The problems are almost too numerous to mention: too few staff and poor training, little organizational leadership, shortages of essential supplies, ineffective field operations, inadequate finances and a reluctance by Allied governments to contribute to international undertakings with a humanitarian purpose (a problem that is still with us), a politically inexperienced director with anti-Semitic leanings, and a lack of discipline and security that created a thriving black market. After reading Sheppard’s description of UNRRA’s shortcomings, one is amazed that it ever accomplished anything.
Somewhat ironically, the most feared problem – a public health crisis – never occurred. It was largely avoided by a step that will shock today’s readers: refugees were liberally dusted with DDT, which proved to be an effective germ killer. Its impact on the long-term health of those treated is unknown but it can’t have been good.
There were plenty of unexpected problems. Food proved much scarcer than anticipated, a problem exacerbated by “the sheer hoggery of the American military.” To prevent the refugees from starving, the British government courageously imposed bread rationing on its civilians – something that had not been necessary during the war.
The biggest challenge however was that there were far more refuges than anticipated. Shephard estimates that roughly 15 million individuals needed to be resettled. They were a very diverse group – Poles, Latvians, Balts, Ukranians, Yugoslavs, Jewish concentration camp survivors, slave workers who had been forced to work in the Third Reich, and hundreds of thousands of Germans who had been expelled from conquered lands.