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Memento : Issue 17
10 memento may 2001 They were 'sturdy', 'bronzed' and 'eager'. Arthur Calwell described them as 'a choice sample'. They were the 839 Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian displaced persons who arrived from Germany on board the USAT General Stuart Heintzelman in November 1947. Many thousands more were to follow in their footsteps. After the guns fell silent at the end of the Second World War, millions of people all over Europe found themselves dispossessed and far from their homelands. At the beginning of 1946 more than a million 'displaced persons', as they were officially labelled, remained in refugee camps in Germany, Austria and Italy. Repatriation for these people was either impossible or undesirable -- mainly because their homelands lay in Eastern Europe and were now occupied by the armies of the USSR. Between 1947 and 1953, more than 170,000 displaced persons were brought to Australia, most travelling by ship from Germany and Italy. To day the personal papers of perhaps every single one of these people are in our custody. We have embarked on a long-term project to enter them by name into our RecordSearch database. One researcher who is taking advantage of improved access to the records is Ann Smith, who is particularly interested in the voyage of the General Heintzelman, the first 'DP ship'. During her research, Ann found details about how these postwar immigrants were recruited and what they faced in their first two years of contract employment in Australia. 'While many have gone on to very successful lives in Australia, some found it hard to settle', she said. 'Behind the positive gloss which helped to ensure the ready acceptance of the displaced persons by Australian employers and most members of the public was the great sadness of the upheavals in Europe during World War II. They may have been suffering from what we now call post-traumatic shock syndrome and possibly from other illnesses. Files in the Archives record some of the early difficulties as well as successes.' Ann had a very personal reason for pursuing her research topic. 'When my mother died two years ago, I knew that she had come to Australia in November 1947, and I knew that the Heintzelman had brought some of the first postwar migrants to Australia.' Maira Kalnins, aged 7, arrived in Australia with her family aboard the Fairsea in August 1949. Of Latvian origin, she was the 50,000th migrant brought to Australia under the plan to resettle displaced persons after World War II. NAA: A434, 1949/3/16408 Searching for General Heintzelman