Guide to the Records of the Displaced Person Camps and Centers in Italy
Scope and Content Note
This record group serves as a major resource on the history of the Jewish displaced persons after World War II. The reconstruction of Jewish life after the Holocaust, the survivors’ aspirations toward new lives and homes, and the strong role played by the various facets of the Zionist movement in the lives of the refugees, are represented in this collection of documents from the DP camps in Italy.
Series I includes the files of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Organization of Jewish Refugees in Italy. Materials relating to its founding conference, and reports and minutes of its meetings and those of its regional subcommittee document the creation and development of Jewish DP administration in Italy.
Series II comprises the files of the Central Committee’s Statistics Department. The Statistics department, among other functions served as a liaison between the refugees and relatives abroad who searched for them. The correspondence in Series II consists mainly of search inquiries from relatives and agencies looking for individual DPs.
Series III includes the correspondence, minutes, reports and verdicts of the Central Committee’s Central Court of Honor. The Court’s decisions were not legally binding, but carried great moral weight in the the DP community. Among the cases tried by the courts were those involving refugees who had been Nazi collaborators.
Series IV contains the files of the Central Committee’s Cultural and Educational Department. The bulk of the series comprises exhibits that were displayed at the Cultural Conference in Rome in July 1948. These included photographs, announcements, school notebooks, and other materials illustrating the cultural and educational activities that took place in the camps. The series also includes the correspondence, reports, and minutes of the Central Committee’s Cultural Section dating from 1947-1948, as well as materials on Hebrew elementary schools, the Jewish Students’ Organization, and theater ensembles.
Series V contains files from individual DP camps, arranged alphabetically according to camp. The documents, which include DP publications, children’s drawings, minutes of committee meetings, and election materials, provide a glimpse into some aspects of day to day camp life. The files of some camps, such as Adriatica, Barletta, Trani, and Cremona, consist mainly of the written and broadcast announcements of Zionist and other political groups, as well as by camp authorities.
Series VI and Series VII show, political, landsmanshaftn, and professional organizations began to proliferate in the DP camps with the arrival of the refugees. The most active among them were those representing the different wings of the Zionist movement. Series VI includes the files of Zionist and other political organizations active in the DP camps. This series also includes a small amount of material from the aid agencies which worked in the camps such as the PCIRO, AJDC, and ORT. The activity of landsmanshaftn, particularly that of the Vilna Refugee Committee, is represented through the materials contained in Series VII. Despite the transitory nature of their existence in Italy, the DPs strove to safeguard their political rights and goals, and to maintain their communal identity through a network of vital organizations and associations.
Series VIII includes miscellaneous materials such as files of the publication Baderekh, and announcements and invitations to various social celebrations and community events.
Language of Materials
The collection is in Yiddish, Italian, English, Hebrew, German, French, Polish and Romanian in order of prevalence. Some Yiddish items are printed in Latin characters.
The collection is open to the public. Permission to publish part or parts of the collection must be obtained in writing from the YIVO Archives.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
YIVO Archives, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
In May 1945, around 10 million refugees inside the borders of Germany, Austria and Italy relied on the Allied Forces for their immediate needs and for assistance in resettlement. At the end of the summer, the 1.5 million refugees who refused to return to their home countries were defined as “Displaced Persons”, a term coined by the Russian sociologist Eugene M. Kulisher. Among them there were around 53,000 Jews, mainly survivors of concentration camps. This first group grew larger as refugees escaped from new outbursts of anti-Semitic violence in Poland. By 1947, the Jewish DPs in Germany, Austria and Italy numbered 250,000.
Between 1945 and 1950, around 40,000 Jewish Displaced Persons passed through the Italian peninsula. The precise number is difficult to estimate due to continuous new arrivals and departures, as Italy developed into a major assembly center for refugee emigration (both legal and clandestine) to Palestine.
The majority of refugees entered Italy from the North-East border through the mountain passes (mainly the Brenner pass), where they arrived with the help of the clandestine network Brikhah that connected Eastern Europe to the DP camps in Germany and Italy. The clandestine departures for Palestine were then organized by the Italian section of Mossad le Aliyah Bet. Between 1945 and May 1948, of the 56 boats that brought Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine, 34 sailed from Italian shores. The Italian authorities tacitly approved the flow of refugees: they never openly supported the clandestine emigration of Jewish refugees, but, at the same time, they never implemented a strict opposition to it, relieved by the fact that the refugees did not intend to remain permanently in Italy.
The main refugee resettlement center was located in Via Unione in Milan. This center was created with the support of Raffaele Cantoni, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, and it functioned from 1945 to 1947. From Via Unione, refugees were redirected to the various DP camps in Italy (including Casere, Merano, Pontebba, Chiari, Cremona, Milano, Grugliasco, Rivoli, Genova, Bologna, Modena, Reggio Emilia, Fermo, Jesi, Senigallia, Cinecitta’, Bagnoli, Bari, Barletta, Palese, Santa Cesarea, Santa Maria al Bagno, Santa Maria di Leuca, Tricase, and Trani). The DP camps were both “mixed camps”, where Jewish DPs cohabited with refugees from various nationalities, and separate Jewish camps. Many refugees also lived in kibbutzim and hakhsharoth, of which there were more than 60 in Italy. Approximately 5,000 refugees were labeled as “out of camps DPs” and lived in private homes in the main cities. In addition, a few children’s homes were created for orphans, the most well-known being Selvino.
Like in Germany and Austria, the Italian DP camps were administered by the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). In 1947 the International Refugee Organization (IRO) took over the task of caring for the DPs and assisting them with the emigration process. The primary financial support for the camps came from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC), universally known as "the Joint." Other Jewish international organizations, such as ORT (Organization for rehabilitation through Training), the Jewish Agency and the World Jewish Congress also assisted the refugees.
The Jewish DPs remained in the camps up to five years. In this transitional location, the refugees managed to organize themselves in an active community. Every camp had its own schools, library, radio station, theatre groups and sport teams; newspapers were published in Yiddish and Hebrew and political parties and meetings were organized.
The First Conference of Jewish refugees in Italy took place in Ostia (Rome) between 26 and 28 November 1945. On this occasion, the Organization of Jewish Refugees in Italy (OJRI) received official recognition. 150 delegates from all the DP camps elected a Central Committee, which was headquartered in Rome. Four regional committees were created in Milan, Florence, Rome and Bari. The Central Committee was divided into seven specialized departments (Culture, Art, Religious Affairs, Statistics and Information, Health, Productivity, Supply). The Lithuanian lawyer and Poale Zion activist Leo Garfunkel became the President of OJRI and Leon Bernshteyn its Secretary. Besides providing a structure and administrative supervision for the camps in Italy, OJRI also aimed at enriching the cultural life of refugees, organizing schools for children and professional training for adults. Moreover, OJRI functioned as a mediator between UNRRA and the refugees supporting their claims for emigration and resettlement in Palestine.
Elyezer Yerushalmi, who had been the director of the folkshul in the Shavler ghetto and later a partisan, became director of the Cultural Department. The first urgent issue he addressed was education. Schools and kindergarten were opened in every camp and in many kibbutzim. Seminars for teachers were organized about Hebrew language, Jewish History, the Bible and Geography of Palestine. Adults could participate in professional training workshops organized by ORT, which started to operate in Italy in 1946: different projects were instituted, including sewing, carpentry, blacksmith, electrician training, typewriting and fishing. Other DPs found employment in the administration of the camps or with IRO, AJDC and other agencies.
Refugees actively participated in theatre groups. Some of these groups (like the Ufboy group in Santa Maria di Bagni, or the group organized in Milan by Yonas Turkov) went on tour in the various camps in Italy. In November 1945, an Artistic Ensemble (Kinstlerisher Kolectiv) was created under the direction of the poet Menakhem Riger. The Ensemble performed in many concerts and other shows all over Italy. In March 1946, the Union of Jewish Writers, Journalists and Artists (Fareyn fun yidishe literatn, zhurnalistn un kinstler in Italye) was established; it organized frequent literary and artistic evenings and a literary contest, which took place in summer 1946.
From August 1945 to February 1949, the Central Committee published its official weekly (and later biweekly) newspaper, Baderekh, which was distributed in every camp and kibbutz. The various political parties and groups also published their own newspapers, bulletins and brochures. A few DP camps (like Rivoli and Santa Maraia di Bagni) had their own newspapers as well. The Union of Jewish Writers, Journalists and Artists published a monthly literary periodical, In gang: khoydesh-zhurnal far literature un kunst, from March 1947 to February 1949. The vast majority of the newspapers were written in Yiddish, with some in Hebrew and a few in Polish and Hungarian.
In autumn 1945, a Jewish Historical Commission was established in Rome, with a second branch in Milan. Unlike the historical commissions in DP centers in Germany and Austria, the Italian commission was not an emanation of the Central Committee of the Organization of refugees. Rather, it was the commission of a specific organization, Pakhakh (Partizaner, Khayolim un khalutzim, Partisans, Soldiers and Pioneers), a Union of ex-ghetto fighters and partisans. Pakhakh had been created in Poland in May 1945 by Antek Zukerman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw uprising. There were 4,500 members in the DP camps in Germany, 2,000 in Austria, and 1,000 in Italy. The commission in Italy became the Tsentrale historishe komisye bay Pakhakh (Central Historical Commission of Pakhakh) and it had the very specific aim to collect records and materials concerning the Jewish participation in partisan units in the territories of the Soviet Union. Testimonies from former partisans were transcribed and many questionnaires were distributed to refugees. Moyshe Kaganovitsh, a journalist and partisan, was appointed director of the commission. The majority of the materials collected by the commission were published in the book written by Kaganovitsh, Der Yidisher onteyl in der partizaner-bavegung fun Sovet-Rusland (Rome, 1948). The commission also published a Yiddish monthly periodical, Farn Folk.
By the end of 1948, a year in which 20,000 Jews left Italy for Israel, the DP era in Italy was drawing to a close. Only seven Jewish DP camps were still open, and only approximately 5,580 Jewish DPs still remained in Italy. Because many of the leaders of the refugees’ organizations had already emigrated to Israel, the Central Committee of OJRI was renewed and Leon Bernshteyn was appointed the new President. In 1948 IRO and the Italian government requested that the refugees be moved from the Northern camps to the Southern one. 1949 saw the number of camps drop to five. By June 1950, there was only one camp left in operation and the DPs numbered 2,177. Only one newspaper, Tsum Tsig, was still being published, and most DP organizations, including the Union of Jewish Writers, Journalists and Artists, Hechalutz, and all the Zionist parties were no longer in existence. The Central Committee of OJRI ceased activity on October 1, 1950. This resolution marked the end of Jewish DP organizational life in Italy.
The last Jewish refugee left Italy in 1951.
13 Linear Feet
These records detail the history of the Displaced Person camps in Italy. They include the records of the individual camps as well as political and cultural groups that operated within the camps. The collection primarily consists of administrative records such as reports, correspondence, and lists as well as cultural materials from political, theatrical, and literary groups. There are also a large number of records of court proceedings, centering on accounting for actions taken during the Holocaust as well as the formation of new families in the DP camps.
The collection is arranged according to the major political and cultural organizations which operated throughout the DP camps in Italy. The records of the Central Committee of the Organization of Jewish Refugees appear at the beginning, in series I, which is further divided in subseries according to the type of records (outgoing or incoming correspondence, reports of committees, minutes of meetings). Series II, III and IV also refer to the activity of the Central Committee, collecting records respectively from its Department of Statistics and Information, its Central Court and its Cultural Department.
Records from the individual camps are collected in series V, with different subseries for each camp. Materials produced by smaller cultural organizations, political parties, and landsmanshaftn follow in series VI and VII. Miscellaneous material, as well as posters and children's works, appear in series VII and VIII.
- Series I: Central Committee of the Organization of Jewish Refugees in Italy
- Subseries 1: Organization of the Central Committee
- Subseries 2: Central Committee outgoing correspondence
- Subseries 3: Incoming records and correspondence
- Series II: Department of Statistics and Information
- Series III: Central Court
- Series IV: Central Committee Cultural Department
- Series V: Camps
- Subseries 1: Adriatica
- Subseries 2: Bari
- Subseries 3: Barletta
- Subseries 4:Grugliasco
- Subseries 5: Trani
- Subseries 6: Cinecittà
- Subseries 7:Milan
- Subseries 8: Santa Maria di Bagni
- Subseries 9: Santa Cesarea
- Subseries 10: Senigallia
- Subseries 11:Ferramonti
- Subseries 12: Chiari
- Subseries 13: Cremona
- Subseries 14: Rivoli
- Subseries 15: Scuola Cadorna
- Series VI: Organizations
- Series VII: Landsmanshaftn
- Series VIII: Miscellaneous materials
The records of the DP centers in Italy were received by YIVO between the years 1946 and 1950. These records were gathered as a result of a wide collection project that was started by YIVO in 1945. The aim of the project was to locate and collect archival materials on the Holocaust and the post-war years of Jewish revival in war-ravaged Europe. The experience of the Jewish Displaced Persons figured prominently in this project. YIVO issued appeals to the DPs in the camps and centers, and organized voluntary committees of YIVO friends to coordinate the gathering of relevant materials. In Italy, at the end of 1946, the Friends of YIVO (Associazione Amici dell’Istituto Scientifico Giudaico – YIVO in Italia) was established in Rome. Largely through the efforts of one of its officers, Mr. David Kupferberg, who was also a member of the Central Committee of OJRI, the organization gathered and forwarded most of the records in this collection to YIVO in New York.
The microfilm (MK 489) was prepared in July 1966 by the YIVO Archives at the request of the Ha'apala Projects in Israel and a complete copy thereof was deposited in the Institute for Zionist Research of Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv.
This finding aid provides access both to the original records and the microfilm. In the contents list, the description of the materials corresponds to both a folder number and the microfilm number. Of the microfilm number, the first number corresponds to the film roll, while the second number indicates the frame where the folder begins on a given roll. Frames on each roll are numbered consecutively from 1 to the end of the roll.
Posters originating from the Italian DP camps are catalogued separately, in the DP Posters Collection.
The LBI Library holds a survey of Jewish refugees in Italy published in 1946 by the central Committee of the Organization of Jewish refugees in Italy (LBI D 809 I8 W4).
The YIVO Library holds the book by Moyshe Kaganovitch, the director of the Jewish Historical Commission of Pakhakh in Rome (YIVO Library ; Main Stack Collection; 000026433).
A preliminary inventory was compiled by Zosa Szajkowski, and the arrangement of the records was completed by Solomon Rabinowitz in 1986. A first finding aid was prepared by Solomon Rabinowitz and Roby Newman. The files were grouped into series at YIVO according to the best determination of provenance and the objective of imposing on the entire collection an overall order resembling the internal organization of the Sheyres Hapleyte in Italy.
- Administrative reports
- American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
- Bernstein, Leon, 1915-
- Cremona (Italy)
- Emigration and immigration
- Farband fun Yidishe literatn, zshurnalistn un kinstler in Italye
- Financial records
- Garfunkel, L. (Leib), 1896-
- Holocaust survivors
- Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
- International Refugee Organization
- International relief
- Jewish refugees
- Kahanovich, Moshe
- Lists (document genres)
- Milan (Italy)
- Minutes (administrative records)
- Official documents
- Organizzazione del prefughi ebrei in Italia
- Refugee camps
- Shrayber farband fun sheyres hapleyṭe
- Turkow, Jonas, 1898-1988
- United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration
- World ORT Union
- World War, 1939-1945 -- Jews -- Rescue
- YIVO Archives
- Guide to the Records of the Displaced Person Camps and Centers in Italy 1945-1955 RG 294.3
- Processed by Zosa Szajkowski between 1946 and 1950 and by Solomon Rabinowitz and Roby Newman in 1986. Additional processing and EAD encoding by Martina Ravagnan and Sarah Ponichtera in 2014.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processing made possible by the Leon Levy Foundation and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany.