Robert D. Davis



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WWII, World War 2, letters, Army, UNRRA, displaced persons


World War, 1939-1945; United States--Army; Displaced persons


Davis discusses his experience with the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation.) The head of the D.P (displaced persons) unit in Davis' section is Mr. Watson, a retired colonel of the British army. He goes on to describe many young women. He says he swoons every time he has business at the UNRRA. Davis then describes "the villain" of the UNRRA, a suave young Russian Major.


16 June 1945


Dear Folks:

You have read all about UNRRA, (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), now I’ll tell you about our UNRRA, and some of my experiences with D.P.’s (displaced persons). The typical UNRRA team in a mélange of nationalities, and is by no means the smooth working things that one would gather from typical news reports.

Our rather large D.P. set-up (abt 5000 persons) is under the supervision of an UNRRA team. At the head of the team is a nice Englishman, Mr. Watson. Mr. Watson is a retired colonel of the British Army and of the old colonel. Mr. Watson’s staff consists of various foreigners, whose principal qualification seems to be fluency of a sort in English. This is not an invariable qualification, however. His chief of supply is a young Frenchwoman, who speaks only French (I discovered to my despair after trying to converse with her in German and English. The creature knows about as much English as I know French.), but who overcomes her language deficiencies by continual bustling about that does get things accomplished. Maybe I have referred to my first mission with her.

Capt. Norins called me into his office one morning, and gave me a “mission you’ll like.” A Ukrainian child, seriously ill, was refused hospitalization in the local German hospital. I was to go out and burn the “German” woman who had, according to this French dame, turned the child away. So, all set, I go out with the Frenchwoman and the child to the hospital. The Doctor, who, according to the excited gallio at my side, was responsible, seemed to me to be a typical Aryan; blond, good-looking, and with that penetrating, proud unyielding store. Unfortunately, this one was young, which made my task more difficult. But heroically enough, I gave the girl (only 26) a round reprimand, told her she was to report to the governor. My duty turned out to an all around unhappy one. The Frenchwoman’s report was completely incorrect; the girl was not responsible, and she was Latvian, not German. Everything got straightened out, but not due to the unhelpful omniscience of the French woman. Now I’m thinking of dating the young Latvian, but am wondering at the complications of apologies, introductions, and going thru’ the maze of thermometers in the hospital to locate her.

The “other nationalities” include: an Italian who speaks English, and has a basic misunderstanding who U.S. mil. government procedure. He is always bringing in such snafus as incorrectly filled out forms, and switching his 1000 Italians on alternate days from D.P. to prisoners of war columns on the reports. (this makes a great difference in our ration procedure. To this day, after about 10 days frantic telephone conversation, he has never succeeded in establishing a satisfactory stable number of P.W.’s. Altho’ his function, humbly enough, is that of an interpreter, he is eternal, and the camp leaders are the ones who change. About every three days he brings in a smiling, unctuous, “new Italian camp leader.” Our friendship has proceeded to the point of my giving him cigarettes.

My friendships with another figure began less fortunately. Col. Watson’s principal office worker is an officious, middle-aged Lithuanian lady. She was a bit too troublesome in my office in the early days, coming in at odd hours with troublesome requests. Once I threw her out with practically physical force. This incipient feud has been replaced by an amicable working trace, but one has the uncomfortable feeling that this ball-dog like creature hasn’t forgotten. As 2 know 2 wouldn’t forget.

Another, probably the oddest, employee at the cosmopolitan UNRRA office, is a Polish girl. Besides possessing a queer name for a Pole, Hanna, she has that slovenly German accent and grammar peculiar to the slavs. 2 jolly her up as much as I can, because the poor girl he a baffled, hunted look of an inferior, and I like to see her light up. She’s not to any light conversation, however, and I have thru’ experience limited the conversations to cheery engineers about her health and remarks about the weather. Her function, as far as I have discovered, consists of printing signs, and slipping as surreptitiously as possible between our two office with reports.

The really bright spot in the UNRRA picture, is a beautiful German-blooded Sudetan Czech girl. She’s German thru’ and thru’, but is utterly beautiful, and speaks good English. Alas I was lucky enough to be the Captains agent in reclaiming her apt. for her. (She was austed by a German. It was the second case in a week where the Capt. Called me in for a “case you’ll like,” meaning a German had to be jailed.) Everything got straightened out, and the girl got two new rooms for her apt. She is eternally grateful, and stammers her thanks in that nervous English of here, literally sending me into a swoon every time I have “business” at the UNRRA, which I have found occasion for every day since then.

There was a hewhiskered Frenchwoman of white Russian extraction, who dined at our table for awhile. We called him, irreverently, “General Electric Whiskers.”

Add your villain, A suave young Russian Major, who was apparently a political commissar, because a Russian liason mission from the army general staff turned instantly respectful before him. He has created trouble for about two weeks post trying to impress Poles and Latvians and Lithuanians and Ukrainians into the Russian camps. A hot-coal of intrigue, he was loaded on a truck and “evacuated” to a Russian territory a few days ago.

These are just a few of the principal figures in a vast, largely peasant, groups of D.P.’s. They are a constant thorn in our side, but are entitled to all respect and attention because of what they suffered so mutely under the Napis.

Love, Bob

Letter from Bavaria, 1945 June 16


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