Kapfenberg Displaced Persons Camp – Austria
At Kapfenberg, a town in south east central Austria at the confluence of the Murz and Thorlbach rivers there were seven camps with a total of 3,200 refugees including 850 children, 200 babies and 300 old people from18 different nationalities.
Clare McMurray worked as a Volunteer Welfare Officer for Save the Children Fund from September 1948 - March 1949.
The camps had been administered under the British Army and the Major in charge had been well liked and had done everything possible for the refugees. Now the Army withdrew and handed the camp over to the Austrian Administrator.
The camp was in a shocking condition, the barracks were infested with bugs, the roofs were leaking and windows broken.
One of the Kapfenberg camps was a transit camp. Refugees who had been fortunate in being selected for emigration came to the camp before leaving on the train for England or Australia or Brazil or America.
At this time there was a large scheme for emigration to England – the Westward Ho scheme, and it was most heartening to go to the station and see off so many hundreds of refugees going to England to start a new life. They were the fortunate ones, many others left behind had little hope of emigration, because of nationality, illness, old age or lack of a trade.
It was at Kapfenberg that I spent my first Christmas in Austria. Snow had arrived two weeks before giving us the perfect setting. For weeks the women in the sewing room were making soft toys for all the kindergarten children – another was busy making many coloured slippers from old wool and the shoemaker finished these off with a leather sole. The apprentices in the carpenters shop were making wooden animals and little cribs, storekeepers were working late making up bags of sweets, chocolate, raisins and dried bananas. The men went off to the forests and brought back Christmas trees – one large one to stand in the hall and soon all were busy making decorations. I collected toys for the bigger children – school bags, plasticine, books, games – all labelled and set out beside the Christmas tree.
The Christmas party was held on the afternoon of the 24th and we all gathered in the hall. The children sang their carols and did little plays. Then the wonderful spectacle of the candle lit tree in the darkened hall and the sparkling stars brought forth cries of admiration. Each child crowded around the tree so excited to see what the Christ child had brought. I took around parcels of sweets and cocoa.