SCHOOLS IN DP CAMPS
As soon as the Allied armies liberated forced labor camps, concentration camps, and POW camps in the early spring of 1945 millions of people who were enslaved began spontaneous efforts to organize themselves into communities. Since 1939, Polish children in occupied Poland were not allowed to continue their education and schools were closed. For most of these children, the war meant almost six years without any schooling, creating a gap in the formal education as well as intellectual development. As a result, most of the children and young people in DP schools were older than the average age. Teachers had seven-year olds together with 13-14 year olds in the same class learning basic reading and writing.
Many teachers had prewar teaching experience and could boast of high qualifications, this was particularly true of high school teachers. Kindergartens and seven-grade elementary schools were organized in all larger camps. Children lived with their parents and came to classes in a modest building or a barrack, where often several different levels shared one classroom. Gimnazjums (four-grade high schools) and lyceums (two additional years, ending with the certification examination) were organized as boarding schools located in DP camps in larger, often urban centers, such as Köln-Mülheim. They admitted students from many different DP camps, who then lived in the dormitories. Better facilities existed in larger educational centers, which housed several schools of different profiles, such as Pinneberg near Hamburg, Fallingbostel, Rehden, and Lippstadt. In 1946 an UNRRA University was opened in Munich and DPs of different ethnic backgrounds could enroll and attend lectures in English and German. The university did not last long; UNRRA and the U.S. Army closed it in May 1947.
Sciences and technical subjects were especially popular for those who wanted to emigrate and hoped that technical education would translate better to a foreign environment. Some students had previous experience working with machines during the forced labor period in German industry and built on those skills. Many schools offered courses in surveying, drafting, auto mechanics, and driving; as well as classes in business, accounting, agriculture. A popular course for women was sewing. Sometimes short term courses transformed into regular one or two-year trade schools, such as sewing schools in Lippstadt, Wildflecken, Deggendorf and Burg. High schools with a trade profile functioned in several larger DP camps, including Lippstadt, Wildflecken, Borghorst, Heilbronn, Freising, Ingolstadt, Lubeck, Hamburg and Schramberg. Some schools covered the program of an entire year within six months. Students spent 50 hours per week on class instruction, putting in nine-hour days during the week and another 5 hours on Saturday.
Since most of these young people were robbed of their childhood, the DP schools also focused on exploration of the outside world, experiences of friendship, summer adventures and a chance to develop body and mind in a safe, loving atmosphere. Students went walking in the local woods whenever possible to enjoy weather and nature. When textbooks were hard to find, classes took place outdoors. Students participated in skiing course, summer sailing, and month-long summer camps. All students had sports as part of physical training, and sometimes participated in soccer or volleyball competitions with other DP camps, other schools, or even "international" games with youth from other ethnic groups that took place in some DP camps. Dances were organized to develop social relationships with other students. There were sightseeing day trips to historical cities and monuments of Germany; visits to theaters, museums, and concert halls. Schools organized cultural activities. The Lippstadt male choir sang during all national celebrations, provided music for special religious occasions, and traveled to the DP camps and a DP choir competition in Wildflecken, and on request of a Polish chaplain, performed in a prison for both Polish and German inmates. Students performed in school plays. One group from Wedel performed "Snow White" in several different DP camps, hosted representative of UNRRA and even gave a show for the British soldiers of occupation forces.
One more function of the schools proved particulary important; they returned emotional balance and allowed for the development of lasting relationships among young people. Some children who had no relatives in DP camps, found in their classmates and teachers a substitute family which gave them a chance to regain their lost youth.
Polish Schools in DP Camps in Germany 1945-1951 - A. D. Jaroszynska-Kirchmann