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Representing and Reconstructing Identities in the Postwar World: Refugees, UNRRA, and Fred Zinnemann's Film, The Search (1948)*

  • Sharif Gemie (a1) and Louise Rees (a2)

This article analyses Fred Zinnemann's 1948 film, The Search, setting in the context of displaced persons in post-1945 Europe. We concentrate on Zinnemann's treatment of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), arguing that this is central to the film. We also consider the film's references to Americanism, Zionism, gender equality, and children's wartime experiences.


Sharif Gemie et Louise Rees. En représentant et reconstruisant les identités dans le monde de l'après-guerre: les réfugiés, l'UNRRA, et Les Anges marqués (The Search) de Fred Zinnemann (1948).

Cet article analyse le film de 1948 de Fred Zinnemann Les Anges marqués qui illustre le contexte des personnes déplacées dans l'Europe après 1945. Nous nous concentrons sur la manière dont Zinnemann considéra l'UNRRA, en soulignant qu'elle est au cœur du film. Nous considérons également les références du film à l'américanisme, au sionisme, à l’égalité des sexes et aux expériences des enfants en temps de guerre.


Sharif Gemie und Louise Rees. Repräsentation und Rekonstruktion von Identitäten in der Nachkriegszeit: Flüchtlinge, UNRRA, und Fred Zinnemanns Die Gezeichneten (The Search, 1948).

Der Beitrag analysiert Fred Zinnemanns Film Die Gezeichneten (1948) und situiert ihn im Kontext der Situation der Displaced Persons im Europa der Jahre nach 1945. Im Fokus steht Zinnemanns Auseinandersetzung mit UNRRA, die, so wird argumentiert, für den Film von zentraler Bedeutung ist. Auch die Anspielungen des Films auf den Amerikanismus, den Zionismus, auf Fragen der Geschlechtergleichheit und auf die Kriegserfahrungen von Kindern werden untersucht.


Sharif Gemie y Louise Rees. Representando y reconstryendo identidades durante la postguerra mundial: los refugiados, la UNRRA, y Los ángeles perdidos (The Search, 1948) de Fred Zinnemann.

Este artículo analiza la película de Fred Zinnemann Los ángeles perdidos (1948), situándola en el contexto postbélico de las Personas Desplazadas en Europa. Nos centramos en el tratamiento de la UNRRA que hace Zinnemann, como uno de los elementos centrales del film. También prestamos atención a las referencias que aparecen respecto al americanismo, al sionismo, a las diferencias de género y a las experiencias de los niños durante la guerra.

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1. On ‘planning-mindedness’, see Reinisch Jessica, “Introduction: Relief in the Aftermath of War”, Journal of Contemporary History, 43 (2008), pp. 371404; see also the critique of this special issue by Gemie Sharif and Humbert Laure, “Comment: Writing History in the Aftermath of ‘Relief’: Some Comments on ‘Relief on the Aftermath of War’ ”, Journal of Contemporary History, 44 (2009), pp. 309318.

2. We recognize the shortcomings of each of these terms, and in a longer work we would debate definitions, implications, and meanings. As will be seen, in this article we shall be discussing issues within the context set by UNRRA, and so will be largely accepting its definition of displaced persons.

3. This tendency is still present in more recent films: Les Egarés (2003) also begins with shots of refugees, but develops into an unusual story of the sexual passion between a dispossessed young man and a conservative young mother. One could speculate that this narrative refers, indirectly, to concerns about the growing social chasm in contemporary France between the dispossessed populations of the housing estates and mainstream society.

4. On the initial reception of the work of Primo Levi, see Consonni Manuela, “The Written Memoir: Italy, 1945–47”, in D. Bankier (ed.), The Jews Are Coming Back (New York [etc.], 2005), pp. 169185.

5. Alpers Benjamin L., “This is the Army: Imagining a Democratic Military in World War II”, in Gordon Martel (ed.), The World War Two Reader (New York [etc.], 2004), pp. 145179.

6. Source: at page; accessed 25 March 2010.

7. On the initiatives taken by refugees themselves, see Domergue Lucienne, “La presse espagnole de l'exil à Toulouse et dans le midi de la France”, in her edited collection L'Exil Républicain (Toulouse, 1999), pp. 207224; and Domergue L. and Laffranque M., “Les espagnols exilés à Toulouse et la culture: l'exemple des libertaires”, also in L'Exil Républicain, pp. 191–206; Llorens Vicente, Estudios y Ensayos sobre el exilio republicano de 1939 (Seville, 2006), pp. 129136.

8. The idea of DPs as a wandering mass is used throughout A Defeated People (Crown Film Unit, 1946). The documentary is equally negative about DPs as about German civilians who the voiceover enthusiastically describes as having eyes “like dead rabbits”.

9. Neo-realist films are often described in terms of “film consciousness”, with directors from the genre motivated by the impact on the viewer of viewing lives represented in film. The greatest single influence on directors such as Rossellini and De Sica was the mood of anti-fascism that marked the period immediately following the end of World War II. They wanted to highlight the impact of the war on the everyday lives of ordinary people. For a further discussion on the Italian neo-realist movement, please see Ucnik L., “Aesthetics or Ethics? Italian Neorealism and the Czechoslovak New Wave Cinema”, in L.E. Ruberto and K.M. Wilson (eds), Italian Neorealism and Global Cinema (Detroit, MI, 2007), pp. 5472.

10. Zinnemann Fred, “Different Perspective”, in Richard Koszarski (ed.), Hollywood Directors, 1941–1976 (Oxford, 1977), pp.144147, 144, originally published in Sight and Sound (Fall, 1948).

11. Robertson J.C., The Casablanca Man: The Cinema of Michael Curtiz (London, 1993), p. 79.

12. Silke J.R., “Zinnemann Talks Back”, in G. Miller (ed.), Fred Zinnemann Interviews (Jackson, MI, 2005), pp. 926, 19.

13. Source Internet Movie Database at page

14. Movie review of The Search by Bosley Crowther of The New York Times published 24 March 1948, The New York Times Online, at, accessed 22 March 2010.

15. See the full article from Life dated 5 April 1948, at and the article “Cinema: The Best of 1948” at Time Online at page,9171,799651,00.html.

16. Information contained in the MGM Press Book published in Britain in 1949; British Film Institute archive.

17. Paul Holt's review of The Search, The Herald, 28 October 1949.

18. Review of The Search, The Times, 29 October 1949, author unknown.

19. Review of The Search, The News of the World, 30 October 1949, author unknown.

20. Miller, Fred Zinnemann Interviews, p. vi.

21. See notes on Montgomery Clift's career at Internet Movie Database at page, accessed 25 March 2010.

22. See Aline MacMahon's career at, accessed 25 March 2010.

23. See Ivan Jandl's mini-biography at Internet Movie Database, accessed 25 March 2010.

24. Baron Lawrence, “The First Wave of American ‘Holocaust’ Films, 1945–1959”, American Historical Review, 115 (2010), pp. 90114.

25. Etheridge Brian C., “In Search of Germans: Contested Germany in the Production of The Search”, Journal of Popular Film & Television (2006), at http://news.movieretriever./com/article-1G1-151055458/search-germans-contested-germany.html, accessed 19 February 2010.

26. Zinnemann, “Different Perspective”, p. 145.

27. When analysing key scenes from films the technique of “reading” film is utilized. James Monaco states that film is like a language communicating meaning through its mise-en-scène, or constructed elements of a shot, including lighting, camera angle, gesture, and body language. He suggests that in analysing the connotative meaning, alternative meaning can be drawn from key scenes. This article will utilize parts of this technique. His formula for the “reading” technique is outlined in Monaco James, How To Read a Film (Oxford, 2000).

28. Zinnemann later explained how he found it difficult to overcome Jandl's own “emotional block”. He employed a coach to help him learn his lines by rote as Jandl was unable to speak English. This could have contributed to the slight clumsiness in some of Jandl's scenes; Zinnemann F., A Life in The Movies (New York, 1992), p. 69.

29. Phillips G., “Fred Zinnemann talking to Gene Phillips, 1973”, in Miller, Fred Zinnemann Interviews, p. 43. In this period, voiceovers were normally spoken by men.

30. P.H., Review of The Search, Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1949, p. 195; also Sight and Sound, January 1950, p. 21 which describes the commentary as “distracting”.

31. Etheridge, “In Search of Germans” discusses this point at some length.

32. Aline MacMahon actually shadowed one of UNRRA's female directors who Zinnemann used to form the general pattern for MacMahon's screen role: see the MGM Press Book released in Britain in 1949; BFI Archive.

33. UNRRA Archives (New York), S-0425-0036-10, Williams H. Wells to Zinnemann, 4 March 1947.

34. Pettiss Susan T. and Taylor Lynne, After the Shooting Stopped: The Story of an UNRRA Welfare Worker in Germany 1945–1947 (Crewe, 2004), p. 202.

35. Ibid., footnote to p. 202.

36. MGM Press Book, 1949.

37. Taha Zahra estimates that in September 1945 UNRRA was responsible for over 6 million DPs in Europe; there remained a further 7 million allied DPs in the Soviet zones of Germany and Austria, and 12–13 million Germans who had either fled or were expelled from eastern Europe. See Zahra Taha, “Lost Children: Displacement, Family, and Nation in Postwar Europe”, Journal of Modern History, 81 (2009), pp. 4586, 45.

38. Both the authors of this article missed this point in their first viewing of the film.

39. Brinkley Alan, “World War II and American Liberalism”, in L.A. Erenburg, and S.E. Hirsch (eds), The War in American Culture: Society and Consciousness during World War II (Chicago, IL [etc.], 1996), pp. 313330, 322–324.

40. Buchanan Andrew, “ ‘Good Morning, Pupil!’: American Representations of Italianness and the Occupation of Italy, 1943–45”, Journal of Contemporary History, 43 (2008), pp. 217240.

41. Hirschmann Ira A., The Embers Still Burn: An Eye-Witness View of the Postwar Ferment in Europe and the Middle East and Our Disastrous Get-Soft-With-Germany Policy (New York, 1949), p. 120.

42. Cited in Stephan A., The Americanization of Europe: Culture, Diplomacy and Anti-Americanism after 1945 (New York, 2008), pp. 12.

43. Ibid., p. 23.

44. O'Connor B., Anti-Americanism: History, Causes, Themes (Oxford, 2007), p. 190. See also Gienow-Hecht Jessica C.E., “Always Blame the Americans: Anti-Americanism in the Twentieth Century”, American Historical Review, 111 (2006), pp. 10671091, and Armus Seth D., “The Eternal Enemy: Emmanuel Mounier's Esprit and French Anti-Americanism”, French Historical Studies, 24 (2001), pp. 271304.

45. Stephan , Americanization of Europe, p. 54.

46. Ibid., pp. 9, 70.

47. Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1949, p. 195.

48. Stephan , Americanization of Europe, p. 73.

49. O'Connor , Anti-Americanism: History, Causes, Themes, p. 198.

50. Given the prominent presence of east European Jews in the film, one might have expected to also hear Yiddish spoken. As far as we can tell, this is not the case.

51. It is interesting that whilst Zinnemann chooses to concentrate on the psychological effects of war in The Search, he moves to depict the physical effects of the war on the “indestructible” American GIs in his later film, The Men (1950), which stars Marlon Brando as a World War II veteran coming to terms with losing the use of his legs.

52. Concern that Nazism was synonymous with Germans was evident across America. In his New York Post columns, Orson Welles was openly critical of the American relief effort in Germany and the reforms taking place in postwar Europe. He stated that rehabilitation, “would not eradicate the spectre of Fascism” – an idea he also discusses in his film The Stranger (1946) in which he plays Kindler, a notorious Nazi who has adopted an American identity and married the daughter of a Supreme Court justice. For a full discussion of this film, see Higham C., The Films of Orson Welles (London, 1974), pp. 100110.

53. In fact, American policy did change in June 1948, when the DP Act was passed, and some substantial (but controlled) immigration was permitted. See Daniels Roger, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in America Life (New York, 1991), pp. 328332.

54. Wilson Francesca M., Aftermath (London, 1947), p. 174.

55. Idem, Advice to Relief Workers: Based on Personal Experience in the Field (London, 1945), p. 9.

56. Hitchcock William I., The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe (New York, 2008), p. 222.

57. UNRRA, Helping the People to Help Themselves: The Story of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (London, 1944), p. 19.

58. UNRRA, Fifty Facts about UNRRA (London, January 1946), unpaginated.

59. Pettiss and Taylor , After the Shooting Stopped, p. 62.

60. Reilly Jo, “Cleaner, Carer and Occasional Dance Partner? Writing Women Back into the Liberation of Bergen-Belsen”, in Tony Kushner, David Cesarani, Jo Reilly, and Colin Richmond (eds), Belsen in History and Memory (London, 1997), pp. 149161. The classic statement on this matter remains Margaret R. Higonnet and Patrice Higonnet L.R., “The Double Helix”, in Margaret Randolph Higonnet, Jane Jenson, Sonya Michel, and Margaret Collins Weitz (eds), Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars (New Haven, CT, 1987), pp. 3147.

61. Brinkley, “World War II and American Liberalism”.

62. Pettiss and Taylor , After the Shooting Stopped, p. 203.

63. Collis Robert and Hogerzeil Han, Straight On (London, 1947), p. 93.

64. Hulmes Kathryn, The Wild Place (London [etc.], 1954), pp. 6, 9.

65. UNRRA Archives (New York), S-0425-0036-10, letter from William H. Wells to Zinnemann, 4 March 1947.

66. Hulmes , Wild Place, p. 50.

67. Hitchcock , Bitter Road to Freedom, p. 219.

68. See, amongst others, Pettis and Taylor, After the Shooting Stopped, and Hulmes, Wild Place.

69. For example, UNRRA, Welfare Guide to United Nations Nationals Displaced in Germany (London, 1945), p. 14.

70. Hitchcock, Bitter Road to Freedom, pp. 196–197; Goedde Petra, GIs and Germans: Culture, Gender, and Foreign Relations, 1945–49 (New Haven, CT [etc.], 2003), pp. 8384. In addition, Koshar states that 50 to 90 per cent of male soldiers went “fratting” with German women, and by 1946 there had been more than 2,000 marriages between American soldiers and German women; R. Koshar, German Travel Cultures: Leisure, Consumption and Culture (New York, 2000), p. 189.

71. Winkler A.M., Home Front USA: America During World War II (Miami, FL, 2000), p. 31.

72. Information from the Internet Movie Database at page, accessed 25 April 2010.

73. This theme is considered in Etheridge, “In Search of Germans”.

74. This could be in part due to the regulations surrounding the depiction of love and sexual relationships in Hollywood films which were set out in the Motion Picture Production Code, also known as the Hays Code after its creator Will H. Hays. Its recommendations governed the studios from the early 1930s to the early 1950s. The code stipulated that the sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld and references to forms of sexual relations such as adultery and prostitution could not be explicit, justified, or glamorized. Scenes of passion were not to be introduced unless essential to the plot and excessive and lustful kissing were to be avoided. Discussions relating to the Hays Code are in Bernstein M. (ed.), Controlling Hollywood: Censorship and Regulation in the Studio Era (London, 2000), pp. 7690, and Nelmes J., (ed.), An Introduction to Film Studies (London, 2003), pp. 4143.

75. Quoted in Brinkley , “World War II and American Liberalism”, pp. 74–75.

76. Ibid., p. 75.

77. Curiously, in From Here to Eternity, Zinnemann did present a far more challenging picture of the social hierarchy at work within the US Army.

78. Zinnemann , “Different Perspective”, p. 145.

79. Hirschmann , The Embers Still Burn, p. 161.

80. Goedde , GIs and Germans, pp. 130–132.

81. Pettiss and Taylor , After the Shooting Stopped, p. 129.

82. Duchesne-Cripps A.M., The Mental Outlook of the Displaced Persons as Seen Through Welfare Work in Displaced Persons Camps (Cambridge, 1955), p. 85.

83. Gollancz Victor, In Darkest Germany (London, 1947), p. 29. This fear was not entirely groundless: one of the last strategies developed by the Nazis consisted in the formation of guerrilla groups recruited from the Hitler Youth. See Biddiscombe Perry, Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944–1946 (Cardiff, 1998), pp. 6085.

84. On this point, see the valuable analysis of Zahra Taha; “Lost Children”, p. 45.

85. Cohen Boaz, “Representing the Experiences of Children in the Holocaust: Children's Survivor Testimonies Published in Fun Letsten Hurbn, Munich, 1946–49”, in A.J. Patt and M. Berkowitz (eds), ‘We are Here’: New Approaches to Displaced Persons in Postwar Germany (Detroit, MI, 2010), pp. 7497, 94.

86. This issue appeared in scores of films directly following the end of the war. Orson Welles's Oscar-nominated The Stranger (1946) follows an investigator from the War Crimes Commission as he attempts to track down a notorious Nazi, Kindler, who has settled in Connecticut. Kindler murders two people (one, another Nazi, and the other an innocent American woman and her dog) before he kills himself. Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) stars Ingrid Bergman as a woman whose German father has been convicted of treason against the US. FBI agent, Cary Grant, recruits her to spy on a group of Nazis who have adopted false identities and are living in America.

87. These images do resemble the actual practices of the allied armies, in which soldiers would adopt lost children as mascots for their units. See Pettiss and Taylor, After the Shooting Stopped, p. 118.

88. See Zahra, “Lost Children”.

89. See Grossmann Anita, “Victims, Villains and Survivors: Gendered Perceptions and Self-Perceptions of Jewish Displaced Persons in Occupied Postwar Germany”, Journal of the History of Sexuality, 11 (2002), pp. 291318.

90. Hitchcock's Bitter Road to Freedom provides a useful survey of these issues.

91. Kushner Tony, Cesarani David, Reilly Jo, and Richmond Colin, “Approaching Belsen: An Introduction”, in idem, Belsen in History and Memory, pp. 3–36, 13.

92. Steve Reich's sombre composition “Different Trains” (1988) suggests something inherently sinister about trains themselves in this period.

93. Baron argues that full American public awareness of the Jewish ordeal only developed during the late 1950s when the term “Holocaust” became synonymous with Hitler's eradication of the Jews; see Baron, “First Wave of American ‘Holocaust’ Films”.

94. Here, Zinnemann has employed a classic neo-realist technique. In Rossellini's Journey to Italy (1954) we see him mirror the breakdown of a marriage against a ruined, rubble-filled landscape.

95. Zinnemann, A Life in The Movies, p. 11.

96. Ibid., p. 55.

97. See Hitchcock , Bitter Road to Freedom, pp. 310–332; Königseder Angelika and Wetzel Juliane, Waiting for Hope: Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany, John A. Broadwin (transl.) (Evanston, IL, 2001), pp. 2128; and Cohen Martin, “Culture and Remembrance; Jewish Ambivalence and Antipathy to the History of Resistance”, in R. Rohrlich (ed.), Resisting the Holocaust (Oxford, 1998), pp. 1938.

98. For a discussion of this theme in a British context, see Kushner Tony, “From ‘This Belsen Business’ to ‘Shoah Business’: History, Memory and Heritage, 1945–2005”, in Suzanne Bardgett and David Cesarani (eds), Belsen 1945: New Historical Perspectives (London, 2006), pp. 189216.

99. This example is analysed in some detail in Caestecker Frank, “The Reintegration of Jewish Survivors into Belgian Society, 1943–47”, in Bankier, The Jews Are Coming Back, pp. 72–107.

100. See Kochavi Arieh J., Post-Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States and Jewish Refugees, 1945–48 (Chapel Hill, NC, 2001), particularly pp. 37–43.

101. Pettiss and Taylor , After the Shooting Stopped, pp. 62, 125.

102. Kolinsky Eva, After the Holocaust: Jewish Survivors in Germany after 1945 (London, 2004), p. 92.

103. Bensoussan Georges, Israel, le sionisme et la destruction des Juifs d'Europe (Paris, 2008), p. 72. Kathryn Hulmes estimates that in 1947–1948 less than one-fifth of the DPs in the American zone were Jewish, and complains about the amount of publicity given to this minority; Hulmes, The Wild Place, p. 179.

104. Winkler , Home Front USA, pp. 84–85.

105. Tichenor D.J., Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (Oxford: 2002), p. 183.

106. Ibid., p. 182.

107. Baron, “First Wave of American ‘Holocaust’ Films”.

108. Ibid.

109. Phillips G.D., Exiles in Hollywood: Major European Film Directors in America (Bethlehem, PA [etc.], 1998), p. 149.

110. See note 23, relating to James Monaco's definition of mise-en-scène.

111. Orson Welles also believed in the use of cinema as an educative tool. In The Stranger (1946) he used actual newsreel footage taken during the liberation of several of the concentration camps. See the interview published online at Old Hollywood, accessible via page, accessed 15 February 2011.

112. Ford Richard, UNRRA in Europe, 1945–1947 (London, 1947), p. 9.

113. Greene Graham, The Third Man (London, 2005 [1955]), p. 32.

114. See Sharif Gemie, Fiona Reid, and Laure Humbert (with Louise Rees), Outcast Europe: Refugees and Relief Workers in an Era of Total War, 1936–48 (London, forthcoming, 2011–2012).

* The authors would like to thank Patricia Clark, Brian Ireland, Célia Keren, Daryl Perrins, and Susanne Schrafstetter for their useful comments on earlier versions of this paper, and to acknowledge the assistance of The Leverhulme Trust.

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