JDC in the Displaced Persons (DP) Camps (1945-1957)

Dr. Joseph Schwartz (left) and Earl Harrison (right), who was appointed by President Truman to survey conditions among displaced persons in Germany and Austria. Germany, July 20, 1945.

As World War II drew to a close, JDC marshalled its forces to meet a crisis of staggering proportions, racing to ensure that tens of thousands of newly liberated Jews would survive to enjoy the fruits of freedom. By late 1945, some 75,000 Jewish survivors of the Nazi horrors had crowded into the displaced-persons (DP) camps that were hastily set up in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Conditions were abominable, with many subjected to anti-Semitism and hostile treatment. Earl Harrison, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and President Truman’s Special Envoy, asked Joseph Schwartz, JDC’s European director, to accompany him on his official tour of the camps. His landmark report (the Harrison Report) called for separate Jewish camps and for UNRRA’s (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) participation in administering them – with JDC’s help. To provide that help, Schwartz virtually recreated JDC, putting together a field organization that covered Europe and later North Africa and designing an operational strategy that valued action and initiative.

Supplementing the relief provided by the U.S. Army, UNRRA, and the International Refugee Organization (UNRRA’s successor agency), JDC distributed supplies that nourished both body and soul: food, medicine, clothing, tools, equipment, and educational, cultural, and religious materials including books, Torah scrolls, ritual articles, and holiday provisions. JDC funds supported medical facilities, schools, synagogues, and cultural activities, in addition to providing for vocational training programs, legal representation, and emigration assistance to survivors in the DP camps. JDC personnel helped organize communal life in many camps and represented the DPs before the military and other authorities.

Over the next two years, the number of Jews in the DP camps more than tripled, with a new influx of refugees from Romania, Hungary, and Poland who had been helped to reach Western occupation zones. They included many Polish Jews who had returned from their wartime refuge in the Soviet Union, only to flee once again (westward, this time, through Czechoslovakia) in the face of renewed anti-Semitism and the July 1946 Kielce pogrom. It is estimated that by 1947, about 250,000 Jewish refugees passed through the DP camps and received assistance from JDC.

After the State of Israel was established in 1948 and the United States passed the Displaced Persons Act, DP camps were closed and the number of Jews served by JDC dropped precipitously. Nevertheless, in 1952, JDC was still assisting some 15,500 DPs who were having difficulty finding permanent places of resettlement. Foehrenwald, the third largest Jewish DP camp in the U.S. Zone, was the last camp to close in 1957.

Film Clips
View archival footage of JDC’s work in the DP camps:

1) A Day of Deliverance (excerpts), 1949. Produced by JDC. JDC staff and programs serving Holocaust survivors in DP camps in Germany and Austria, beginning in 1945.

2) Report on the Living (excerpts), 1947. Produced by JDC. Jews fleeing Poland following Kielce pogrom in 1946 on their arduous journey through Czechoslovakia to the DP camps of Germany and Austria.

3) A Day of Deliverance (excerpts), 1949. Produced by JDC. Survivors on their way to the newly established State of Israel after years of circumscribed living in the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.

To view photos of JDC’s work in the Displaced Persons camps, explore our photo galleries from the World War II era by location.

Everything Possible: JDC and the Children of the DP Camps (JDC Archives Online Exhibit)

Primary Sources
The following are source materials in PDF format that can be used to teach about JDC’s role in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps:

Press Release: Relief Teams Prepared to Enter Concentration Camps to Aid Surviving Jews, June 21, 1945

Report of Earl G. Harrison. Mission to Europe to inquire into the condition and needs of those among the displaced persons in the liberated countries of Western Europe and in the SHAEF area of Germany – with particular reference to the Jewish refugees – who may be stateless or non-repatriable, c. August 1945. [Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Pre-Presidential Papers, Box 116, Truman Harry S. (4); NAID #12007695, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.]

Telegram from General Eisenhower to President Truman concerning the Harrison report and the Jewish displaced persons, September 14, 1945 [Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Pre-Presidential Papers, ibid. Principle File; NAID #12007685. Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.]

Cable on a visit to Feldafing and impromptu speech to DPs by General Dwight D. Eisenhower (accompanied by General George Patton) on September 17, 1945 (Yom Kippur) and subsequent improvement of services, September 20, 1945

Letter from Jay B. Krane to Chief of Operations, Germany, Subject: Observations on the Problem of Jewish Infiltrees, January 18, 1946

The Year of Survival: 1946 Annual Report of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Letter from Leo W. Schwarz to Dr. Joseph Schwartz, Subject: Summary Analysis of AJDC Program in the U.S. Zone of Occupation, Germany, January 13, 1947

Speech by Lt. Col. Robert Fisher to the Jewish Labor Committee in Atlantic City that outlines the “War Department’s Programs for Displaced Persons in Occupied Areas,” including costs to U.S. for each DP and refugee, February 1, 1947

Press Release: More Than 3,000,000 Pounds of Relief Supplies Donated to SOS Collection in the First Six Months of 1947 for Needy Jews in 14 European Countries, July 18, 1947

Letter from William Haber to Mr. Joe Schwartz regarding the situation in the DP camps, June 21, 1948

Letter from Samuel Dallob to Mr. Herbert Katzki, Re: Report on Voluntary Agencies Working in the D.P. Operation during June 1948, July 27, 1948

Letter from William Haber to Kenneth C. Royall, Subject: Interim Report of Adviser on Jewish Affairs, October 28, 1948

U.S. Displaced Persons Act of 1948 (as amended June 16, 1950)

Memorandum from Leonard Seidenman to Mr. Charles Jordan, Subject: Field Trip to Germany Concerning Camp Foehrenwald, October 6, 1952

Individuals Noted Above and Their Roles at the Time:                                                                      

JDC Staff

  1. Samuel Dallob: AJDC, British Zone in Germany
  2. Charles Jordan: Head of the Emigration Department, AJDC Paris (1948)
  3. Herbert Katzki: Secretary of JDC’s European Executive Council (EUREXCO) – the title was subsequently changed to Assistant Director General for Overseas Operations.
  4. Leo W. Schwarz: Director of JDC’s Operation in the U.S. Zone in Germany
  5. Leonard Seidenman: AJDC, Office for France. Director of Reconstruction Activities (1947-1953); Director of Rabbinical Services (1948-1953).

Non-JDC Staff

  1. William Haber: Adviser on Jewish Affairs to the American Commanders in Germany and Austria, U.S. Army.
  2. Jay B Krane: Chief, Reports and Analysis Branch, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) Displaced Persons Program in Europe.
  3. Kenneth C. Royall: Secretary, U.S. Department of the Army

For More Information on this Topic:
Agar, Herbert. The Saving Remnant: An Account of Jewish Survival. New York: Viking Press, 1960.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Henry Friedlander, and Sybil Milton, gen. eds. Archives of the
Holocaust: An International Collection of Selected Documents, vol. 10, parts 1 and 2
. New York:
Garland Publishing, 1995.

Bauer, Yehuda. Out of the Ashes: The Impact of American Jews on Post-Holocaust European Jewry.
Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1989.

Mankowitz, Zeev W. Life Between Memory and Hope: The Survivors of the Holocaust in Occupied Germany.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Patt, Avinoam J., and Michael Berkowitz, eds. We Are Here: New Approaches to Jewish Displaced Persons
in Postwar Germany
. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010.

Warhaftig, Zorach. Jewish Refugees and Displaced Persons after Liberation. New York: Institute of Jewish
Affairs, 1946.

Wyman, Mark. DP: Europe’s Displaced Persons. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1998