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A 'Web' of Hope Around the World

Newhall resident Olga Kaczmar and her DPcamps Web site reunite the 'Displaced Persons' of World War

Posted: February 11, 2008 12:50 p.m.
Updated: April 13, 2008 2:03 a.m.

Olga Kaczmar operates the DPcamps Web site, which helps families of "Displaced Persons" from World War II reunite. The site has become a clearinghouse for information on the DP camps. Kaczmar holds a cherished photograph in which her father cares for horses on a farm in Germany during the the war. He worked there as a slave laborer.

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"I first started tracing my genealogy. I was intrigued about what my family was doing in Germany. I found it was a heartbreaking story - that no one is telling - about the millions of people of other nationalities, besides the Jews," said Olga Kaczmar.

Heartbreaking, indeed.
As explained on Kaczmar's DPcamps Web site, more than 11 million people were discovered working as slave labor in Germany at the end of World War II. These "Displaced Persons" - or DPs - had been taken from a number of countries, including the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Czechoslovakia and Italy. Most of them were Christians, and about half of them were women and children. (The Germans took young single women and single men as slave labor - thus, most of the children born to them were born after the war.)
The DPs - the ones who didn't die of starvation on the factory floors - were the survivors.
"Ten million Ukrainians perished during that war. Stalin said they were Russians who died," Kaczmar said. (Her parents originated in Poland, of Ukrainian descent.) Being slave workers in Germany saved the DPs from the German and Russian invasions in their home country.
These starving refugees were rounded up from the many thousands of POW, concentration and slave labor camps formerly under German control. Others were found wandering the streets, stealing food where they could find it.
While awaiting their futures, they were housed in DP camps, run by the United Nations Refugee and Rehabilitation Administration.
Many of these refugees were eventually repatriated to their home countries, but many were not - because they didn't want to be. More than 850,000 refused to be returned to their original Stalin-dominated Poland, Ukraine and Baltics, in fear of being rerouted to Siberia for extinction.
"Nobody wanted to go to the gulags in Siberia, where Stalin was sending people who had worked in Germany. Young Ukrainians were committing suicide to avoid the USSR," Kaczmar said.
Eventually, the United States granted many of these hardcore homeless DPs special entrance. One of them was 2-year-old Olga Kaczmar.
In 1949, her family, including her father John and mother Ewdokia "Eva" Kaczmar, and her older sister Maria, were routed to the United States on one of the last U.S. Navy ships dispatched for such duties.
At that time no one could have imagined such a thing as Web site, or imagined this little girl would one day create a clearinghouse for information that would offer hope to the many thousands of DPs who lost track of family members during those post-war years.

The War Years
Kaczmar said that her father was sent to work on a farm near Ehingen, Germany, and stayed there from 1940 to 1945. The farmer was allowed to have a slave laborer because his son was serving in the German army.
On the farm, her father took care of horses. "In the winter he pulled sap out of trees. In the summer he farmed," Kaczmar said.
She cherishes a photo from those days of her father with the farm horses, and has recently created a painting of it.
Kaczmar said her father and mother did not know each other when they were brought to Germany, but they probably met at a worker distribution center near his farm. In fact, her mother worked in a nearby mill, and her father used to "sneak down there after hours" to see her - which was forbidden and could have landed him in a prison slave camp.
They were married after the war, in 1945, in Ansbach, Germany.
That same year, the Kaczmar family, including daughter Maria (before Olga's birth) - along with Eva's sister Anna and John's brother Emilion, were living at a DP camp when it was announced that a transport train was there to take the next batch of people to their home countries. In the resulting haste and confusion, Emilion rode a different train than the rest, and the brothers never saw each other again.
Later, when the Kaczmars left for America, Anna and her young son were unable to join them.

In the United States
Times were hard for the DPs who arrived in the United States after the war. Because they didn't speak English, they had to take the most menial jobs and were the targets of cruel ethnic humor - such as being called "Dumb People."
Kaczmar's family first arrived in Boston, but charity organizations routed them from city to city to find work for John Kaczmar. In one case, they stayed in the back of a church and parishioners brought them food.
In 1956 Eva Kaczmar was able to locate her husband's brother and corresponded with him for many years. This may have turned on a light in young Olga Kaczmar's mind that would shine later on. Though her father never would see his brother, Olga Kaczmar would seek him out in 1987 in the eastern part of the Ukraine.
In 1972 Kaczmar moved to San Diego, then to Los Angeles, Glendale and Redondo Beach. She has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley since 1979.
She works as a graphic artist and is also a painter (www.olgakaczmar.com). She is the current publicity head for the Santa Clarita Artists' Association.
Kaczmar loves horses and figures this must come from her father. Among her many activities, she gives riding lessons to children.
"I borrow children," she quipped.
She also baby-sits animals. "I'm sitting two cats and a steer for a friend now," she said.

DPcamps Web Site
Kaczmar's original foray into the Web site was in January 2002, through researching and creating the site for the Aschaffenburg DP camp, which was the camp of her birth and closest to her heart. She worked with Janie Micchelli on this, and Micchelli urged her to continue with it. Eventually, the site "mushroomed into the largest, best-organized history of DP camps in Germany, Austria, Italy, France and other nations."
Along the way, Kaczmar got hooked.
She "became dedicated to helping these victims find their lost relatives and teaching the children of the slave labor about their parents' tragic histories under slave labor."
"I was inspired to do it. I'd get up in the middle of the night to work on it. I had to. It was my calling," she said.

Success Stories
As the Web site has grown, it has taken on a life of its own. People contact each other through it and help each other in ways Kaczmar never even knows about. But she is very proud of the success stories she is aware of. People have found birth mothers, childhood friends and fathers.
And they have found closure for the loved ones they didn't find.
Alexandra Gibson: Alexandra Gibson of Toronto was able to connect with her long-lost family in Poland, and credits DPcamps with much of the success. "It is through this Web site that I learned so much about what transpired during those timelines. It helped me in my search for birth records and also to pinpoint the DP camp the we lived in," she wrote.
Gibson was able to return to her roots, to the former Camp Lyssenko, where she was born in 1946. Her journey took her across the ocean, to plant a Canadian maple tree and to lay a plaque to honor her father, Andreas Tesluk's memory. He had disappeared from the camp in 1948.
The journey became the last chapter of her memoir, "The Ashes of Innocence," by Alexandra Tesluk, which is due for release this month.
Family found: Natasha Rowland Crone (Natasha Elms) was born in Greven, Germany in or near a DP camp. She posted three photos on the Web site of Janek Denisiewicz, whom she had never met, but was told was her father. Asking for information on him, she was thrilled to get a response from Kristina Denisiewicz Cavalieri, who said the photos were of her father, too. In this way, Elms was reunited with her sister and a half-brother.
Dumanski: Kaczmar writes, "A man from Poland writes me that he is searching for a Dumanski. He gives me a photo. That surname is familiar. I go through old photos - and there is a match. Unbelievable. The name is changed but the face, older, is the same. The missing man's sister identifies the photo face and the short finger. We had to tell his sister that Dumanski died in 2003, but his wife might still be alive. We're now trying to make a connection with the daughters."
Inara Bush: Inara Bush's father was a Latvian soldier. During the latter years of the war his unit fought with the Germans to prevent the re-occupation of Latvia by the Soviet army. She, her mother and sister lived with a German family, on a subsistence farm in Bavaria. After the war her father found them there. They lived in a DP camp while waiting to be accepted as immigrants to another country. (They did not want to go to Siberia.) Eventually, they were sent to Australia.
Bush described what DPcamps means to her. "It provides a vital resource for later generations who want to know about their parents' experience, as well as a central point where I can record my family's experience, now that I am the only living member of my family who experienced those years. I have had grateful e-mails about my photos on the Web site from France, Italy, Germany, USA and Australia."
Kaczmar's trip: The urge to revisit the past has not left Olga Kaczmar untouched. In August 2006, she traveled to Germany to walk in her parent's footsteps. She was aided in this by Angelica Brossig, whom she met on the Web site. Kaczmar even has a photo of herself and Brossig, standing exactly where her father and uncle were photographed 66 years before.

What's Next?
The DPcamps Web site now contains more than 250 long pages - and is still growing weekly. Through it, people from all over the world correspond with Kaczmar and each other. They post photos, links and stories, testimonials and their thanks to Kaczmar. The visitors ask for help and give it, as many of them are DP researchers themselves. Knowledge leads to more knowledge and more questions and any archive is fair game.
"Every German town has an archive," Kaczmar said. "We've been bugging the hell out of those archives." The Web site leads people to those German archives - and others. "Our Web site is packed with archive Web site addresses."
Naturally, all this success has come with a price. Though it's a labor of love for Kaczmar, it takes up enormous amounts of her time, and some money, as well. Sometimes it's hard for her to enjoy her other loves, such as painting or horses.
"I could be horseback riding instead" she said. "I just never thought it would be a career. I thought once it's online, it's done.
"Not so."
But her friends around the world keep her going. "They add fuel to my motivation," she said. And their encouragement doesn't hurt either. "I work for compliments."
Kaczmar knows DPcamps will continue to grow, and she intends to stay with it.
"It's important. Even if it crashes, the bits and pieces that have been started will go on infinitely in computers all over the world."
The DPcamps Web site is www.DPcamps.org.


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