Title ID 7056Collection ID985
TitleNo Man is an Island [World Refugee Year]
CollectionOckenden Venture
Genre/TypeProfessionalFilm/Video companyInstitutionalNon-fictionPromotional/Publicity
ThemeWartime and Military
KeywordsChildren Charities Communities Family Second World War (1939-1945) Women Houses Old Age Social Problems Handicrafts
NationalGermany England United Kingdom Europe
ProductionRoyal Society of Medicine Film Unit
CameraEsmond Wilson
Commissioning bodyThe Adoption Committee for Displaced Persons
NarratorFrank Philips
FormatBlack & White Sound
Duration17 min. 55 sec.
Copyright & AccessCopyright restrictions apply, contact Screen Archive South East for details


The lives of refugees in unofficial DP camps and TB sanitariums before and after charitable donations and social work, produced in World Refugee Year (1959-1960).


The Adoption Committee for Displaced Persons presents "No Man is an Island", Royal Society of Medicine Film Unit. Commentary throughout.

Scenes of Munich, the "capital of the old kingdom Bavaria", open the film. Palaces, wide streets exhibiting "French and Italian influenced" and classical gardens and facades are shown. Ruins stand as a reminder of wartime devastation. Elegant office blocks and flats blend with the historic Munich. The shanty towns that surround the city are shown. Twelve million refugees burden the German government. A professor, "too proud to give in" works in his small garden. An engineer looks after his bedridden wife, encouraging her to write a book. Children, born in DP camps, have known no other life.

In Englestaas, relics of history remain. Ex-army barracks are now official DP camps, housing ex-prisoners subjected to slave labour after being driven from their homes. Children are seen in a bleak corridor, "victims of the ravages of war and uncertainties of peace." One bathroom is shared by twenty families. A woman is seen, a tattoo from Auschwitz on her arm, cares for her second family. The first died in a concentration camp. Rehousing is successful for some families, "and a new life will begin in a few weeks."

"Wretched sheds" house refugees in camps around Munich, unrecognised as official refugee camps by the High Commissioner. Children play in the camp grounds, different to German children and labeled as "homeless foreigners". "Home is a room in a hut." Interior scenes of camp life are shown. A woman fetches water from a tap, her husband unable to work after contracting TB. A woman feeds her young children soup and bread; "most of them are pale because they have an unbalanced diet." A Russian couple live in one room, a sense of humour keeps them going after sixteen years of camp life. A woman plays with her children in their cramped room.

A sanitarium houses three hundred DP patients with TB; "hospital is a temporary escape." Patients learn skills. Some are seen weaving, others undertaking a secretarial course or training to be a tailor. A man paints, having found "creative gifts." At an office in London, a cheque arrives from a donor that will establish a DP resident in a flat "so that he can become a member of society." A car arrives at the sanitarium and a social worker delivers the news that "an organisation he had never heard of were determined he should not go back on the scrap heap." He will receive training as a skilled interpreter.

Official camps are gradually being closed by the unofficial still stand. "we must help them gain their independence and self respect. The task is big but it can be done." With your help we shall not fail them."

The film closes with the John Doane quotation; "No man is an island, intire of it selfe: every man is a peece of the continent, a part of the maine: if a clod bee washed away by the sea, Eurpoe is the lesse, as well as if a promonterie were, as well as if amanner of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankinde; & therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. John Doane."

Contextual information

Initiated by the UK and approved by the General Assembly, World Refugee Year (1959-1960) aimed to address the lives of refugees that lay outside the High Commissioners mandate, restricted by legal criteria. Each country could help whatever group of refugees it desired, including those in unofficial DP camps and shanty towns. Around seventy countries announced participation in W.R.Y., aiming to “clear the camps.” Since 1959, the UN has designated years to humanitarian causes in order to encourage international action.

The surrender of Germany in 194 left millions homeless after their deportation and forced labour, and the destruction of their homes. Unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin after their homes and communities had been destroyed and displaced, refugees remained in camps or lived as “freelivers” for nearly two decades years after the war had ended. Publicity surrounding WRY was needed to raise funds, heighten awareness of international efforts and resettle refugees still living in camps, official and unofficial, for nearly 15 years. The campaign films present an international response to the refugee crisis, and signaled a move away from temporary and local solutions to international effort.