By chance, this week is the 70th anniversary of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. This bill was President Truman’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe after World War II. People were piling up in displaced person camps with nowhere to go, and they were heading for year 4.
Many were stateless refugees. They would not return to their homelands under Soviet communist control after the war. (They were right—those enticed to return were shot on arrival or deported to the Gulag. Why did the Soviets want them back?)
The Lithuanian Group on Facebook posted a link to Harry Truman’s statement, June 25, 1948. He says he signed with “great reluctance” because “the bill is flagrantly discriminatory.”
Truman was inaugurated in 1945 and urged immediate Congressional action on the “world tragedy.”
What were the shenanigans?
Congress waited 18 months to act. After three extensions, a Senate report came out. A bill was presented “without a single public hearing.” A compromise bill was passed IN THE LAST DAYS of the session. Truman: “If I refused to sign this bill now, there would be no legislation on behalf of displaced persons until the next session of the Congress.”
The bill allowed 200,000 DP’s to be admitted to the USA, along with 2,000 Czechs and 3,000 orphans. At the end of 1947, there were more than 600,000 people in the camps. This was a generous and welcome allotment for the USA.
There were cut-off dates for ELIGIBILITY that, in effect, excluded Jewish and some Catholic displaced persons. Those eligible had to have entered the camps before December 22, 1945. Many Jews, and Catholics fleeing communism, arrived after that date.
(About 250,000 Jews lived in the camps. Catholics were 50-55% of the camp population in 1947. 20-25% were Protestant.) Truman: 90% of Jewish DPs are excluded based on the date, the other 10% may not meet other restrictions.
40% of those allowed to enter had to come from areas “annexed by a foreign power”—building in a bias for people from the Baltics and Eastern Europeans. (Who happened to be whiter than others…)
This is what is called “structural discrimination.” Rather than say, NO JEWS, AND KEEP THE CATHOLICS OUT TOO, or WE WANT WHITE PROTESTANTS WHO ARE SKILLED, the Congress used DATES as a cut-off. Clever, huh?
Truman says: “I hope that this bitter disappointment will not turn to despair.”
I don’t know if his recommended amendments for greater fairness and humanity made it into law.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: My parents made the cut and immigrated with two toddlers in August, 1949, based on this law, after four years in the camps. Lucky, after being very unlucky.
ALSO, FYI: I met a Tibetan woman in Nepal who had lived in a refugee camp for thirty years. She was safe.
More statistics on the Refugee Problem Left by World War II at http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre1948041400