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My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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BERLIN, Friday—My visit to Frankfort was packed so full of emotions, it is hard to give you an adequate idea of what I saw and how I felt. Yesterday morning, we visited the Zeilsheim Jewish displaced-persons camp. It is one of the best, since the people are living in houses previously occupied by Germans.

In these houses, each little family has a room to itself. Often a family must cross a room occupied by another in order to enter or leave the house, but there are doors and walls to separate them. If they like, they may bring food from the camp kitchen to their rooms and eat in what they call "home."

They made me a speech at a monument they have erected to the six million dead Jewish people. I answered from an aching heart. When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?

Someone asked a man, who looked old but couldn't have been really old, about his family. This was his answer: "They were made into soap." They had been burned to death in a concentration camp.

Outside the school, the children greeted me. They told me a little boy of ten was the camp singer. He looked six. He had wandered into camp one day with his brother, all alone, so he was the head of his family. He sang for me—a song of his people—a song of freedom. Your heart cried out that there was no freedom—and where was hope, without which human beings cannot live?

There is a feeling of desperation and sorrow in this camp which seems beyond expression. An old woman knelt on the ground, grasping my knees. I lifted her up, but could not speak. What could one say at the end of a life which had brought her such complete despair?

* * *

From there we went to Wiesbaden and visited a displaced persons camp for Poles and Balts. These are refugees who, because of political differences with their present Governments, cannot see their way to return to their own countries, and yet they fought against the Nazis and many of them spent long years in concentration or forced-labor camps.

Here they live in barracks, and the camp is run by a wonderful French UNRRA team. My admiration for these French people is unbounded. They have given the refugees work to do, and have repaired and made buildings habitable. To be sure, the buildings are only barracks and three families—seven people in all—were living in one bedroom, their quarters separated only by curtains. Privacy is hardly a thing you could achieve in these quarters, yet many of the families eat in these makeshift rooms because it is "home."

The food in this camp is supervised by a very capable woman, and they have a variety of diet for different ages, but soup and bread was the main meal. The soup for older people had beans in it; the soup for children had vegetables in it, with a little piece of meat.

The spirit here was far better than in the other camp—there were far more children and young people and more families who had stayed together. I noticed one little boy on crutches who had lost a leg. I was told he was one of eight children. The eldest girl, 18, takes care of all her brothers and sisters.

I went away from this camp more hopeful, but still with a sense of depression weighing upon me. What's the ultimate answer? We in UNO asked the Economic and Social Council to create a commission to study this refugee problem, but I cannot say I envy them their work. It will tear at their hearts. And the problem is so complicated, it will take people with great wisdom to write the recommendations that have to be presented to UNO at its next meeting in September.

* * *

Late in the afternoon, back in Frankfort, I met a group of German newspaper correspondents. When they asked me whether I thought the whole German nation was responsible for the war, I answered what to me seems obvious. All the people of Germany have to accept responsibility for having tolerated a leadership which first brought such misery to groups of people within their own nation and later created world chaos.



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  • Berlin (Germany) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, February 16, 1946

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on June 30, 2008.

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.