented:
“The long years of slavery and discrimination caused a danger of destruction and the rest of our culture was about to vanish. But with energy and will a small group of our people undertook - short time after our liberation and arrival at Deggendorf Centre- to rebuild our culture life. Having acquired a wireless set, we succeeded in joining a big auditory at the loudspeaker, listening to news, concerts, operas and so on”.