“As matters now stand, we [US Army guarding DP camps] appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. ”
“The popular perception about the horrors of the Holocaust is that they ended with the surrender of Germany. In reality, the passive neglect of the victorious Allies, while not as devastating as the active persecution at the hands of the Nazis, proved a prolongation of many of the same inhumane conditions.”
After the war most displaced persons (DPs) returned to their homes. Of course most returnees, survivors of the war, were non-Jews. The few Jews who put the past aside and attempted to return home were often met with violence from townspeople now occupying previously Jewish homes and businesses. Most survivors, given the opportunity, would have chosen to leave Europe and its killing fields behind but after, as before Auschwitz, who would accept them? The British White Pater barred entry to Palestine, and America was as determined as ever to keep the Jews out. But, as it later became clear, the ban only applied to Jews. German immigrants, many of them former Nazis war criminals, were assisted by America and Britain to settle in those and other countries.
Walter Dornberger, Friedrich Olbricht, Wilhelm von Leeb, and von Braun at Peenemünde, 1941(Wikipedia)
And so Jewish DP’s languished in camps, some for years, waiting for the birth of Israel. What were previously concentration camps and even death factories were now, fenced in with barbed wire, DP camps. Only the uniforms and language of their guards was different. As described by President Truman’s representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, Earl Harrison,
"As matters now stand, we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy."
But why expect the behavior America’s occupation forces in post-war Europe to depart from previous bureaucratic apathy, continuing popular antisemitism?
Background to anti-DP sentiment, Social
At the popular level antisemitism was part of western society, and the United States went through periods of more or less discrimination beginning in the 17th Century. It intensified during the Civil War both in the north and south. After the war General Grant famously singled our and expelled Jewish “carpetbaggers” from his territory while leaving Christians to continue to conduct business as usual. Antisemitism increased towards the end of the 19th Century as Jews arrived in greater numbers fleeing Russian pogroms. From the end of the 19th century and for decades following the Holocaust antisemitism remained high. A poll taken in 1938 and repeated in 1945 found that,
“41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had "too much power in the United States," and this figure rose to 58 percent by 1945.”
More than the president, Congress represents the better barometer of the mood of the American electorate. In 1921 Congress passed an anti-immigrant bill designed to keep “undesirables” out. Three years later the bill was improved to assure its primary target population, “the Jews,” would be most affected.
“In Congress, attacks on Jews could be so vicious that a Jewish Congressman from New York, Michael Edelstein, collapsed and died from a heart attack after hearing [and responding to] a Nazi-style diatribe from Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi. Anti-Semitism in the United States climbed to very high levels in the 1930''s and according to Elmo Roper, a leading pollster of that era, reached its historic peak in 1944.”
In 2012 Representative Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader and the only Jew in the House of Representatives helped defeat an incumbent who had said that, “Cantor would not be “saved” because he is Jewish.”
Interviewed by Politco Canter agreed that antisemitism represents the “darker side” of the United States:
“Anti-Semitism — and racism,” [the congressman said] “are lingering problems among the House GOP generally… [it is the] “darker side”… I think that all of us know that in this country, we’ve not always gotten it right in terms of racial matters, religious matters, whatever.”
“’We’re talking about the House Republican Caucus, not America, [the interviewer] pushed.’ Cantor then sat in silence, grimacing.”
Background to anti-DP sentiment, Military
Leonard Dinnerstein noted in his review of Joseph Bendersky’s, “The “Jewish Threat:" Anti-Semitic Politics of the U. S. Army that attitudes towards Jews by the military “reflected the values and attitudes of the dominant culture.” Bendersky notes that those attitudes encompassed also politics where “some officers [were] members of the isolationist America First movement.” In addition to being “isolationist,” America First strongly opposed President Roosevelt for reelection in 1940, promoted Charles Lindbergh for Republican candidate to oppose him. Many Army officers, as was Lindbergh, made little effort to hide their admiration for Hitler and National Socialism.
Officers at the U.S. Army War College were instructed by such racists as Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy:
“After the outbreak of war in 1939, Stoddard studied Nazi eugenics policies for several months in Germany. Since Nazi racial anthropologists and eugenicists had long studied Stoddard as affirmation of their own ideas, he was able to meet with… Himmler and von Ribbentrop… Stoddard returned an avid defender of German racial hygiene programs…” (The “Jewish Threat”, p. 262)
Dinnerstein provides an example of instruction provided by a prominent military instructor to War College officers:
"For years we have been breeding and accumulating a mass of inferior people, still in the minority it is true, but tools ready at hand for those seeking to strike at the very vitals of our institutions. Liberty is a sacred thing, but...it ceases to be liberty when under its banner minorities force their will on the majority." -- General George Van Horn Moseley (West Point 1899; War College 1911), 1932
The reference to Jews and Communism, not openly stated, is hard to miss in Mosely’s lecture. If American officers learned at the feet of such as Stoddard and General Moseley it should not surprise that the graduates shared the socially-dominant antisemitic views of their teachers, and the country at large.
“In the military, many high up officers used words such as “kikes,” and openly joked about antisemitic stereotypes… Jewish officers expressed frustration over the antisemitic attitudes in the upper ranks.“
Military Intelligence [MID] followed closely such activities by Jews as rallies and Zionist conferences. These were categorized: “subversive situations” (Bendersky , p. 294):
“When 500 Jewish rabbis traveled to Washington in 1943 to petition the president and Congress to “rescue the Jews of Europe,” army counterintelligence agents followed their every move, even filming part of the events. As late as 1944 the army opened a new file on “Jewish Groups.” Its first entry, drawn from “reliable” MID and FBI sources, claimed Communist Control” among “high leaders” in the B’nai B’rith who “dictate the policies… in conformance with the Party line.”
Military Intelligence sought to influence government policy, domestic and foreign. At a conference at Yale Universtiy in July, 1942,
“G-2 singled out for serious consideration winning over the Muslims through a “very bold” propaganda campaign in which the “United States [would] promise the Arab world the end of Zionism… all immigration would stop… some Jewish-occupied land would be returned to Arabs. The Near Eastern Section of the State Department concurred.” (p. 314)
The Army and Jewish Displaced Persons (DPs):
“…relations between the Jewish DPs and the Allied military authorities soon became strained. Curfews were imposed and the DPs were given limited rations. Many had to wear concentration camp uniforms and they were often housed in camps… sometimes even with Nazi collaborators.”
Albert Hutler, a Jewish-American officer in charge of DPs described the condition of Jewish refugees under US Army control housed in what previously were concentration camps,
“still surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards… I have seen American officers who think nothing of hitting a DP, who tell the Germans that DPs are scum, who treat DPs as inferior people. (Bendersky, p. 351)
“As one officer said, ‘The DPs have food and clothes and a camp to live in. What more to they want? They should be grateful. If they are not satisfied let them go back where they came from.’” (p. 354)
While the Jews were forced to live in concentration camps, German’s displaced by the war, America’s defeated enemy, were favored for housing. Antisemitism by the U.S. military was a reality of the occupation that extended also to profiteering in food and medicine stolen from the refugees and sold on the black market resulting in death by starvation and sickness for DP-inmates under their supervision.
Föhrenwald was one of the largest DP camps in Europe. Opened in June, 1945 it was the last DP camp and only closed in 1957. During the war it housed slave laborers.
In 1945 Professor Robert Hilliard was a 19 year Jewish private serving in Eisenhower’s occupation forces in Germany. American forces occupying the defeated country were far friendlier and accommodating towards the defeated “clean and cultured enemy” than they were with the victims of the defeated nation. Destitute, starved and possessing only the rags they wore upon liberation, to the Americans the Jews were loud, demanding and dirty, stealing food in town to replace that sold by the GI’s guarding them. Displaced Germans were favored with housing in town while the survivors would be forced to remain for years rotting in those over-crowded concentration camps renamed Displaced Person (DP) centers. Outraged Hilliard and another Jewish soldier, 25 year-old Edward Herman, complained up the chain of command. And when their complaint was disregarded, took their protest to the press. When press reports reached the White House President Truman dispatched Earl G. Harrison, U.S. representative on the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees, to Europe to investigate.
Harrison confirmed the abuses and in his report to the president recommended changes to improve the lot of the Jews. One recommended change involved the policy of forcing the survivors to remain in extermination camps:
“…so long as we continued to keep Jews, for example, in camps under our guard instead of S.S. troops as formerly, we would appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.”
Responding to Harrison’s charges General Eisenhower did not deny the conditions as described, instead shifted blame for DP mistreatment and death to the survivors themselves:
“The assertion that our military guards are now substituting for SS troops is definitely misleading. One reason for limiting the numbers permitted to leave our assembly centers was depredation and banditry by displaced persons themselves.”
But Harrison would have none of it:
“One part of General Eisenhower''s report is definitely misleading. He states that at the time of my report there were "perhaps 1,000 Jews still in their former concentration camps." What difference does it make whether they were in their former concentration camps if they are continued in camps?”
“After liberation, the Allies were prepared to repatriate Jewish displaced persons to their homes, but many DP’s refused or felt unable to return. The Allies deliberated and procrastinated for years before resolving the emigration crisis… Earl Harrison, in his August 1945 report to President Truman, recommended mass population transfer from Europe and resettlement in British-controlled Palestine or the United States.”
As for conditions in the camps, things gradually improved thanks to the outrage of Privates Hilliard and Herman. But not before thousands of survivors of German gas chambers died needlessly as internees of American DP camps, the final victims of the Holocaust:
“In 1948, following intense lobbying by the American Jewish community, Congress passed legislation to admit 400,000 DPs to the United States of which, because of entry requirements favoring “agricultural laborers,” barely 80,000, or about one of five, were Holocaust survivors. The rest were Christians from Eastern Europe and the Baltics.”
In 1952, responding to the threat of Holocaust survivors “flooding” America, an unrepentant Congress passed H.R. 5678 reaffirming the antisemitic 1924 Immigration Exclusion Act by votes of 278 to 113 in the House, 57 to 26 in the Senate. In March, 1953 Representative McCarran, one of the bills sponsors, described the Act on the House floor:
“I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished.”
The speech would have been well-received in 1938 Germany. Fifteen years later, the Holocaust but eight years past, an American congressman in the halls of the House of Representatives was yet comfortable to extol the ideal of the blond-haired, blue-eyed eugenics dream for an Aryan racial stock for the United States.