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.”
 
Introduction: Survivors and the American DP camps, 1945–57
 
Three days after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Rosensaft was elected head of the first Jewish DP committee. Similar committees were set up in other DP camps. However, 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.” 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. The result was death by starvation and sickness for DP-inmates under their supervision.


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Map of US-administered Föhrenwald DP camp, Bavaria, Germany, 1945-57 (Wikipedia
 
Föhrenwald was one of the largest DP camps in Europe. Opened in June, 1945 it was the last DP camp to close, twelve years later, 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, but 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 soldier, 25 year-old Edward Herman, complained up the chain of command. And when their complaint was disregarded, took their protest to the press. Public disclosure reached the White House and 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 such involved the policy of the military forcing the survivors to remain in the liberated 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 the charges General Eisenhower did not deny the conditions described, but shifted blame for their mistreatment and deaths tothe 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 [my emphasis].”


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. President Truman called the law "flagrantly discriminatory against Jews," resulting in Congress amending the law in 1950. But by that time most of the Jewish DPs in Europe had gone to the newly established state of Israel (founded on May 14, 1948).






Recent writings in this Series:
 

4. The United States and the Holocaust, 3: the failure to bomb Auschwitz 


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