The Deggendorf Songbook

“Deggendorf, you are the nicest camp for Jewish DPs”

The Deggendorf Songbook, 1945




The beautifully illustrated ‘Deggendorf Songbook’ is both a fascinating material artefact and a visual record of cultural life and social rehabilitation in the Deggendorf Displaced Persons Camp in occupied Germany. It was prepared in honour of Carl Atkin, the first United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration director of the camp, as a parting gift; a live performance of the songs within it was also delivered as part of this event. In addition to a ‘Memory Book’ documenting the first six months of life in the camp for the internees, which was also gifted to Atkin. The ‘Songbook’ and ‘Memory Book’ were eventually donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Deggendorf DP Camp

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”. 

Performance, Cabaret and Production of the Deggendorf Songbook

As part of the cultural program at Deggendorf, artistic performances were scheduled regularly following the establishment of a concert hall:

“In our rebuilding program a main point is taken by shows and performances. It started on a small scale under most difficult circumstances, later we could meanwhile transform the recreation hall and its stage. Various performances, such as cabarets, literary evenings [...] concerts and festive hours, in cooperation with artistic members of our community changed one after the other. After a lot of preparation, technical and artistic work, an impressively outfitted revue was started. Cordial applause and cheers proved the pleasure and the interest taken in these kind of performances by our community members, as well as by dignified guests from Military Government, Army and the different UNRRA Teams”.

In preparation for the departure of UNRRA Director Carl Atkin, a special cabaret performance was prepared entitled: ‘Leben, Lieben, Lachen’ (Life, Love, Laugh). The musical was directed by Eugen Deutsch, with costumes and dance produced by Erna Sucher. Stage design and equipment management was overseen by Paul Sucher, and Durra Annemarie accompanied on the piano. The production featured four songs, two in German and two in English, the lyrics and sheet music of which were documented and illustrated, bound in leather, and presented to Atkin as a leaving gift. By creating a physical record of the event, the DPs succeeded in preserving the ephemeral memory of the event, which could even be performed again in subsequent years.

This collection was named the ‘Deggendorf Songbook’. Embodying the traditional style of cabaret, the songs are short, entertaining, comedic and at times, suggestive and flirtatious. The production’s opening number, performed in German by male performers, began (translated into English): “Going for a stroll, we will certainly both soon get along. Pardon, madame, that’s how we approach you. Oh please, dance with me, let’s start right away: today I’m in such a good mood!”

This is followed by a whimsical act with a nautical theme, akin to a traditional sea shanty, featuring drawings of women in sailors’ uniforms and sung in English: “We clean and we scour the decks, then devour we bacon and eggs. We are happy sailors everytime, we love all the girls but we have no dime”. 

The third number, also performed in English, pays homage to life in the camp, enacted by the ‘Deggendorf girls’. As the accompanying ‘Memory Book’ states, this tune became a kind of symbol of how life had improved for the DPs following the input of Atkin and his team:

“Deggendorf, you are the nicest of camps for Jewish DPs, Deggendorf, and everybody here is happy to be. When one day we start from here away, we all sing very sadly: we meet again in a short time with you”.

The finale of ‘Leben, Lieben, Lachen’ is a kind of ode to Carl Atkin and his tireless efforts to restore Jewish life. Through a comically affectionate kind of love song, he is presented as a heroic figure, comparable to Napoleon and Apollo. Ultimately, the song defined how well thought of Atkin was by the DPs of Deggendorf, and his efforts to restore Jewish life. Written in German and illustrated by a small portrait of Atkin, the cabaret closes with the following lyrics:

“Carl, o Carl, how I love you, o Carl, but you don’t see me [...] When you come rushing by in the car like Apollo in the morning, I’m mad with love [...] O you, Napoleon von Deggendorf, if you leave here, my heart stays with you”.


As the concluding song of ‘Leben, Lieben, Lachen’ demonstrates, in addition to the creative efforts of producing the accompanying ‘Deggendorf songbook’ and ‘Memory Book’ as treasured parting gifts, Carl Atkin was highly praised for his leadership, his improvement of living conditions, and the boosting of morale. A huge part of this was the facilitation of cultural and artistic life, embodied by this celebratory cabaret performance. Atkin left his directorship in December 1945 for an appointment as the UNRRA’s Coordinator of Jewish Affairs. The DP community also threw him a farewell party as part of a wedding celebration, at which he was already best man. In his new role, Atkin travelled to numerous DP camps, consulting on many of the improvements he had encouraged at Deggendorf including the introduction of self-governments, monetary systems, and educational facilities. By 1948, the Jewish community in Deggendorf had reached 1,965. The camp was eventually closed on June 15, 1949. The ‘Deggendorf Songbook’ was later donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum archives, along with many other documents pertaining to Carl Atkin’s personal collections. And, as the closing page of the ‘Memory Book’ reads:

“We bid you farewell, Carl Atkin, and take it as a keepsake home. You will never be forgotten by us, and we hope, we shall never be forgotten by you”.

By Hannah Wilson, with thanks to Judith Vocker for help with translation.


Memory Book dedicated to Carl Atkin, Carl Atkin papers, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accession Number: 2007.162

The Deggendorf Songbook, Carl Atkin papers, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Accession Number: 2007.162

Carl Atkin, (1945, Late Nov). Community spirit. Deggendorf Center Review, 2, 1.

Tovit Schultz Granoff, Influences on Rehabilitation in Deggendorf Displaced Persons Camp, University of Haifa, MAI 83/4(E), Masters Abstracts International, United States, 2020.

Lorrie Greenhouse Gardella, Repair the world: Groupwork in the Deggendorf Displaced Persons Center, 1945-1946, Groupwork Vol. 28(1), 8-29