THE STORY OF BALTIC DISPLACED PERSONS, 1944 – 1952
Displaced person: a person expelled, deported, or impelled to flee from his country of nationality or habitual residence by the forces or consequences of war or oppression
Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language, 2002
Seventy years ago, Baltic people by the hundreds of thousands left their homes to avoid war and the threat of Soviet oppression. They fled to the West by any means they could find. They traveled in fear and with hope of survival. But most overwhelmingly, they fled without knowing where they were going, what would happen, or when they might return. “No Home To Go To” features the words, images, and artifacts of Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian families and individuals who lived through this wrenching flight from home, years of living in displaced persons camps, and, finally, the journey to a new life in an unknown part of the world.
In his book, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War, Ben Shephard characterizes the displaced person crisis in Europe:
This story has been largely ignored by historians, mainly because it sits uncomfortably among such historical behemoths as the Second World War, the Cold War, the Holocaust, and the Israeli-Palestinian question. In addition, the years in camps in Germany were for many of the refugees themselves a time of limbo, an interlude between stages in their lives—and therefore best forgotten.
This story must no longer be ignored. Many who were adults during the war or post-war period are dead or in their senior years. Their children— now well into adulthood—have recollections of those years too, offering the impressions of youngsters but often blended with stories they heard from parents. Their perspectives and memories are central to defining what happened, to whom, and to how many. On the basis of these recollections, future historians can build a multi-dimensional and inclusive record of the post-war experiences. This exhibition and its related programs seek to contribute to this future, truthful story of the DP past.
“In the middle of the twentieth century, the Nazi and Soviet regimes murdered some fourteen million people. The place where all of the victims died, the bloodlands, extends from central Poland to western Russia, through Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic States. During the consolidation of National Socialism and Stalinism (1933-1938), the joint German-Soviet occupation of Poland (1939-1941), and then the German- Soviet war (1941-1945), mass violence of a sort never before seen in history was visited upon this region.”
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Timothy Snyder, Basic Books, 2010
The story of the Baltic displaced persons takes place against this brutal and violent backdrop. The individual stories which this exhibition presents are shaped by the events, individuals, agreements, changing loyalties and priorities, killings, deportations, and secret deals that made up the reality that Baltic peoples—and other nationalities caught between Hitler and Stalin—faced. By 1944, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians had lived through a one year Soviet occupation which culminated in mass deportations in June, 1941 and three years of German occupation and its attendant arrests, restrictions, and deaths. The news in mid-1944 that the Soviet armies were approaching from the East meant one thing to many Baltic individuals: staying was impossible because death or deportation was certain.
“No Home To Go To” focuses on individual and family experiences. Though everything in the exhibition exists because of the larger events and threatening circumstances, this is not an exhibition on the complex and volatile history of those years. The exhibition is also not fully representative of all those who lived through the experience. Hitler’s and Stalin’s bloodlands included most of Europe’s Jewish population. Yet there are no Baltic Jewish families in this iteration of “No Home To Go To”. But it is the hope of the organizers that this exhibit, which tells the neglected story of non-Jewish DPs can be the bridge to a future, more inclusive, story and presentation.