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Author Traces What Happened To WWII's 'Last Million' Displaced People

Historian David Nasaw tells the story of more than a million people stranded in defeated Nazi Germany after World War II. Some felt they couldn't return to their home countries under Soviet control. Others were Jewish survivors who had no homes to return to. Nasaw's book is 'The Last Million.'

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, in today for Terry Gross. At the end of World War II, when American and Soviet armies rolled into Germany, they didn't just find bombed-out cities in an impoverished German population. There were more than 6 million non-German citizens stranded in the fallen Reich also in desperate straits. They were allied prisoners of war, Jewish survivors of concentration camps and forced laborers from conquered lands, brought in by the Nazis to fuel the German war effort. Most found their way back to their homelands within a few months.

Our guest, historian David Nasaw, has a new book about the 1 million who remained in Germany after most displaced persons were repatriated. Those remaining refused to go home for a variety of reasons or had no home to go to. The six-year effort to house them in camps and eventually find them new countries to settle in proved a torturous and politically charged journey at a time when most of the world wanted to forget about Europe's problems and rebuild their own lives.

David Nasaw is a past president of the Society of American Historians, and until 2019 was a history professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He was last on FRESH AIR to talk about his biography of Joseph Kennedy, "The Patriarch," which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He spoke to me from his home in New York about his new book titled "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War To Cold War."

Well, David Nasaw, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Good to have you.

DAVID NASAW: Delighted to be here.

DAVIES: A fascinating part of this story is how these people from so many other countries came to be in Germany, including people from Slavic nations who were certainly regarded as inferior by Hitler. What happened? Why were all these people in Germany?

NASAW: Well, there were three major routes into Germany during the war. The earliest one were the forced laborers, the slave laborers, the guest laborers. Germany could not afford to carry on business without millions of what Hitler would call subhuman workers. With millions and millions of soldiers at first on the eastern front, someone was needed to tend to fields, to work in the factories. And those people were forcibly - most of them - forcibly taken up and deported from Poland, from Yugoslavia, from the Ukraine into Germany to be forced laborers, slave laborers, to work at little or no wages to sustain the Reich until the war was finished. So that's the first route in.

The second route into Germany comes at the end of the war. In 1944, 1945, there were tens of thousands of Baltic citizens, citizens of what had been Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And after the German occupation, they had in one way or another collaborated with the occupiers. And when it became clear that the Germans were going to be defeated, that the Red Army was approaching, thousands of these Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians crossed with the retreating German army back into Germany.

The third stream of foreigners were the Jews from the concentration camps. Hitler realized and the Reich officials realized in 1944, 1945 that the Red Army was approaching. And they emptied out the concentration camps and the death camps in Poland and the Baltic regions. And they transported on - what became death marches, thousands upon thousands of Jewish survivors back into Germany. The goal was not to bring them to safety in Germany but to work them to death in underground factories in Germany rather than gas them in Poland.

DAVIES: So this was millions of people. And, you know, in - particularly in some of the middle years of the war, you write that they actually tried to recruit people from Poland and the Ukraine and elsewhere to voluntarily move into Germany. There was actually a movie - right? - come to lovely Germany. What was the pitch?

NASAW: (Laughter) Yeah. The pitch was, why starve in Poland? Why starve in the Ukraine when you can come to Germany, live a beautiful life in the country that will win the war and have extra money to send back to your family? And in the beginning of the war, there was some - not a majority, but some - Poles and some Ukrainians who bought this. They understood or they believed that Germany would eventually win the war. And they also knew that until the war was over, Poland and the Ukraine under German occupation were impoverished, barely survivable environments.

What happened was within months of the first volunteers going from Poland and Ukraine on what was supposed to be six-month contracts, word circled back to Poland and to the Ukraine, to the hometowns of these volunteers that they were being viciously mistreated. And after the six months passed and no one came back to Poland or the Ukraine, all voluntary relocation stopped. And from that point on, German labor officials threatened, kidnapped and voluntarily deported the greatest number of Poles, Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans not as guest laborers but as slave laborers.

DAVIES: So they worked in fields and factories and stayed in barracks. Their lives were closely monitored.

NASAW: There was some - you know, there were a variety of different ways. The Germans had to institute a variety of laws forbidding the guest workers from going to church with Germans, from eating in restaurants with Germans, from going into town squares with Germans and God forbid having intimate relationships with Germans. And the reason for these laws was that that was happening in some places. On some farms and some rural areas, the guest workers were treated kindly. The Germans didn't want this to happen and instituted laws against any sort of fraternization with the subhuman Poles. All the guest workers had to wear huge badges on their clothing signifying that they were not Germans, that they were guest workers.

DAVIES: Let's take a break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with David Nasaw. His new book is "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War To Cold War." We'll continue our conversation after this short break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLOWBERN'S "WHEN WAR WAS KING")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And we're speaking with historian David Nasaw. He has a new book about the challenges in resettling people stranded in Germany after World War II with no homes to return to. The book is called "The Last Million."

So you had these millions of people, prisoners of war, Jews who had survived the Holocaust, and all of these millions of slave laborers and guest workers, which were - and all of these people were in Germany, which had endured, you know, horrific allied bombing and, you know, resources were stretched thin. What was it like for allied troops coming in? What did Germany look like as they encountered all this?

NASAW: You know, the allied troops and the journalists, as they moved into - from the West, the Americans, the Canadians, the French, the British - as they moved into Germany were astounded, were horrified. They had expected to see a Germany that looked much like London had after the Blitz, where there was, you know, extensive damage, but the damage was a thousand times worse, and the number of homeless, shelterless, starving civilians was overwhelming. They could not believe what they found.

They also couldn't believe the anarchy, the total chaos. When the Nazis were defeated, even before the official surrender, all law and order ceased. There was no one to police the streets. There was no one to collect the garbage. There was no one to deliver the mail. There was no one to deliver food to the stores. The country had come to a complete halt. Part of the Nazi regime had been that Nazis ran every social service, every human service. And when they were defeated and put on the civilian clothes and went into hiding, there was no one to replace them. And this is what the allied forces found on entering Germany.

DAVIES: Millions of people actually did make it home relatively quickly, but your book focuses on this 1 million who refused to go home or had no home to go to. And let's take those two categories. I mean, the ones who really had no homes to go to were primarily Jews who'd survived, you know, war and the attempted extermination of the Holocaust. And, you know, in theory, they were citizens of other countries they could return to. The reality was different, and I think this may be best illustrated by the Polish Jews - you say about 200,000 - who tried to return to their homes but eventually found themselves filtering into Germany. You want to give us a sense of their experience?

NASAW: The bulk of Polish Jews who survived the war survived it because, as soon as the Germans came, they snuck across the borders into the Soviet Union, and the Soviets, who needed laborers to fight the war, moved these Jews into the far reaches of the Asiatic parts of the Soviet Union, where they were put to work, and they worked through the war. When the war was over, the Soviets said, OK, you can go home now, and they supplied a quarter-million Jews with transportation back to Poland. When they arrived in Poland, these Jews were horrified at the anti-Semitism they found.

They were not the only Polish Jews. Large numbers of survivors of the camps who ended the war in Germany, as soon as they were able to walk, walked, tried to get on trains, find rides on trucks, to go back to their hometowns to find out if anybody had survived, anybody had survived. Other Jews came out of hiding, and they returned to their hometowns to try to see if family that survived. And they, too, were horrified at the anti-Semitism. The Jewish Poles who had come out of the Soviet Union, who had returned from Germany when the war was over, the survivors, realized that their only hope for the future lay in the American zone of Germany, in the displaced persons camps there.

DAVIES: Yeah, you cite several people who went up to their old homes and found them occupied by other people and were told, threatened, you know, if you're smart, you'll get out of here. Some were actually shot at. I mean, this wasn't subtle, what they encountered.

NASAW: There were - there are hundreds and hundreds of oral histories, of interviews, taken by the Shoah Foundation, Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation, the U.S. Holocaust Museum and many other museums and depositories and archives. And they tell these stories. They're - over and over and over again, of a young girl who promised her father when the family was separated at Auschwitz, and the father and the mother sent on one line to the gas chambers and the girl's sent in another line to a work camp. As they separated, the girl promised her father - Bluma (ph) was her name - that she would go home again when the war was over.

And she went home, and she went to the apartment the family had lived in, in Ozorkow, which is near Warsaw, and knocked on the door and saw a Polish woman who said, you don't live here anymore. No Jews live here anymore. Go home. Other Jews discovered, when they got to their hometowns, that the thriving Jewish community had been destroyed.

DAVIES: Hundreds of thousands of Jews discovering that they have no homes in Poland or other places are in Germany, end up in these camps. And, you know, it's striking to me that the horrors of the concentration camps were widely publicized when they were liberated in the United States, and it's shocking to me how little concern there seemed to be for Jews in the camps in a whole lot of ways. How were they treated?

NASAW: In the beginning, the Jews were separated out by nationality. So the Polish Jews were resettled with non-Jewish Poles, the Lithuanian Jews with non-Jewish Lithuanians, sometimes with those who had been their guards in the concentration camps. It wasn't till two months after the liberation that the Americans realized that this was, you know, unfathomable. This was inhumane. And the Jews were put into their own camps. And there, the survivors were determined - determined - that it was their duty to rebuild a Jewish community. And they began to put their mourning aside and try to look to a future.

DAVIES: Right. And the question is, where would that future be? Germany didn't seem like a place to go. I mean, those who were in Poland had no homes to go to. President Truman was moved by the plight of European Jews. What was his thought about it? What was his proposal for them?

NASAW: Truman believed, as soon as the war was over, that he would be able to persuade the British to open Palestine to Jewish immigration. And he said - and this is one of these horrible ironies. He said to the British, in effect, 6 million Jews have been murdered, so you don't have to worry about them overwhelming Palestine. There aren't that many left. And open the gates to them. You know, what do you have to lose? Well, the Arabs objected, and the British believed that their future as an empire was in alliance with the Arab nations. And though Truman tried, the British absolutely refused to open Palestine to Jewish migration.

DAVIES: And we should just clarify here for those that don't remember that, at this point, Palestine was a British protectorate. It had been since about 1921 or so. So they held the keys to the place, and they were absolutely against any further Jewish immigration, right?

NASAW: It was not simply. It was the - you know, the Conservative government under Churchill and then the Labour government under Clement Attlee would not allow Jewish migration, would not allow the migration of the Jewish displaced persons into Palestine. And Truman tried every which way. Truman naively believed that American pressure would eventually win out. It didn't. And in the end, I believe - based on, you know, the research I did over many, many years - that the reason why Truman supports an independent Israel is that he knows the only way to get the quarter-million Jewish displaced persons out of Germany is to resettle them in an independent Israel.

DAVIES: And what other options were there for Jews in Germany then? Were there any nations willing to open their doors?

NASAW: There were no nations willing to open their doors to the Jewish displaced persons. From 1947 on, the nations of the world were - began to accept for resettlement displaced persons - Latvians, Estonians, Poles, Yugoslavs - but they would not welcome the Jews. And the sense was, in the international community - was that the Jews are not hard workers. They're not going to work in the factories or in the fields. They're clannish. They're victims. They're malnourished. They're sick. Hitler didn't destroy them all, but those who survived we don't want to be our citizens. And the Americans tried to convince the Brazilians and the Argentines and the Australians and everybody else to take the Jews, but until America opened its doors to Jewish displaced persons, no nation on Earth was willing to do so.

DAVIES: All right, we need to take another break here. Let me reintroduce you. We're speaking with historian David Nasaw. His new book is "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War To Cold War." We'll be back after a short break. I'm Dave Davies. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in today for Terry Gross. We're speaking with historian David Nasaw whose new book looks at the experience of more than a million people who were stranded in Germany at the end of World War II, who, for a variety of reasons, refused to return to their countries of origin or in some cases had no homes to return to. They included Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and hundreds of thousands who'd fled Eastern European countries which had been conquered by the Red Army and were controlled by the Soviet Union. Nasaw's book is called "The Last Million."

So the United States then had pretty rigid immigration quotas that were established in the '20s. And President Truman wanted to open them up and admit more Jews to the United States. How did Congress respond?

NASAW: It took three years for Congress to accept any displaced persons into the United States. In June of 1948, Congress passes its first displaced persons law, but the law is written in such a way as to restrict visas or to prohibit visas for 90% of the quarter million Jews. The law was written that if you're not in Germany on VE Day, you can't get a visa. And a large number of the Jews were not there on VE Day because they were in the Soviet Union or in Poland or in hiding.

DAVIES: That deadline was not a coincidence, right? It was written with clear intent, right?

NASAW: The law was passed, and the law was written in large part by Midwestern Republicans and Southern Democrats who held the power in Congress in 1948. After a Republican victory in 1946, they did not want the Jews to enter the United States. And they said it was not simple anti-Semitism. It was a Cold War stratagem. The opponents of Jewish migration said we can't trust the Jews. Why? Because they're Polish or they had spent time in the Soviet Union, and large numbers of them are probably Communist sympathizers or Communist operatives. And we can't let them into this country. The law that was passed that made it almost impossible for the Jews to come in because they were Communists had no such safeguards against Nazi war criminals and Nazi collaborators, many of whom did enter the country under the provisions of the Displaced Persons Act.

DAVIES: The resolution to the fate of most of the Jews that were waiting in Germany came with the declaration of an independent state of Israel in 1948 after the British left. And then there was open emigration to Israel. And I guess that's where most of them went, wasn't it?

NASAW: Of the 200 to 250,000 displaced persons who were Jews, more than 150,000 of them ended up in Israel. In the end, in the final analysis, my figures - and again, I've done a lot of research on this - my figures showed that only about 50,000 of that quarter million are admitted to the United States under the displaced persons laws. Now, some come later. They go to Israel first because it's the only place they can go and then in subsequent years come back to the United States. But the laws - the displaced persons laws in the United States severely restrict the number of Jews who could enter. A hundred and fifty thousand or more go to Israel, and significant numbers go to Canada. The rest of the world wants nothing to do with the Jews and doesn't open its doors to them.

DAVIES: So many of those who were in the last million in Germany, the displaced persons, were Jewish citizens who had no home to go to. There were others who came from Eastern European countries who simply refused to return to their countries of origin. Why?

NASAW: One of the things I learned in doing the research for this book is that the Cold War begins almost immediately at the end of the World War. The transition is almost seamless. So by the time the displaced persons are settled in Germany, the Soviet Union has taken over all of Eastern Europe, has incorporated the Ukraine and the Baltic nations into the Soviet Union and controls Poland and, again, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. The displaced persons from Poland who had come to Germany as guest workers, they are frightened about going back to Poland. The propaganda, the anti-Communist propaganda, the anti-Soviet propaganda that comes into the camps is overwhelming. They are told that if they go home again, they're going to be slaves of the Soviets.

Now, it is true that they will not be returning to a democratic Poland. But there hadn't been a democratic Poland in a long, long time. And the Soviets in 1946-1947 had not yet instituted the rigid Sovietization of Poland. So it would have been possible to go home, but it was not simply Soviet domination that frightened the Poles. It was the devastation that the war had caused in Poland. And rather than return to a Soviet-dominated impoverished nation, a nation in which their families had been damaged, their family farms had been destroyed, they were willing to take their chances in Germany hoping that they would be resettled somewhere else and have a future for their families more prosperous than if they were to return to Poland.

DAVIES: Right. And, of course, some had collaborated with the Germans and fought against the Soviets. The Soviets, on the other hand, wanted these people back, right? They had a real need for them, right?

NASAW: Every nation in Eastern Europe wanted, needed the displaced persons to return. The losses in Poland, in Yugoslavia, in Hungary from the war were just extraordinary, especially in Poland. And Poland needed every able-bodied man, woman and child to return to rebuild that nation. The Ukraine needed every able-bodied man, woman and child to return to rebuild the Ukraine. And what the Soviet Union and the Polish government and the Hungarian government and the Czech government - what they all said was that the displaced persons remain citizens of their countries and had to return, that the United Nations and the Americans and the British had no right to attempt to resettle them in Australia or Canada or Brazil or Argentina, that the international community's responsibility was to repatriate those who had been displaced during the war so that they could rebuild the countries that they had been taken from by the Germans during the war.

DAVIES: David Nasaw's new book is "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War To Cold War." We'll be back right after this. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with historian David Nasaw. He has a new book about the challenges in resettling people stranded in Germany after World War II with no homes to return to. His book is called "The Last Million."

So the U.N. agencies who are managing this - and there was eventually a new one, the International Relief Organization (ph), right? The IRO. They essentially honored this request and would not force people to go back to places that they didn't want to go. And the U.N. agency essentially decides it has to become an employment agency and market these displaced persons as a ready workforce for any country that needed some help - that is to say, a non-Soviet-dominated country. And some countries were interested. Give us a sense of how that happened.

NASAW: In 1945 and 1946, UNRRA, the U.N. organization, tries - its goal is to repatriate everyone. And within a year, there's a battle between the British and the Americans on one side and the Soviets and the Soviet-dominated nations on the other side. The Soviets say, look - we don't care whether these people want to come home or not; they've got to come home. They've got to come back to Poland. They've got to come back to Hungary. And the U.N. has no business feeding and sheltering them in these camps. Send them home. If they don't want to come home, let them starve in Germany. The Americans and the British say, no, we're not going to force anybody to go home to a communist Soviet-dominated nation.

Finally, the impasse over repatriation is so great that the Americans and the British found a new organization, a new international organization, which the Soviets refuse to join. It's called the International Refugee Organization, and its goal is to repatriate nobody but to resettle the last million. And the International Refugee Organization begins to serve as a huge employment agency. All of the nations that belong to the IRO, including dozens of Latin American nations and Australia and Canada, they send recruiting agents to the camps, and they give physical exams and medical exams to the displaced persons, and they recruit them. They recruit them to go work in Argentina, in Costa Rica, in Canada and in Australia at jobs that are needed and cannot be filled in those nations.

DAVIES: Right. And when these nations looked for workers, displaced persons to come and work in their factories or mines or farms, some nationalities of workers were more desirable than others. What was the hierarchy? Who were the most welcome?

NASAW: The hierarchy (laughter). Yeah, it begins with the British. The British are the first to understand that the displaced persons are a wonderful reservoir of labor. The British begin by importing what they call the Baltic swans, which are young women who they put to work in tuberculosis sanitarium, where they can't find any British women to work in - in tuberculosis sanitarium and then in hospitals. And they recruit thousands of Baltic women. The priority is Latvians. Why? Because most of the Latvians had only come into Germany at the end of the war, fleeing the Red Army. They had come with their health somewhat intact. And they were white, and they were Protestant.

So the Latvians, the Lithuanians, the Estonians and the Ukrainians who were Protestant and white and healthy were the first recruited all over the country. The Australian minister of labor who came to the camps to recruit was told, look for the Latvians first, and when you run out of them, then go to the Lithuanians and then the Poles.

DAVIES: And nobody was interested in Jewish workers, huh?

NASAW: No (laughter). No, nobody wanted the Jews because - for a variety of reasons. It was believed that the Jews wouldn't be good workers, the Jews were too clannish and that the Jews would eventually, by hook or by crook, find a way to get to Palestine.

DAVIES: You know, you write in the book that it appears that the approaches that nations took to accepting or rejecting displaced persons would set a pattern that would be followed decades later and even in the 21st century. What do you mean?

NASAW: What I discovered for the case of the last million refugees after World War II was that nationalist concerns and political concerns always override humanitarian concerns. In the years that have followed the Second World War and the displacement of the last million, civil wars and wars between states and nations have resulted in millions and millions and millions more refugees. And the nations of the world have believed that it was their responsibility to feed and shelter these refugees but not to find permanent homes for them. In a funny way, the results for the last million were much more promising than the results for the refugees who came after them. And in large part I think - because following World War II, there was a labor shortage, No. 1, and the Eastern European refugees were white and for the most part Protestant with a smaller group of Catholics and an even smaller group of Jews. So the thought was that they could be much more easily assimilated. The refugees in the 21st century and the latter part of the 20th century have been people of color and have not been, for the most part, Christians or Jews. And there is the sense that there is no longer a labor shortage but for a variety reasons that more workers are not needed.

DAVIES: David Nasaw's his new book is "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War To Cold War." We'll be back right after this. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BUDOS BAND'S "INTO THE FOG")

DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and we're speaking with historian David Nasaw. He has a new book about the challenges in resettling people stranded in Germany after World War II with no homes to return to. His book is called "The Last Million."

You know, among the displaced persons who were accepted into the United States from Eastern Europe, there were a lot of people who had collaborated on some level with the Nazis. What efforts, if any, were made as people were accepted to these programs to ensure that war criminals weren't blending in and escaping justice?

NASAW: The displaced persons were resettled in the beginnings and towards the height of the Cold War - 1948, '49, '50, '51. And the nations of the world outside of Eastern Europe were concerned that they not allow any communist sympathizers or operatives into their nation. They were totally unconcerned with the Nazi past of some of those displaced persons.

DAVIES: Including the United States.

NASAW: Including the United States. It is frightening, for me at least, to read how large numbers of Nazi collaborators and war criminals disguised themselves, threw away their military badges, disguised their SS - Waffen-SS tattoos by removing them surgically, made a pass for themselves, got into the displaced persons camps and then were accepted into the United States, into Canada, into the U.K., into Australia. And there was very little attempt to find out their past, to question them appropriately, to separate out the legitimate displaced persons from the collaborators. It was not until 30 years later in the 1970s that a number of journalists, a number of, you know, Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal and some Congress people in the United States, like Elizabeth Holtzman, began to open the question of the displaced persons and to demand an investigation of what had gone on 30 years before. And beginning in the '70s, first in the United States and then in Canada and Australia and the U.K., there are investigations of what had happened 30 years before and an attempt to find the collaborators and the war criminals who had snuck into those countries.

DAVIES: Right. And there were plenty who were tracked down, and after all those decades, they weren't really brought to justice. Some were deported in some cases, but people didn't face the consequences they might have, did they?

NASAW: There are large numbers - and I talk about this in my book. There are, you know, Bishop Valerian Trifa who had been an iron - leader of the Iron Guard in Romania and had been responsible for the death and torture of thousands of Jews, a man named Karl Linnas, who had been the commandant at the Tartu concentration camp in Estonia and later a member of the Estonian Waffen-SS Legion. They lived long lives in the United States until they were discovered in the late '70s and were not deported until the '80s and the '90s after they had lived long and fruitful lives in the United States.

DAVIES: And I guess the answer to why so many people who had committed war crimes managed to blend in and slip through was that, you know, this was a chaotic time when records had been destroyed and there was enormous pressure to get things moving and relocate these displaced persons quickly. Looking at it realistically, could more have been done then?

NASAW: Yes. I think a lot more could have been done if there had been the will to do so to separate out the Nazi collaborators and the war criminals. There were voluminous records that had been captured by the Soviets, by the Americans that had been captured by Jewish groups and by resistance groups that would have identified these people had there been the will. But the Americans' government didn't much care. I know that's difficult to say and to believe, but the Cold War concerns quickly trumped World War concerns. Who cared about ex-Nazis? The Nazis were defeated. The war was over. The real danger was the communists. And if a ex-Nazi or a Nazi collaborator was now fervently anti-communist and was going to fight the communists in the future, then, you know, let's forget about the past. It's not as important. In 1951, ex-members of the Waffen-SS, the Latvian and the Estonian and the Ukranian Waffen-SS - these are Latvians, Ukrainians, Lithuanians, Estonians who had fought with the SS - were let into this country. The laws were changed to allow them in, and that was not necessary. But we've got to remember the speed with which Cold War concerns overrode World War memories.

DAVIES: You know, when I read the book, one of the things that struck me was that the experience of these millions of displaced persons, people, you know, lives uprooted and torn apart in so many countries, that the experience is in many ways a testament to the resilience of humankind, that within a few years, most seem to have reconstructed their lives. But there's a lot of pain, too, I guess a lot of things that people didn't talk about to their kids and their grandkids.

NASAW: One of the things that I discovered was that - I interviewed a lot of children of displaced persons, read a lot of memoirs and oral histories of the children, and they knew very little about what went on. Their parents had secrets. They knew about those secrets. And they knew that, these children, that they had been born in displaced persons camps, but they didn't know a lot about what had gone on there. The resilience of the displaced persons is absolutely remarkable. They recreate as much as they can, as much as possible. And this is the Ukrainians, the Poles, the Latvians, the Jews. They try to live a life in exile that keeps alive the traditions, the values of their home countries. They create little Latvias in Germany, little Jewish communities in Germany, little Ukrainian communities in Germany, hoping that someday they will be able to return to their prior lives.

DAVIES: Well, David Nasaw, thank you so much for speaking with us again.

NASAW: My pleasure.

DAVIES: Historian David Nasaw's new book is "The Last Million: Europe's Displaced Persons From World War to Cold War." If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you've missed, like my conversation with former FBI agent Ali Soufan, whose memoir details his interrogations of al-Qaida members and other extremists, or Terry's interview with award-winning novelist Yaa Gyasi or our celebration of jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins' 90th birthday, check out our podcast. You'll find lots of FRESH AIR interviews. FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Kayla Lattimore. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF AARON GOLDBERG'S "TROCANDO EM MIUDOS")

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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