Ana, a Ukrainian woman who lived in a refugee camp in Austria during WWII
Geneva, 17 June 2016 - Ana* is a Ukrainian woman, living in Connecticut, in the United States. A supporter of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Ana understands well the suffering of those who are uprooted by conflict. During the Second World War, together with her family, she fled from Ukraine to Landeck, a village in Western Austria, where they became refugees.
Ana’s memories have faded over time. Yet, she can still remember her early life in the Austrian refugee camp. For four years during the 1940’s, her family was housed in old military barracks, living off the packages they received from the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, the former United Nations relief agency. Since the food distributed was not always sufficient for the needs of the family, Ana’s father tended a small garden next to the barracks and even owned a hen. “Whenever the hen laid an egg, they would give it to me as a food supplement”, Ana recalls. “People said I was too thin”.
After the war, Germany and Austria were divided into zones and were under either French, American or Soviet authority. Sometimes, the Soviet Commissars would come to the camp to convince people to go back to the Soviet Union. Ana’s family definitely did not want to go back, as they knew it was extremely dangerous. In spite of the difficult conditions in which she grew up, she recalls that her childhood was somehow serene: life in the camp had settled into a “normal” routine and she had been able to even attend school, since some educated refugees had organized classes and were teaching children from memory. “We were not as badly off as refugees today. We lived in wooden barracks, sometimes two families per room, sharing lavatories and washrooms. Refugees today often have to live in tents, in the mud, or in drafty apartments.”
In 1949, Ana’s family had the opportunity to be resettled to the United States, thanks to the sponsorship of an uncle who was already living there. On the day of their departure the family embarked on a military boat in Bremerhaven, in northern Germany, where they set sail to the USA. Ana recalls “At that time, refugees were being resettled all over the world: some to Canada or the United States, others to Belgium, France, Argentina, Brazil and other South American countries.” Once they arrived in New York, the family settled down in Brooklyn. Ana enrolled in a local school, where she was admitted directly into 7th grade thanks to the education she had received in the camp, despite the fact that she still did not speak English. She says that she has lived a wonderful life in the United States ever since.
Mindful of the difficult times she endured in her youth and of the help she had received from Catholic organizations, Ana felt like she wanted to do her part and contribute to the wellbeing of today’s uprooted by donating to ICMC. “When I hear that over half of all refugees today are children, I think of myself and the mercy I was shown after the war. I give to ICMC because I, too, was a refugee once.”
*The name has been changed to protect the identity of the person.