Tuesday, 8 May 1945

Surrender: "Go home"?

The Soviet war correspondent Lew J. Slawin remembers the moment of the arrival of the German and Soviet delegations to receive the declaration of surrender:

"An unexpected encounter. A long train of foreigners liberated from Hitler's concentration camps. Over carts, bicycles, strollers in which the liberated carried their belongings, flags of all nations were waving: Yugoslavian, Italian, French, Dutch and others. On one post there is an arrow pointing the way and the inscription in all languages: 'To the collection point of Soviet and foreign nationals'. The German delegates look away. ... They look down in vain, or blow their nose eagerly to avoid the eyes of the people through their handkerchiefs. ... I can't say that the Berliners make sad faces. Rather, they express a certain satisfaction at the sensational spectacle."

With the capitulation of the German Reich on 8 May 1945, the Allies were confronted with huge numbers of so-called Displaced Persons - people of other nationalities who wanted to return home or had become homeless as a result of the war. At the end of the war in Berlin alone, there were about 370,000 forced labourers from all over Europe.
Even when the war was still in full swing in the city, numerous liberated forced labourers mingled with the refugees in order to return home or to the next section of the front.

Now, with the final end of the war on May 8, 1945, countless people set themselves in motion to return to their countries of origin. DPs from Western Europe in particular are trying to make their way on their own. Others wait in the ruins of the city or in improvised camps for onward transport to their homes with the support of the Allies. Most of the Displaced Persons (DPs) reach their countries of origin during the summer. In August 1945 there were still about 23,000 foreign citizens living in Berlin.

In various countries the forced labourers are suspected of having collaborated with the Germans. The liberated "Eastern workers" and Soviet prisoners of war have to pass through filtration camps of the Soviet intelligence service. For many of them the war ends with their deportation to Soviet penal camps.
It is not uncommon for former forced labourers from Poland to refuse to return because they reject the new communist regime or because their hometown is in eastern Poland, which was annexed by the Soviet Union.

(Sources: Lew J. Slawin, " The Final Days of the Third Reich, Berlin: Lied der Zeit Musikverl. 1948, p. 46 ff.; Helmut Bräutigam, "Forced Labour in Berlin 1938-1945", publication of the Berlin Regional Museums Working Group, Berlin: Metropol, 2003)