The refugees suffered the effects of persecution, displacement, and anxiety for family left behind in Nazi-occupied Europe. To some, it seemed that they had escaped one antisemitic world only to be locked away in another.
Many interactions were shaped by rumours, gossip and bickering. Some maintained their sanity by resigning themselves to the seemingly endless wait for release. “I tried to kill my time,” recalled Julius Pfeiffer, the camp joker, “in order to forget that I was in the camp and didn’t know what to do with my life. I didn’t know where my wife was, whether she was alive – my two children, my parents – so I made jokes.” After the war he found his wife and children; they had survived Bergen-Belsen.
The young men were particularly preoccupied with the absence of women. Some found female pen pals. One internee recalls the pipe dreams of a rather shady character who began digging a tunnel, not to escape, but to smuggle in prostitutes. For some internees, homosexual encounters and relationships were also part of the camp experience. Sexuality was considered a natural part of these men’s lives and its private expression was tolerated by most.