WWII Displaced Persons in Europe: And the German Town of Haren

A Polish servicewoman wearing a German uniform with Polish insignia is checking the identity card of Canadian soldier William Massey near Haren, Germany, in 1945.


Displaced Persons (DP) were defined as people outside the border of their home country when WWII ended. The majority of these people were slave laborers in Germany, had been held in prisoner of war or concentration camps, or had fled their country in fear of prosecution or retribution as post war borders and governments changed after the war. There were an estimated 11 million to 20 million displaced persons when the war ended.

DP camps were intended to be temporary facilities to house, care for, and eventually resettle or repatriate the inhabitants. This was a monumental challenge as many of the DPs were ill, exhausted, and psychologically traumatized by their wartime experiences.

By the end of 1945 DP camps numbered in the hundreds and were located primarily in Germany, Italy, and Austria. Due to the great need for DP camps, one was even established in Guanajuato, Mexico.

Among the different nationalities classified as DPs were over 3,000,000 Polish citizens. In May of 1945 the German town of Haren in Lower Saxony was chosen by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force as an enclave for some 4,000 Poles. It was located in the British Sector under the administration of the Polish 1st Armoured Division of the Polish I Corps. German residents of the town were moved to surrounding communities.

The Poles renamed the town Lwow after a city in Poland that was an important cultural center in that country.  The Soviets objected to the name.  Lwow was in Soviet-occupied Poland at the end of the war.  Under pressure, the Poles then named the city Maczkow after Polish General Stanislaw Maczkow.

Maczkow became a working Polish community with a Polish mayor, school, daily newspapers, a theater and cultural center, fire brigade, and a rectory.  Streets were given Polish names. Four hundred and seventy-six Polish babies were born there and have birth certificates registering Maczkow as their place of birth.

In 1946 the Poles of Maczkow began to emigrate to other countries or return to Poland. Those Poles returning to Poland, especially those who had participated in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 or had been in the Polish Home Army or Polish Resistance, feared possible repression, prosecution, or arrest by the new Polish Soviet-influenced government.  Those fears were realized by some of the Poles returning to their home country.

The town of Maczkow was returned to the Germans in 1948 and renamed Haren.

The last DP camp was closed in the early 1960s.


Thank you to military historian Dr. George H. Kelling for his assistance in the writing of this story.