Traditional Estonian metal brooch with engraved design, an example of Estonian craftswork that was created by a displaced person at a US Zone displaced persons camp in Germany in July 1949.

This brooch was presented to Esma Banner on her birthday, with the date '28.07.1949' engraved on the reverse. She received it while working as a secretary and employment and welfare officer for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), and later the International Refugee Organization (IRO) at Displaced Persons camps in the US Zone of Germany after World War II from 1945 to 1951. Esma was one of 39 Australians who went to Germany to assist with repatriation and re-settlement of refugees displaced by the war. Initially created as temporary processing centres, the camps soon became longer term sites of accommodation, employment, education and recereation for refugees who could not, or did not want to be, repatriated to their countries of origin.

Esma acquired examples of textiles, woodwork, leatherwork and other traditional craftwork from displaced persons who made them from predominantly recycled and donated materials. While many traditional hand crafts were made out of necessity, others were made as a means to pass time, to express cultural identity, and occasionally to sell or exhibit. During the course of her time in Germany, Esma sent these objects home to her family in Australia.

Physical Description

Circular brooch in convex shape with small opening in the centre. On the brooch are engraved floral, star and cross pattern designs and bordered with stamped indents. A metal pin is welded across the hole, possibly for attaching a ribbon. There is a pin across the back of the brooch for attaching the brooch to clothes.


The Esma Banner World War II UN Worker Collection is an extensive and diverse collection of objects, documents, photographs and archival material which explores the experiences of an Australian woman working for the United Nations assisting in the relief and rehabilitation of millions of displaced people in Europe after World War II. Esma Banner served with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and later with the International Refugee Organization (IRO) at displaced persons' camps in Germany from 1946 to 1951. She was one of fewer than 40 Australians employed by UNRRA and IRO during this period.

This collection recounts the often untold story of immigration from the perspective of a migration worker and enables the documentation of many themes relating to post World War II migration including life in the displaced person camps, international refugee management, creativity and cultural maintenance, and the political complexities of post-war resettlement. Of particular note are the craft items created by refugees living in displaced persons' camps. This collection holds a variety of men's and women's work, thus providing a significant insight into life within the camps. These objects also serve as valuable examples of cultural practices and traditional skills.

This collection and accompanying documentation presents a unique perspective of the post-World War II relief effort. Esma's diaries and letters in particular offer her personal insights and observations and demonstrate how civilians contributed to the reconstruction effort in Europe. In addition, these items add to the emerging collections of material describing women's involvements during times of conflict, as well as the larger narratives that illustrate Australia's wartime experience. After World War II hundreds of thousands of homeless, stateless or displaced people lived in camps before resettling in Western countries including Australia. This collection retains ongoing cultural relevance to these large migrant communities across Victoria and Australia. With the population of post-war displaced persons' survivors aging, the collection contributes to preserve their stories and experiences as part of a greater Australian migration narrative.

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