U.S. Position on International Refugee Organization Statement by Representative of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations

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U.S. Position on International Refugee Organization Statement by Representative of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations

8 November 1946 [Lake Success, NY]

To begin with, Mr. Chairman, I should like to state very briefly the position of the United States on this International Refugee Organization, which will care for and help to rehabilitate nearly a million people from Europe and the Far East. As long as they are refugees and displaced persons they constitute a threat to peace and good relations among governments.

The maintenance in camps of these persons leads to deterioration among them as human beings and is an economic waste for all the nations of the world. We, in the United States, feel this most keenly, since from practically all the countries where they come from we have received citizens who have built up our nation. Therefore, the United States supports the principles of the General Assembly resolution of February 12, 1946 namely:

(a) The problem is international in character.

(b) There shall be no compulsory repatriation.

(c) Action taken by IRO must not interfere with existing international arrangements for apprehension of war criminals, Quislings, and traitors. This is being done by military occupation forces and is not the responsibility of this new organization.

As a consequence we support the draft constitution of the IRO which reflects the foregoing principles.

The United States has supported the principles advocated by my colleague from the U. S. S. R. which is proved by the numbers of people that have been repatriated from the United States zone. However, it would be foreign to our conception of democracy to force repatriation on any human being. Three and one-half million persons have been repatriated from the United States zone, but our people will always believe in the right of asylum and complete freedom of choice.

The Pilgrims, the Huguenots, and the Germans of 18482 came to us in search of political and religious freedom and a wider economic opportunity. They built the United States.

These people now in displaced-persons camps are kin to those early settlers of ours, and many of them might have relatives in the United States.

My Government urges the participation in the IRO as members by all peace-loving nations. There is no question but that this participation will entail financial sacrifices by all participating governments. For a time it will be a heavy burden, but in the long run it will be an economy and well worth the cost.

The finances of our organization will be considered in committee 5, where the financial burden will be allotted to the participating governments, so that the cost will be equitably shared by all, and each government will pay according to the standards laid down by committee 5.3

In the interest of brevity I shall comment at this time only on some of the essential points in Mr. Vyshinsky's speech of Wednesday, leaving other points for comment when we discuss the draft constitution article by article.

First of all I should like to say that Mr. Vyshinsky's view that no assistance should be given to those who for valid reasons decide not to return to their countries of origin is inconsistent with the unanimous decision of the General Assembly in the resolution on displaced persons of February 12, 1946.4 That clearly provides that these persons shall become the concern of the International Refugee Organization.

Mr. Vyshinsky says that this problem is very simple. It can be solved by repatriating all the displaced persons. In fact, those who do not wish to be repatriated must fall into this category. I think this point of view fails to take into consideration the facts of political change in countries of origin which have created fears in the minds of the million persons, who remain, of such a nature that they choose miserable life in camps in preference to the risks of repatriation.

Our colleague from Poland5 mentioned that since arrangements had been made to give people food allowances after their return home the numbers going home had increased. I think he is quite right that the fear of an economic situation has deterred a number of people from taking the risk of repatriation, but not all of them are actuated by consideration of the economic situation in their country of origin.

Seven million people have already been repatriated; repatriation is still proceeding. One thousand Poles are leaving the U.S. zones of Germany and Austria daily. The military administration which accomplished this result can hardly be held solely responsible for the failure of the last million to return.

It was a new point, I think, which Mr. Vyshinsky raised when he presented his position that those who do not choose to return to their countries of origin shall not be resettled, shall receive no aid towards settling somewhere else. This leaves them with the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in assembly centers as long as the IRO supports them or else of facing starvation. They obviously cannot be left in assembly centers to their own devices. They would continue as an irritant in good relations between friendly governments and contribute to delay in the restoration of peace and order which is the concern of all governments. There is no reason why they should become wanderers if instead they can be given an opportunity for resettlement in some country which has a future to offer them.

By another provision of the General Assembly resolution of February 1946, which, I think, Mr. Vyshinsky must have forgotten, no action taken shall be of such a character as to interfere in any way with the surrender and punishment of war criminals, Quislings, and traitors in conformity with international arrangements or agreements. These arrangements, however, are the responsibility of other government bodies, including the military authorities.

I can tell you very briefly how arrangements for the apprehension of Quislings works out under the U.S. occupational authorities. U.S. officials are continuously engaged in screening the refugee personnel to locate Quislings or those who for other reasons are not entitled to be given asylum. When special complaints are received from other governments they are made by the governments' liaison officers with the United States Forces, European Theater. USFET thereupon makes an investigation through Army channels. If the investigation appears to substantiate the complaint, the case goes before a board of officers, which makes the final determination. This method of procedure has in general been satisfactory; but it must be emphasized that this committee here is not, and should not, be the forum for debate as to its effectiveness. It is not our function here to discuss the adequacy of these arrangements or the performance under them. We are concerned with final decisions on the draft of the constitution of IRO. This draft clearly excludes from the benefits of the organization war criminals, Quislings, and traitors. We can hope that such persons will be entirely eliminated by the time the IRO begins to function.

Mr. Vyshinsky spoke of members of various military groups.6 The military character of different groups and their members, we think, has been greatly exaggerated. They are the concern of the military authorities, however, and will be handled by them. Those who fought with the Germans and collaborated with them are clearly excluded from assistance from the IRO in the constitution before us. I have asked that the U.S. military authorities supply me with a report on each of the incidents complained of by Mr. Vyshinsky where the U.S. is concerned, and I shall report these findings in writing to the committee, if it so desires, as soon as they are available.

Now we come to the point which Mr. Vyshinsky made that all propaganda should be suppressed in the camps. He challenges us on the point that under the guise of freedom of expression propaganda hostile to the countries of origin is tolerated.7 On this point I am afraid we hold very different ideas. But this does not preclude cooperation between us. We, in the United States, tolerate opposition provided it does not extend to the point of advocacy of the overthrow of government by force. Unless the right of opposition is conceded, it seems to me that there is very little possibility that countries with differing conceptions of democracy can live together without friction in the same world. Much progress has been made to date in dealing with this problem of propaganda within the framework of these divergent views. With patience and understanding we can achieve still further progress in this direction.

Mr. Vyshinsky objects to the inclusion of certain categories of refugees and displaced persons.8

One group consists of those who, as a result of events subsequent to the outbreak of the second World War, are unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of the government of their countries of nationality or of former nationality.

This paragraph covers those who for political reasons, territorial changes, or changes of sovereignty are unable to return to their country. That paragraph is in annex 1, part 1, section A, paragraph 2. I regret that Mr. Vyshinsky cannot confirm the agreement reached at the last session of the Economic and Social Council on this point. We consider it essential that the paragraph be retained. But since he asked who these people are, I should like out of my own experience to mention a few. I visited two camps near Frankfurt, where the majority of people had come from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.9 I have received innumerable petitions. My mail today carried three from people in different countries, who, because changes had come in the types of government in their countries, felt that they did not wish to return. That does not mean that they do not love their country; it simply means that they prefer the country as it was before they left it. That country they feel no longer belongs to them.10 I gather that Mr. Vyshinsky felt that anyone who did not wish to return under the present form of government must of necessity be Fascist. I talked to a great many of these people who do not strike me as Fascist, and the assumption that people do not wish to return to the country of their origin because those countries are now under what is called a democratic form of government does not seem to allow for certain differences in the understanding of the word democracy. As Mr. Vyshinsky uses it, it would seem that democracy is synonymous with Soviet, or at least a fairly similar conception of political and economic questions. Under that formula I am very sure that he would accept some of the other nations in the world who consider themselves democracies and who are as willing to die for their beliefs as are the people of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Vyshinsky also objected to certain exceptions to the general rule that those who had voluntarily assisted the enemy are excluded from the concern of the IRO.11 The intent of the exemptions is to cover those who were forced to perform slave labor or who may have rendered humanitarian assistance, such as assistance to wounded civilians. Mr. Vyshinsky proposes to exclude all those who assisted in any manner. Under such language those merely present in any occupied area forced by necessity of survival to perform any form of work or service within the German economy would be considered to have assisted the enemy and would thus be excluded. This would result in cruel hardship on many. We can, however, discuss the point at greater length later.

I sincerely regret having to speak in opposition to some of Mr. Vyshinsky's views. But he will recall that in London there were some things which because of the fundamental beliefs I hold, I had to stand on. I felt strongly about them then and I still do. This does not mean that Mr. Vyshinsky cannot hold to his basic beliefs as well and still achieve with us a solution. This solution can be reached if we are both willing in these fields to try for a spirit of cooperation and a realistic approach to our problems. It is essential to the peace of the world that we wipe out some of our resentments as well as our fears. I hope that as time goes on our two great nations may grow to understand each other and to accept our different viewpoints on certain questions.

DSB, November 24, 1946

1. Sydney Gruson, "Russian-Led Move to Gag Refugees Defeated by UNO," NYT, 13 February 1946, 1; "Draft Constitution Is Adopted for World Refugee Organization," NYT, 21 June 1946, 4; Department of State Bulletin, November 24, 1946, 935-38.

2. The English Pilgrims and the French Huguenots were Protestants who fled to America to escape religious persecution in their countries; the Germans of 1848 were political refugees who fled to America during revolutionary upheavals aimed at creating unity and greater democracy in Germany (OEWH).

3. Committee Five of the General Assembly had responsibility for the United Nations budget (EUN).

4. During the debate with the Soviet Union and its allies on the IRO constitution in the Third Committee, ER had to continually reiterate the point she had won in debate with Vyshinsky in February 1946 and that had been incorporated into the UN resolution of February 12. See Document 90, especially n4, for the text of the key paragraphs in the resolution. On November 19, according to the summary report, ER "stressed the necessity of maintaining constant reference to the principle, enunciated in the resolution of the General Assembly of 12 February 1946, to the effect that none was to be repatriated against his will" (Committee Three, Summary Record, 20 November 1946, (A/C.3/85), 97, UNORGA, MWelC).

5. Jozef Winiewicz (1905–1984), the Polish representative on the Third Committee (HDP).

6. Vyshinsky claimed that there were military or para-military units in the camps that the Allies had not disbanded and whose purpose was "the liquidation of the USSR as a powerful State" (Third Committee, Seventeenth Meeting, Summary Record, 10 November 1946 (A/C.3/43), 29, UNORGA, MWelC [RM]).

7. Vyshinsky, according to the UN summary record of his remarks at the November 6, 1946 meeting of the Third Committee, said:

The argument put forward against the position of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was that restriction of propaganda discouraging repatriation would be a violation of the freedom of propaganda, freedom of speech and of the press. But the propaganda carried on by fascists and traitors to prevent persons from returning to their homes and families was a false and fraudulent misrepresentation of facts perpetrated as a screen for those who thought thereby to further their own sinister political aims by coercion, threats, and violence.

The Russians and their Yugoslavian allies continued to complain about the management of the displaced persons camps throughout the debates on the IRO constitution. ER had to repeatedly rebut their charges that war criminals, quislings, traitors, and secret military groups were among the refugees in the camps and that they spread propaganda against repatriation. In early December, she led a successful fight to defeat a Russian proposal calling for the appointment of a UN commission to investigate the camps (Third Committee, Seventeenth Meeting, Summary Record, 10 November 1946 (A/C.3/43), 29, UNORGA, MWelC [RM]; "Russians Beaten in Camp Inquiry," NYT, 7 December 1946, 9).

8. The summary reported Vyshinsky as saying:

No support should be given by the International Refugee Organization to quislings, traitors, and war criminals, as laid down in the draft constitution. In addition, however, the delegation of the USSR considered that the International Refugee Organization should not give aid to the similar category of persons who refused to return to their native country, in view of the fact that the States to which these persons, after having freely expressed their views, refused to return, were members of the International Organization (Third Committee, Seventeenth Meeting, Summary Record, 10 November 1946 (A/C.3/43), UNORGA, MWelC [RM]).

9. ER knew the conditions in the camps and their effect on the refugees firsthand. See Document 95.

10. In late October, for example, ER received a handwritten petition from eighteen Estonian refugees asking her to appeal to Attorney General Tom Clark to stay their deportation from the United States until Congress could act. Near the end of the war, these refugees had fled first to Sweden to escape conscription into the German army, then crossed the ocean in "rickety fishing boats" from Sweden to the United States in order to avoid forced repatriation to Estonia, now occupied for a second time by the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union first occupied Estonia from 1940–41, the petition reported, "thousands of Estonians were murdered, arrested and deported to Siberia. Approximately sixty thousand innocent people got lost in that one year of Soviet rule." They could not go back to Estonia now that it was again in Soviet hands, the refugees concluded. "We are Democrats and honest people and if given a temporary trial we will prove that we will make the best of citizens" (Petition signed by eighteen Estonian refugees, 23 October 1946, AERP).

Such petitions not only provided fuel for ER's efforts to secure the adoption of the IRO constitution, but made urgent the issue of easing US immigration laws, thus making it possible for groups like the Estonians to enter the country. Congress, however, expressed reluctance to expand quotas or even, as Truman proposed, to allow previously unmet monthly quotas to be filled in later months. ER argued in her column of November 20, 1946 in favor of Truman's proposal:

I had been told that women belonging to some of our patriotic organizations such as the DAR were opposed to this humanitarian easing of our immigration rules. One cannot help wondering, however, what makes these women, and other groups that think along the same lines, so fearful of holding out even so mild a helping hand as is suggested.

The years of high immigration in the past were usually prosperous, because at that time we were expanding. At present, we are again in need of labor. And the types of immigrants we could obtain would, in many cases, be of a very high order. We might count on their creating new opportunities for employment, rather than being content simply to hold jobs of their own.

I wonder how many of us would be here today if the founding fathers had been as nervous as we are about the oncoming hordes that threatened to starve them to death when they were not growing much more than they themselves could eat!

I can understand a little better the attitude of the veterans' and the labor groups, because they are in direct competition. But one would expect that women would think of the effect that a shortsighted policy might have on future peace. Unless we show some willingness to absorb our quota of displaced people and refugees, why should other countries make any sacrifices?

When all the repatriation possible has been done in Europe, there will probably remain several hundred thousand people—Jews, Balts, Poles, Yugoslavs, Ukrainians and others—who, for reasons which to them seem valid, do not wish to return to their homes. If they stay where they are in Europe, they delay and impede the return to normal conditions, and they are not able to use their abilities to the best advantage.

We hope, of course, that all people who can possibly go back to their own countries will do so, because those countries need help in rebuilding. It may be hard at first, but it will be rewarding to contribute to the revival of one's native land. But the Jews, for instance, cannot be asked to return to countries where their memories are tragic and bitter, and where, often, they are still not too welcome.

Some other people whose countries have changed their form of government may quite honestly prefer not to live under the new conditions, simply because they would not feel as free as they did before foreign domination wiped out the government that they originally supported. They are not necessarily Fascists, and we of all people should do what we can to help them to start life anew" (MD, 20 November 1946).

(MD, 14 November 1946; Jay Walz, "Higher DP Quotas Facing Opposition," NYT, 8 September 1946; Document 182).

11. Vyshinsky said, according to the summary report, that the USSR objected to the IRO providing aid to "those persons whose voluntary assistance to the enemy was 'purely humanitarian and non-military' … The idea that one could assist the enemy for 'humanitarian reasons' was absurd" (Third Committee, Seventeenth Meeting, Summary Record, 10 November 1946 (A/C.3/43), 29, MWelC [RM]).

On the Republican Sweep in 1946

On November 7, the Republican Party swept both houses of Congress, 51-45 in the Senate and 246-188 in the House of Representatives. Although the GOP usurped many Democratic strongholds, ER publicly remained optimistic about the outcome of the election. In her November 8 My Day, she declared that "A defeat really is of little importance. The only thing that matters is what you do with your defeat. If you analyze it and learn from it, I think defeat very often can be as valuable for the future as victory." From her "own point of view," she continued, "being out of office has always been a pleasant situation. Having no responsibility, while being able to sit on the sidelines and observe with a critical eye, is one of the most delightful positions I know."

After criticizing the "men [who] haven't quite learned how important the women are," she applauded the reelection of Helen Gahagan Douglas in California, who "never shirked saying what she believed in and certainly ran on her record."1 Both her campaign and her victory proved "that people like honesty and convictions in their candidates, and that they recognize integrity."

In her private correspondence with Truman the day after the election, ER offered her condolences while speculating that the Eightieth Congress might not inhibit Democratic efforts any more than the Seventy-ninth.

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U.S. Position on International Refugee Organization Statement by Representative of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations

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U.S. Position on International Refugee Organization Statement by Representative of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations