Truman Statement on Displaced Persons

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Truman Statement on Displaced Persons

Newspaper article

By: Harry S. Truman

Date: December 22, 1945

Source: "Truman Statement on Displaced Persons." The New York Times, December 22, 1945.

About the Author: The New York Times is a daily newspaper, with a circulation of over one million copies, and was first published in New York City in 1851.

INTRODUCTION

At the end of the First World War, the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was the peace agreement negotiated between the victorious Allied nations of England, France, and the United States and defeated Germany. The refusal of the United States Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles meant that the United States would not join in a key product of the treaty, the League of Nations, when it was established in 1920. The United States pursued an isolationist foreign policy throughout the 1920s and 1930s; with a significant segment of the population opposed to the assistance provided by the Roosevelt administration to England after it declared war on Germany in September 1939.

It was against the backdrop of American inter-war history that President Harry Truman made his statement concerning American responsibility to Europe's displaced persons in December 1945. The prospect of a huge post-war population of displaced persons in Europe was one that was first anticipated by the Allied powers in 1944, when it became likely that Germany would ultimately be defeated by them in Europe. However, the issue was not immediately addressed at the time of the German surrender in May 1945 because American military attention immediately turned to the Pacific theater and the conclusion of the war with Japan.

In contrast to its view of foreign affairs in 1919, the United States in 1945 chose to take a leadership role with respect to achieving a solution regarding the displaced persons of Europe. Unlike its wartime ally, England, a country that had sustained widespread physical destruction as a result of the war, the United States possessed the resources to accommodate a significant influx of northern European immigration. The issue that confronted Truman in December 1945 was how the United States could provide leadership in the accommodation of the European refugees, while recognizing that there existed a significant portion of the American population who were opposed to the immigration of such persons to the United States.

By December 1945, it was clear that the boundaries of Eastern Europe would be redrawn, given the posture adopted by the Soviet Union concerning its military occupation of portions of the region. In addition to the displacement of millions of persons in Europe, there was the collateral question of whether the European Jewish peoples who were displaced could immigrate to a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The participation of the United States in both the creation of the United Nations in 1945 and the conduct of the Nuremberg war trials are other contemporaneous examples of how the United States sought to pursue the assertive role in international matters reflected in the Truman statement on displaced persons.

PRIMARY SOURCE

          Truman Statement on Displaced Persons

Washington, Dec. 22—The text of President Truman's statement on admission to this country of displaced persons and refugees in Europe, and his directive to Federal agencies on the matter were as follows:

                  Official Statement

The war has brought in its wake an appalling dislocation of populations in Europe. Many humanitarian organizations, including the Untied Nations Relief and the Rehabilitation Administration, are doing their utmost to solve the multitude of problems arising in connection with this dislocation of hundreds of thousands of persons. Every effort is being made to return the displaced persons and refugees in the various countries of Europe to their former homes. The great difficulty is that so many of these persons have no homes to which they may return. The immensity of the problem of displaced persons and refugees is almost beyond comprehension.

A number of countries in Europe, including Switzerland, Sweden, France and England, are working toward its solution. The United States shares the responsibility to relieve the suffering. To the extent that our present immigration laws permit, everything possible should be done at once to facilitate the entrance of some of these displaced persons and refugees into the United States.

In this way we may do something to relieve human misery and set an example to the other countries of the world which are able to receive some of these war sufferers. I feel that it is essential that we do this ourselves to show our good faith in requesting other nations to open their doors for this purpose….

I hope that by early spring adequate consular facilities will be in operation in our zones in Europe, also that-immigration can begin immediately upon the availability of ships.

I am informed that there are various measures now pending before the Congress which would either prohibit or severely reduce further immigration. I hope that such legislation will not be passed. This period of unspeakable human distress is not the time for us to close or to narrow our gates. I wish to emphasize however, that any effort to bring relief to these-displaced persons and refugees must and will be strictly within the limits of the present quotas as imposed by law….

The attached directive has been issued by me to the responsible Government agencies to carry out this policy. I wish to emphasize above all, that nothing in this directive will deprive a single American soldier or his wife or children of a berth on a vessel homeward bound, or delay their return.

This is the opportunity for America to set an example for the rest of the world in cooperation toward alleviating human misery.

                  The Directive

Memorandum to:

Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Attorney General, War Shipping Administrator, Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, Director General of UNRRA.

The grave dislocation of populations in Europe resulting from the war has produced human suffering that the people of the United States cannot and will not ignore. This Government should take every possible measure to facilitate full immigration to the United States under existing quota laws.

The war has most seriously disrupted our normal facilities for handling immigration matters in many parts of the world. At the same time the demands upon those facilities have increased manifold.

It is, therefore, necessary that immigration under the quotas be resumed initially in the areas of greatest need. I, therefore, direct the Secretary of State, the Secretary of War, the Attorney General, the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, the War Shipping Administrator, and other appropriate officials to take the following action:

The Secretary of State is directed to establish with the utmost dispatch consular facilities at or near displaced person and refugee assembly center areas in the American zones of occupation. It shall be the responsibility of these consular officers, in conjunction with the immigrant inspectors, to determine as quickly as possible the eligibility of the applicants for visas and admission to the United States.

For this purpose the Secretary will, if necessary, divert the personnel and funds of his department from other functions in order to insure the most expeditious handling of this operation. In cooperation with the Attorney General he shall appoint as temporary vice consuls, authorized to issue visas, such offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service as can be made available for this program.

Within the limits of administrative discretion, the officers of the Department of State assigned to this program shall make every effort to simplify and to hasten the process of issuing visas. If necessary, blocs of visa numbers may be assigned to each of the emergency consular establishments. Each such bloc may be used to meet the applications filed at the consular establishment to which the bloc is assigned. It is not intended, however, entirely to exclude the issuance of visas in other parts of the world.

Visas should be distributed fairly among persons of all faiths, creeds and nationalities. I desire that special attention be devoted to orphaned children to whom it is hoped the majority of visas will be issued….

The Director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration will be requested to provide all possible aid to the United States authorities in preparing these people for transportation to the United States and to assist in their care, particularly in the cases of children in transit and others needing special attention.

In order to insure the effective execution of this program, the Secretary of Sate, the Secretary of War, the Attorney General, War Shipping Administrator and the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service shall appoint representatives to serve as members of an interdepartmental committee under the chairmanship of the Commissioner of Immigration and naturalization.

SIGNIFICANCE

The Truman statement of December 22, 1945, is part policy declaration and part executive order from President Truman. The official statement is significant for the strong language employed by Truman in the assertion of the leadership position to be taken by the United States in the assistance to be rendered to displaced persons in Europe. Commencing with the Potsdam Conference of July 1945, the Soviet Union had repeatedly indicated to the United States that the Soviet Union would resist any initiatives taken by the United States to control the movements of displaced persons resident in Soviet-controlled areas of Eastern Europe. It is for this reason that Truman emphasizes the assistance rendered to displaced persons would occur in reference to American zones of military occupation.

In December 1945, Truman faced significant political resistance regarding his domestic policies, many of which were an extension of the New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt in the mid-1930s. Truman's handling of foreign affairs issues such as the treatment of displaced persons assisted Truman in counteracting the resistance that he encountered on domestic policy issues, particularly those associated with curbing post war inflation.

The 1945 Truman statement had both an immediate as well as a long term impact upon American immigration policy and procedure. Truman's desire to facilitate the immigration of persons who had been displaced in Eastern Europe due to war was stated as operating within the framework of existing American immigration laws. The Truman statement foreshadowed significant changes to American immigration policy that were continued with the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 and the removal of many quotas and other immigration restrictions in 1952.

Truman advanced a policy that contrasted more than sixty years of prior American legislation that excluded most classes of nonwhite immigrants. Truman's reference to the acceptance of all nationalities, faiths, and creeds into the United States is an oblique reference to the restrictions imposed by federal legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and subsequent amendments that imposed specific quotas on identified persons and countries of origin.

The tone of the Truman statement also anticipated the wide ranging provisions of the 1947 Marshall Plan, a financial aid program that was conceived in the United States to assist in the economic reconstruction of Western Europe.

The language employed by Truman is consistent with the role of world leader that the United States had clearly pursued from the period commencing with its entry into World War II. In contrast to the isolationist sentiments that existed prior to 1941, Truman refers to a shared responsibility among nations regarding the solution to the plight of the displaced persons in Europe.

Truman strikes a balance between assistance being tendered as quickly as possible to displaced persons and any disruption of current American law and any perception that he was attempting to circumvent the power of Congress to legislate how immigration would legally occur in the United States. The Truman statement is at its strongest an indication that certain persons will be moved to the head of any line seeking consideration to enter the United States, without altering the rules as to whether such persons may ultimately be considered for admission into the United States.

The notion of establishing a mechanism in Europe to better assess claims made by displaced persons seeking to enter the United States was specifically set out in the subsequent 1948 Displaced Persons Act.

Although there is no specific mention of the ability of displaced Jewish persons to immigrate to America, the statement of policy made by President Truman occurred as the United States was attempting to facilitate the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It is clear from the position adopted by the Truman administration after December 1945 that it was the American hope that a significant European Jewish resettlement would occur in Palestine.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Genizi, Haim. America's Fair Share: The Administration and Resettlement of Displaced Persons, 1945–1952. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

Kochavi, Arieh J. Post Holocaust Politics: Britain, the United States and Jewish Refugees, 1945–1948. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

London, Louise. Whitehall and the Jews, 1933–1948. Cambridge, U.K.; Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Web site

National Archives. "Truman and the Marx Brothers." 2001. 〈http://www.archives.gov/publication/prologue/2001/spring/truman-and-narx-brothers.html〉 (accessed June 7, 2006).