At the end of World War II, there were many Europeans who had been displaced by war. On June 25, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act into effect. This act allowed resettlement of displaced Europeans in the United States.
On this date in 1949, the Bismarck Tribune reported that the first displaced person had arrived in Bismarck. Milda Rekis, originally of Latvia, was an orphan and a refugee. During her youth, she had lived with her parents near Riga, where her father owned a shop that sold homemade linen. The shop operated like a factory, except employees made the linen at their own homes.
Milda’s life started to change when her mother died in 1938. The Russians invaded the country in 1940, and her father died a year later, leaving her parentless in an occupied land. After four years, she fled to Saxony in Germany. The Russians eventually took over that area as well, and she fled again into Bavaria, which would later be occupied by Americans. She left Bavaria on January 20, 1949 and arrived in Bismarck on February 13, where, through the work of the National Lutheran Council, she lived with her sponsors, Dr. and Mrs. Brink.
Milda had two brothers—one was in the English zone in Germany, and the other, she believed, was still in Latvia, hiding from the Russians. She hoped to be reunited with them eventually. In the meantime, she was settling into her new life and trying to forget the bad experiences.
When asked about her plans, she told the Tribune she would work and spend her money. Then, in a more serious vein, said, “I shall send food parcels to Europe for there are some people who really are very badly in need.”
This was how Milda started her new life in America—as the first displaced person from Europe to come to Bismarck, but as one of almost 400,000 Europeans who would eventually resettle in the United States under the Displaced Persons Act.
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Thursday, The Bismarck Tribune, February 17, 1949 – p3