“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: After the war most displaced persons (DPs) returned to their homes. Of course almost all returnees were non-Jews and welcomed home. Those Jews that could put the past aside and attempt to return often were met with violence from townspeople now occupying their homes, their businesses. Most survivors chose to emigrate. But to where? Britain barred entry to the survivors and America was as committed not to allow Jews in as during the Holocaust itself (apparently the ban did not apply to German immigrants, many of them former Nazis and war criminals). And so the Jewish DP’s languished in camps, some for years, waiting for the birth of Israel. And those camps: often past concentration and even death camps converted for the purpose, fenced in with barbed wire. The only difference being that instead of Nazis, their guards were Americans, the US Army. As described by Earl Harrison, the president’s representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees,
"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."
How Jewish survivors of the Holocaust were seen, were treated by the U.S. Army after Auschwitz, rested on three sources of antisemitism: popular, political and military.
Background to anti-DP sentiment, Popular: Antisemitism was never absent in the West, and the United States went through periods of more or less discrimination beginning with the governor of New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant in the seventeenth century. More intense for both Union and Confederacy during the Civil War (General Grant expelling all Jews from his territory, for example), it intensified yet more in response to heavier immigration by Jews fleeing pogroms during the final years of the nineteenth century. Antisemitism remained at high levels in the years before the First World War, when Leo Frank was lynched in Georgia, by a “mob” of prominent Georgians and went on to burn a cross in triumph. They went on to resuscitate the moribund Ku Klux Klan that, within a few years went from 20 prominent Georgians to a membership of four million nationwide. In 1939 a Roper poll suggested little difference in antisemitic sentiment between the American public and Germany. Roper,
“found that only 39% of respondents felt American Jews should be treated like all other people – 10% even believed Jews should be deported.”
As I summarized that result previously, the obverse of those statistics represented Sixty-one percent of Americans felt that “Jews should [not] be treated like all other Americans.” Keep in mind that this poll represents opinion immediately after the Krystallnacht pogrom. The same poll found that “10% even believed Jews should be deported.”
Another poll, taken five years later in 1944, with the United States still at war with Germany found that, Americans asked to rate national groups “most dangerous” found that 8% considered Germans “most dangerous, , while Jews were considered “most dangerous” by 24%! Another poll taken in 1938 and again in 1945 found that in 1938,
“41 percent of respondents agreed that Jews had "too much power in the United States," and this figure rose to 58 percent by 1945.”
Background to anti-DP sentiment, Political: More than the president, Congress represents a better barometer of the mood of the American electorate. In 1921 Congress passed an anti-immigrant bill designed to keep “undesirable” aliens out. After three years consideration, realizing that the 1910 census used as the 1921 population baseline inflated Jewish presence in the United States by including the mass of immigrants fleeing Russian pogroms, they revised the Act in 1924 to use the 1890 census, taken before that massive influx. Just to make the point the 1924 Immigration Restriction Act also reduced the allowable quota for Jewish immigrants.
“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.”
For readers who would argue that that was then, emotionalism intensified by war, that today things are different: Representative Eric Cantor, House Majority Leader and lone Jew in the House of Representatives helped defeat an incumbent who “said 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 — 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: There are few resources covering antisemitism in the U.S. Army pre-1945, although some information regarding Army treatment of Jewish DPs after the war does exist on-line, and I will provide hyperlinks when referenced. Regarding pre-existing attitudes towards Jewish DPs, for this I refer to an excellent study on the subject, “The “Jewish Threat:" Anti-Semitic Politics of the U. S. Army, by Joseph Bendersky. Leonard Dinnerstein in his revue of the book notes that
“In their views of Jews, Army officials reflected the values and attitudes of the dominant culture.”
According to Bendersky those values were also political, extending to “some officers as members of the isolationist America First movement.” This was the movement that Charles Lindbergh also was active in, and that would have promoted him as Republican Party candidate for president against Roosevelt in 1940. Lindbergh, as many Army officers, made little secret of his admiration for Hitler and the National Socialism experiment in eugenic social engineering.
Officers at the U.S. Army War College were instructed by such racists as Lothrop Stoddard, mentioned in my discussion of American eugenics:
“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, [italics mine] he was able to meet with… Himmler and von Ribbentrop… Stoddard returned an avid defender of German racial hygiene programs…” (The “Jewish Problem”, 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
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” (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 lat 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,”
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.” (The “Jewish Threat,” p.351)
“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.” (ibid, 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. The result was death by starvation and sickness for DP-inmates under their supervision.
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 “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. 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 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[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.”
In 1952, responding to the threat of Holocaust survivors “flooding” America, 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 comfortable to extol the ideal of the blond-haired, blue-eyed eugenics dream for an Aryan racial stock for the United States.
Recent writings in this Series: