The East European Jews (four-fifths of them from Poland, the others from Hungary, Romania, and the Czech lands) who crossed the Austrian border after 1945 were fleeing pogroms, impoverishment, and imminent Communist takeovers of their countries. The refugees-1941-1952/">displaced persons (DP) camps in Austria, as in Germany, soon turned into recruiting grounds for Jews to be smuggled illegally into British-controlled Palestine. The American zone of occupation in Austria (as in Germany) was noticeably more favorable for this activity than the DP camps under British jurisdiction, as U.S. military authorities generally turned a blind eye to the Jewish Bricha (flight).
The perception of a problem with Jewish DPs helped revive Austrian anti-Semitism after the war and contributed to blurring any residual Austrian sense of sharing in Nazi guilt for the Holocaust. At a time of food shortages, there was resentment that Jewish refugees in the American zone were receiving special accommodations and better rations than many Austrians had. Jews, it was claimed, engaged in black market activities (Schleichhandel) and were responsible for spreading venereal disease. The Socialist Arbeiterzeitung deplored the influx of “hordes of illicit foreign traders and desperadoes,” “unwelcome guests” and “wretched, unemployed and overly excitable Jews whose presence inevitably promoted anti-Semitic whisperings,” which, if unchecked, would provoke a fascist backlash. Both Austrian press reports and archival sources reveal that Jewish DPs were commonly considered cheeky, provocative, and undisciplined, and that they were frequently accused of petty crimes such as stealing milk, fruits, and vegetables.
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