Leo Cefkin, France, April 16, 1945
Trips Home for Displaced Persons,"
a W.W.II Memoir
January 26, 1995
"My stay in Austria was noteworthy also for an
experience with Displaced Persons. (DP's)
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
In June of
1945, our Company left Tulfes and was moved to the city
of Hall on the Inn River. Hall is about 100 km east of
Innsbruck. Our duties were the management of barracks
which were used for the housing and care of DP's brought
together by national policies to await transportation for
their return home. We had French, Italian and others come
through our facility. Most memorable was the assembly of
Soviet citizens. Given my ancestry (American born to
Russian Jewish parents), I paid special attention to
them. A Soviet officer had been assigned to help us
manage the return of this group to the Soviet Union. They
were a surprisingly diverse group - Ukrainians, Russians,
Bessarabians (some I suspected were Jewish - a few women,
claiming to speak German could communicate better with
Sidney Freedman who spoke with them in Yiddish, than with
me, as I spoke German. I did better too when I switched
to Yiddish.) There were Buryat Mongolians, Turkoniens,
Uzleks and other non-Soviet elements.
In my conversations speaking German, Yiddish and what
little Russian that I knew, I stressed that soon they'd
be going home to happy reunions . . . Often that
encouraging prospect elicited cool responses.
Finally the 'happy' day arrived. The DP's were to
parade down to the railroad depot and get into boxcars
for their journey home. We anticipated a happy, exuberant
march down to the train. It was nothing of the sort.
A large number of DP's, particularly among the
Ukrainians, refused to go. They wanted to stay. We were
forcing them to leave. Somehow a few pistols appeared and
we had fatalities, people shooting because they refused
to go back. Nevertheless, we coerced their departure
despite resistance from the DP's.
(A review of the press and reportage about Soviet DP's
would show that my experience was not an isolated case.
The experience left a deep impression on my thinking
about the Soviet Union, about Stalin, and the Communist
party leadership. The antipathy of Soviet peoples to
their government was a big surprise and unexpected. This
was a time when I used to lead discussions within the
Company an hour a day as part of the Army's Information
and Education (I&E ) program, each period based on
Army I&E handouts which often stressed unity with our
allies, particularly the USSR in building together a
postwar peace. What about the USSR, the
"benevolent" Joe Stalin?)
Dr. Cefkin served for many years as Chairman of the
C.S.U. Political Science Department.