Recivilizing Refugees

Material Culture and Displacement in Transitions from War to Peace in Displaced Persons Camps in Post-WWII Europe


  • Katarzyna Nowak Central European University



Displaced Persons, materiality, objects, postwar Europe, refugee history, civilizing mission, World War II displacement


In the aftermath of the Second World War, displaced victims of war came to be seen as a symbol of post-war ruin and civilisational decline. Policymakers and relief workers envisaged the rehabilitation of refugees as a vital element of the economic, cultural, and political reconstruction of Europe, the process underpinned by the discourse of civilisation. This article shows how these efforts manifested through material aid and, in doing so, it uses objects as a key to reading experiences of transition from war to peace in the early Cold War era. Four objects – a razor blade, a performance costume, a toolbox, and a mezuzah pendant – serve as starting points to illustrate wider areas of a recivilising agenda that were considered to be necessary for the post-war reconstruction: health and cleanliness, the promotion of Western values and lifestyles, the rebuilding of identities and cultural life, and training and education.

Author Biography

Katarzyna Nowak, Central European University

Dr Katarzyna Nowak is a historian specialising in cultural and social history of Eastern Europe, with a particular interest in refugee and migrant history. During her doctoral and postdoctoral research at the University of Manchester and Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, she focused on Displaced Persons in the early Cold War period from a global perspective. She has recently completed her first monograph, entitled “Kingdom of Barracks. Polish Displaced Persons in Allied-occupied Germany and Austria, 1945–1952”. She has published on the history of gender, refugees, and diaspora. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow at the Central European University in Vienna, working on a project on the Vatican’s involvement in post-World War II refugee aid.


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How to Cite

Nowak, Katarzyna. 2023. “Recivilizing Refugees: Material Culture and Displacement in Transitions from War to Peace in Displaced Persons Camps in Post-WWII Europe”. S: I.M.O.N. Shoah: Intervention. Methods. Documentation. 10 (1):4-22.