The displaced family and its dependents in postwar Europe

When:14 Mar 2017, 12:30pm - 1:45pm
Venue:Morven Brown 309 (map ref C20)
Who:Ruth Balint, University of New South Wales
Dr Ruth Balint

History Seminar Series


Sometime in late 1950, Vilma Leimanis sat down and penned a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt from the barracks of the Displaced Persons camp Paderborn in the British Zone of Allied postwar Germany. “Maybe you are more or less surprised at receiving this letter because of its author”, the letter began in a tone of wry self-deprecation. “I expect you can hardly believe that it is sent to you by a Latvian DP in Germany.” Leimanis had taken this step, as she informed Mrs Roosevelt, because she and her children had lost their case with the International Refugee Organisation for refugee status on account of her husband’s activities as a German collaborator during the war. “The IRO authorities try to employ the well known totalitarian methods – to convict the whole family if only one member of the family is convicted.” Vilma Leimanis was unsuccessful in her attempt to have the decision overturned. In this paper, I discuss the gendered dimension of the refugee eligibility process, which often worked against women and children in the name of “keeping the family together”. Some women and children tried to resist the legal and welfare hegemony of the family and their status as dependents within it, distancing themselves from the problem of family ties, or remaking new ones in order to survive. I also explore the way in which an ideology and politics of the family shaped the modern development of international refugee law and humanitarian practice in ways that was often detrimental to women and children.

About Ruth Balint

Dr Ruth Balint is a senior lecturer in History at UNSW. Her research interests include transnational histories of migration, displacement, refugees and family, with a current focus on the Displaced Persons of post-war Europe.

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