HomeRetour à la norm(al)e ? Réfugiés et déplacés pendant la paix violente (1944-milieu des années 1950)

HomeRetour à la norm(al)e ? Réfugiés et déplacés pendant la paix violente (1944-milieu des années 1950)

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Published on Thursday, February 23, 2023


Cet appel à contributions pour un numéro spécial pour la revue Diasporas. Circulations, migrations, histoire porte sur les réfugié∙es et déplacé∙es de l’après-seconde guerre mondiale. Il cherche à interroger le retour à la norm(al)e pour ces personnes, c’est-à-dire les normes explicites et implicites, juridiques et administratives, mais aussi familiales, sexuelles, raciales et, plus généralement, comportementales et affectives qui présidèrent à la vie collective et intime de ces personnes, au long de leur trajectoire de réfugié∙es ou déplacé∙es, du camp et de la zone d’occupation, jusqu’au retour au pays ou au lieu de réinstallation. Les articles en français et en anglais sont acceptés.



  • Laure Humbert, université de Manchester
  • Célia Keren, Sciences po Toulouse


As Peter Gatrell has shown, the years following World War II, far from marking the end of chaos and persecution, were a time of "violent peacetime[1] ". From 1944 to the mid-1950s, massive population movements continued, an ongoing legacy of the war and a consequence of new violent post-war conditions across Europe and the world. These huge upheavals contrasted with the aspiration of returning to ‘normalcy’ shared by the populations and humanitarian professionals as well as by state and international organizations – first the  United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA)[2] until 1946, then the International Refugee Organization (IRO). 

But not all actors agreed on what such a return to ‘normalcy’ meant, nor on the ways to achieve it in a tangled context of shortages and geopolitical uncertainties, resulting from the emergence of new borders and policies of ethnic homogenization in Eastern European countries. How to reconstruct the bodies and minds of those displaced by war? What professional, social, medical or psychoanalytical knowledge was mobilized for such purpose? Should refugees and displaced persons be helped to reconnect with their past and their previous identities or, on the contrary, encourage  to forget and reinvent themselves? How should state and non-state actors deal with the ‘identity chaos[3]’ of the DP world ? According to which principles should legal and national identities be (re)assigned? Which models were used to reconstruct shattered families? What ideas about femininity and masculinity were projected onto survivors and refugees? How far were norms and practices of different actors in alignment? How did the rules that were imposed on the DP world in Germany, Austria, and Italy reflect the norms of ‘ordinary’ social life?

In recent years, numerous studies have renewed our understanding of Allied relief policies and practices; of the social and cultural life of displaced persons; and of the modalities of their "return to intimacy[4] " in the words of Guillaume Piketty and Bruno Cabanes.  These studies have shown that the DP centers were sites of humanitarian intervention where intimacy was a privileged target of control (politicization of bodies, collective anxiety about venereal contamination, etc.[5] ). This scholarship has highlighted an entire etiology of displaced person trauma, with DPs often described as stricken by apathy, hunger phobia, or psychic regression[6] . Sources from international organizations, military and judicial institutions are rich in information about the collective anxieties that plagued post-war societies. They reflect deviances, misdemeanors and crimes committed by certain DPs, from recourse to the black market to theft, even murder or infanticide. Physical and psychological rehabilitation programs for DPs mobilized a series of contemporary norms - of gender, sexuality, marital status, class, age, race, etc. - which often fractured the lives of the DPs. These norms were not always official and explicit. They were constantly at work in DP spaces (camps and shelters, administrative offices, places of work, worship and leisure, cemeteries, but also transit centers, ships and trains, resettlement sites, etc). We understand ‘norm’ in this context as referring both to a set of written and explicit rules, including legal ones, and a set of injunctions to adopt behaviors, attitudes, bodily and emotional expressions deemed appropriate and consistent with a given time and place. Convinced, for example, that war and displacement degraded bodies, disrupted gender relations between men and women, and destroyed what were perceived as the boundaries between childhood and adulthood, aid workers monitored the sexuality of DPs and created gendered vocational training programs[7] .

Conflicts over the standards that should govern this return to ‘normalcy’ ran through the DPs world. Humanitarian programs were regularly criticized by some DPs for infantilizing them[8]. Behavior considered deviant by some humanitarian workers and military and civilian authorities, such as damage to property, seemed perfectly legitimate to DPs in the context of post-war scarcity. Difficulties in understanding and communicating due to different languages, experiences, and worldviews impacted on the interpretation of policies and norms, including administrative ones. Despite consensus on certain principles, such as the return of autonomy to the DPs, there were profound disagreements on the means to achieve this. The dividing lines drawn by these conflicts were often more complex than they appeared. For example, Jewish DP communities were splintered by debates about the paths that should be taken in their intimate and collective reconstruction, between forgetting, collecting sources on the genocide and symbolic revenge, leaving for Palestine or reorganizing Jewish life in the diaspora. Returning to some kind of ‘normalcy’ was also envisaged through motherhood, marriage and the reaffirmation of Jewish values[9] . Certain DP elites, particularly religious ones, and humanitarian workers aligned in their approach towards the return to"normality", in particular through the valorization of manual labor, the reconstruction of family values and the control of women's bodies.

While these norms were negotiated, discussed, and even accepted by some DPs, they were an integral part of this "violent peacetime", often used to sort out, reject or exclude those who did not comply, particularly in the context of resettlement abroad[10] . Certain norms thus had a major impact on the lives and trajectories of DPs. American, Canadian, Australian, British, French, Belgian and other recruiting missions were harsh: doctors and recruiting officers rigorously examined bodies and behaviors, rejecting unwed mothers, mentally ill DPs, tuberculosis patients, alcoholics, or individuals who had committed theft or other crimes in the chaos of the end of the war. Ethnic criteria, eugenic considerations and selection by "nationalities" were still dominant. At the same time, humanitarian workers were confronted with the ethical and moral contradictions of their own norms, including whether DPs should sacrifice their sick and unproductive grandparent or their child born out of wedlock to obtain a passage to a ‘new’ life. This raises unaddressed questions: What strategies did DPs develop to overcome or circumvent rejection? In the end, those who did not fit into this system formed a "hard core" group of refugees, a derogatory term used by international organizations to describe DPs who did not comply to hegemonic norms.

We invite in this special issue proposal for the journal Diasporas. Circulations, Migrations, History, contributions that explore the notion of returning to ‘normality’. In particular, we encourage work that is in dialogue with the history of gender, sexuality, race, and disability studies. Contributions may be situated at or intersect the macro level of international and state organizations, the mezzo level of local officials, or the micro level of field workers and DPs themselves. We welcome a diversity of approaches: history of expertise and knowledge, material history of camps, spatial turn, history of emotions and intimacy, study of trajectories, collective biographies, "refugeedom", etc.

Research themes/questions

Temporal and geographic variations

Norms changed over time, place and policy. How were different norms articulated across the spaces, public and private, inhabited by DPs and refugees? We particularly encourage contributions that embrace the whole trajectory, from the "waiting room" of occupation zones to resettlement. We also invite comparative approaches across zones and spaces.

Conflicts of norms, conflicts of actors

Who set the standard for  a "good DP"? To what extent was this norm an expression of power and violence?

Conformity, adaptation, transgression

Did DPs conform to and interiorise the norms imposed on them? What tools do historians have to unpick their behaviours and subjectivities? What sources (and what reading of these sources) can help us understand transgressive behavior? While a new historiography on postwar Germany shows that the ‘violent peacetime’ was also a liminal moment, an in-between that opened up possibilities before the social and sexual conservatism characteristic of the 1950s, work on the DPs has only very rarely addressed this question[11] .

Submission guidelines

Interested contributors are invited to send a one-page proposal in French or English to the coordinators:

  • Laure :laure.humbert@manchester.ac.uk
  • Celia Keren: celia.keren@sciencespo-toulouse.fr

by September 15, 2023.

A collective workshop will then be organized in March 2024 in Paris. The publication in the form of a special issue of the journal Diasporas. Circulations, migrations, history is scheduled for the first half of 2025.


[1] Peter Gatrell 'Trajectories of Population Displacement in the Aftermaths of Two World Wars', Jessica Reinisch and Elizabeth White (eds) The Disentanglement of Populations. Migration, Expulsion and Displacement in Postwar Europe, 1944-1949 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 3-26; Peter Gatrell, The Unsettling of Europe. The Great Migration, 1945 to the Present , London, Allen Lane, 2019.

[2] United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration; International Refugee Organization.

[3] Julia Maspero "L'administration des personnes déplacées dans les zones françaises d'occupation en Allemagne et en Autriche: une politique de la France en contexte de Guerre froide (1945-1951)", PhD thesis, EHESS, 2021.

[4] On DPs, Wolfgang Jacobmeyer, Vom Zwangsarbeiter zum heimatlosen Ausländer: Die Displaced Persons in Westdeutschland, 1945-1951, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1985; Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe's Displaced Persons, 1945-1951, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998; Atina Grossmann, Jews, Germans, and Allies: Close Encounters in Occupied Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007; Anna D. Jaroszyńska-Kirchmann, The Exile Mission: The Polish Political Diaspora and Polish Americans, 1939-1956 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009); Laura Hilton, 'Cultural Nationalism in Exile: The Case of Polish and Latvian Displaced Persons', The Historian, vol. 71, no. 2 (2009), pp. 280-317; Anna Holian, Between National Socialism and Soviet Communism. Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 201); Ben Shephard, The Long Road Home: The Aftermath of the Second World War (London: Vintage, 2011); Tara Zahra, The Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families after World War II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011; Daniel Cohen, In War's Wake: Europe's Displaced Persons in the Postwar Order, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011; Jan-Hinnerk Antons, "Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany: Parallel Societies in a Hostile Environment," Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 49, no. 1 (2014), pp. 92-114; Pamela Ballinger, 'Impossible Returns, Enduring Legacies: Recent Historiography of Displacement and the Reconstruction of Europe after World War II', Contemporary European History, vol. 22, no. 1 (2013), pp. 127-138; Peter Gatrell, The Making of the Modern Refugee, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013; Corine Defrance, Juliette Denis and Julia Maspero (eds.), Displaced Persons and the Cold War in Occupied Germany, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2015, Ruth Balint Destination Elsewhere. Displaced Persons and their Quest to Leave Postwar Europe Ithaca, London, Cornell University Press, 2021; on the return to the intimate, Cabanes Bruno and Piketty Guillaume (dirs.), Retour à l'intime au sortir de la guerre, Paris, Tallandier, 2009.

[5] Peter Gatrell and Nick Baron (eds.), Warlands. Population Resettlement and State Reconstruction in the Soviet-East European Borderlands, 1945-1950 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 1-22; Daniel Cohen, "Un espace domestique d'après-guerre: les camps de personnes déplacées dans l'Allemagne occupée," in Bruno Cabanes and Guillaume Piketty (eds.), Retour à l'intime au sortir de la guerre, Paris, Tallandier, 2009, pp. 117-131; Lisa Haushofer, 'The "Contaminating Agent": UNRRA, Displaced Persons and Venereal Disease in Germany, 1945-1947', American Journal of Public Health, vol. 100, no. 6 (2010), pp. 993-1003; Margarete Myers Feinstein, Holocaust Survivors in Postwar Germany, 1945-1957, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Katarzyna Nowak, 'A Gloomy Carnival of Freedom. Sex, Gender, and Emotions among Polish Displaced Person in the Aftermath of World War Two', Aspasia, 13, 1 (2019), 113-134; Laure Humbert, Reinventing French Aid. The Politics of Humanitarian Relief in French Occupied Germany, 1945-1952, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2021.

[6] Tara Zahra, The Lost Children, op. cit; Peter Gatrell, Population displacement and mental health after the Second World War [short version, unpublished]; Henning Borggräfe, Akim Jah, Nina Ritz and Stegffen Jost (eds.), Rebuilding Lives - Child Survivors and DP Children in the Aftermath of the Holocaust and Forced Labor (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2017).

[7] Silvia Salvatici, 'The English Government and Refugee Women from Europe after World War II', The Social Movement, vol. 225, no. 4 (2008), pp. 53-63; Tara Zahra, '"The Psychological Marshall Plan": Displacement, Gender and Human Rights after World War II', Central European History, vol. 44, no. 1 (2011), pp. 37-62; Silvia Salvatici, 'Help the People to Help Themselves: UNRRA Relief Workers and European Displaced Persons', Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 25, no. 3 (2012), pp. 452-473.

[8] Inta Gale Carpenter, 'Folklore as a Source for Creating Exile Identity among Latvian Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany', Journal of Baltic Studies, vol. 48, no. 2 (2017), pp. 205-233; Katarzyna Nowak, 'Voices of Revival. A Cultural History of Polish Displaced Persons in Allied-Occupied Germany and Austria, 1945-1952', PhD thesis, University of Manchester.

[9] Atina Grossmann, 'Trauma, memory and motherhood: Germans and Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-Nazi Germany, 1945-1949', Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, Vol. 38 (1998), pp 215-239; Grossmann, Jews, Germans and Allies, op. cit.; Avinoam Patt and Michael Berkowitz (eds), We are here: New approaches to Jewish Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010); Feinstein, Holocaust Survivors in Postwar Germany, op. cit.; Anna Hájková, 'Introduction: Sexuality, Holocaust, Stigma', German History, advanced reading first, 09 June 2020.

[10] Antoine Burgard, 'A new life in a new country. Trajectories of Holocaust orphans to Canada (1947-1952)', PhD thesis, Université du Québec à Montréal/Université Lumière Lyon 2 (2017); Ruth Balint, 'Children Left Behind: Family, Refugees and Immigration in Postwar Europe', History Workshop Journal, vol. 82 (2016), pp. 151-172.

[11] Dagmar Herzog, Sex after Fascism: Memory and morality in twentieth-century Germany, Princeton: Princeton University, 2017.


  • Friday, September 15, 2023


  • réfugié, personne déplacée, seconde guerre mondiale, sortie de guerre, norme, humanitaire, organisation internationale, migration, genre, violence, famille, corps, sexualité


  • Laure HUMBERT
    courriel : laure [dot] humbert [at] manchester [dot] ac [dot] uk
  • Célia Keren
    courriel : celia [dot] keren [at] sciencespo-toulouse [dot] fr

Information source

  • Marianne Amar
    courriel : marianne [dot] amar [at] sciencespo [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Retour à la norm(al)e ? Réfugiés et déplacés pendant la paix violente (1944-milieu des années 1950) », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Thursday, February 23, 2023, https://doi.org/10.58079/1am4

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