The United States and the Holocaust: Postwar American Response to the Holocaust

Reference: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Between 1945 and 1951, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the United States (along with Great Britain) was the guardian of more than one million displaced persons (DPs) in the occupied zones of Germany, Austria, Italy, and Czechoslovakia, including 250,000 Jews at the peak period in late 1945. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency and various private relief agencies assisted the western Allied powers in meeting this enormous challenge.

Until September 1945, Jewish and non-Jewish DPs resided in the same camps. This setting sometimes required Jewish victims of the Holocaust to reside with former perpetrators or with other people who expressed antisemitic sentiments painfully reminiscent of the Holocaust. Jewish DPs, many of whom felt unsafe, protested these living conditions.

Many Jewish DPs also resented harsh and insensitive treatment they received from some US military personnel. The practice of permitting German police to enter the camps to search for contraband reflected insensitivity to the psychological trauma of recent Holocaust survivors. Protests about the treatment of Jews by US Army personnel in DP camps located in Bavaria induced President Harry S Truman to send Earl Harrison, Dean of the Law School at the University of Pennsylvania, to the US occupation zone in Germany to investigate.

Harrison’s report, filed in August 1945, led Truman to order the separation of Jews from non-Jews, and more sensitive treatment of Jewish survivors in the DP camps. American authorities then facilitated significant improvements in living conditions, including allowing private Jewish relief agencies to operate in the DP camps. They also gave greater autonomy to residents.

President Truman supported more open immigration policy for Jewish DPs. Under authority of an executive order, between 1946 and 1948, 16,000 Jewish refugees entered the United States. With the passage of the Displaced Persons Act in 1948, Congress granted approximately 400,000 visas to immigrants above and beyond the existing quota system. 80,000 of these visas were issued to Jewish DPs.

Further Reading

Breitman, Richard, and Alan Kraut, American Refugee Policy and European Jewry, 1933-1945. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Breitman, Richard, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

Feingold, Henry L., Bearing Witness: How America and Its Jews Responded to the Holocaust. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1995.

Gurock, Jeffrey S., ed. America, American Jews, and the Holocaust. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Hamerow, Theodor. While We Watched: Europe, America, and the Holocaust. New York: Norton, 2008.

Lipstadt, Deborah E., Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1933-1945. New York: Free Press, 1986.

Neufeld, Michael J., and Michael Berenbaum, editors. The Bombing of Auschwitz: Should the Allies Have Attempted It?New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

Wyman, David S. Paper Walls: America and the Refugee Crisis, 1938-1941. New York: Pantheon Books, 1985.

Wyman, David S. The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945. New York: The New Press, 1998.