The Harrison Report, President Truman, and General Eisenhower

Today’s post was written by Dr. Greg Bradsher and Dr. Sylvia Naylor, Archivists at the National Archives at College Park.

The Jewish community in the United States expressed many complaints during April and May 1945 about how displaced persons, particularly Jews, were being treated by the U.S. Army in Germany.  Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., apparently sometime in June, contacted the State Department about the stories he had heard and urged an immediate investigation.  He recommended that the State Department appoint Earl G. Harrison, formerly U.S. Commissioner of Immigration and then both dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the American representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, to conduct the inquiry.  The Acting Secretary of State, Joseph C. Grew, agreed with the recommendation, and wrote President Harry S. Truman on June 21 that the Department of State was sending Harrison to survey the conditions of the displaced persons, “particularly the Jews,” in Europe and that “an expression of your interest will facilitate the mission and reassure interested groups concerned with the future of the refugees that positive measures are being taken on their behalf.” He attached a letter for the President to send to Harrison expressing his interest.  Truman signed the letter, dated June 22.[1]

Harrison left for Europe in early July with Dr. Joseph J. Schwartz of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Patrick M. Malin, Vice-Director of the International Committee on Refugees, and Herbert Katzski of the War Refugee Board. They visited about thirty Displaced Persons camps, often in separate groups, and what they saw and heard outraged them.[2]

Harrison sent the Secretary of State an interim report on July 28.[3]  The Secretary of State provided a copy to the War Department. On August 3, the War Department sent a cable to Eisenhower, setting forth the conclusions Harrison had made and requesting he verify the accuracy of Harrison’s conclusions and furnish the War Department the results of his investigation.[4]  Eleven days later Eisenhower cabled the War Department, setting forth his policies governing the handling of stateless, non-repatriables and other classes of displaced persons in the U.S. Zone.  He noted that former inmates of concentration camps were to receive special care and attention and that separate centers were to be established for these persons, “such as Jews.”  He then went on to address the various conclusions that Harrison had made in his interim report.  He added that: “American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is representing Jewish interests in U.S. zone. This committee has not made official complaints as it has recognized that all matters in Harrison’s report are being remedied with utmost speed consonant with difficulties of situation.”[5]

On August 24, President Truman received Harrison’s final report.[6]  The report detailed the inadequacy of housing, medical and recreational facilities, and noted the lack of any efforts to rehabilitate the internees, and addressed many issues of the plight of displaced Jews in Germany.  Harrison advised that Jews should receive the “first and not last attention” and recommended they be evacuated from Germany as quickly as possible and allowed to enter Palestine. “The civilized world,” he ended his report, “owes it to this handful of survivors to provide them with a home where they can again settle down and begin to live as human beings”[7]

President Harry S. Truman wrote General Eisenhower on August 31:

I have received and considered the report of Mr. Earl G. Harrison, our representative on the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, upon his mission to inquire into the condition and needs of displaced persons in Germany who may be stateless or non-repatriable, particularly Jews. I am sending you a copy of that report. I have also had a long conference with him on the same subject matter.

While Mr. Harrison makes due allowance for the fact that during the early days of liberation the huge task of mass repatriation required main attention, he reports conditions which now exist and which require prompt remedy. These conditions, I know, are not in conformity with policies promulgated by SHAEF, now Combined Displaced Persons Executive. But they are what actually exists in the field. In other words, the policies are not being carried out by some of your subordinate officers.

For example, military government officers have been authorized and even directed to requisition billeting facilities from the German population for the benefit of displaced persons. Yet, from the report, this has not been done on any wide scale. Apparently it is being taken for granted that all displaced persons, irrespective of their former persecution or the likelihood that their repatriation or resettlement will be delayed, must remain in camps-many of which are overcrowded and heavily guarded. Some of these camps are the very ones where these people were herded together, starved, tortured and made to witness the death of their fellow-inmates and friends and relatives.

The announced policy has been to give such persons preference over the German civilian population in housing. But the practice seems to be quite another thing.

We must intensify our efforts to get these people out of camps and into decent houses until they can be repatriated or evacuated. These houses should be requisitioned from the German civilian population. That is one way to implement the Potsdam policy that the German people ‘cannot escape responsibility for what they have brought upon themselves.’

I quote this paragraph with particular reference to the Jews among the displaced persons:

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.

You will find in the report other illustrations of what I mean.

I hope you will adopt the suggestion that a more extensive plan of field visitation by appropriate Army Group Headquarters be instituted, so that the humane policies which have been enunciated are not permitted to be ignored in the field. Most of the conditions now existing in displaced persons camps would quickly be remedied if through inspection tours they came to your attention or to the attention of your supervisory officers.

I know you will agree with me that we have a particular responsibility toward these victims of persecution and tyranny who are in our zone. We must make clear to the German people that we thoroughly abhor the Nazi policies of hatred and persecution. We have no better opportunity to demonstrate this than by the manner in which we ourselves actually treat the survivors remaining in Germany.

I hope you will report to me as soon as possible the steps you have been able to take to clean up the conditions mentioned in the report.

I am communicating directly with the British Government in an effort to have the doors of Palestine opened to such of these displaced persons as wish to go there.[8]

On September 14, Eisenhower sent a cable to President Truman indicating that he was very much concerned by his letter of August 31 regarding the Harrison Report.  He wrote that:

I am today starting a personal tour of inspection of Jewish displaced Persons installations. General officers of my staff have also been so engaged for several days. It is possible, as you say, that some of my subordinates in the field are not carrying out my policies, and any instances found will be promptly corrected.

However, on the brighter side of the picture, I have just received very reports from our senior Rabbi who acts as liaison officer on Hebrew matters, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which represents Jewish interest in the United States Zone states that it has made no official complaints as it has recognized that all matters mention in Harrison’s Report are being remedied with the utmost speed consistent with the difficulties of the situation.

I will give you a detailed report after we complete our current inspections, but in the meantime you can be sure that in the United States Zone in Germany no possible effort is being spared to give these people every consideration toward better living condition, better morale and a visible goal.[9]

The original report, “Displaced Persons in Germany,” sent to the President on October 8th, is transcribed below:

This is my full report on matters pertaining to the care and welfare of the Jewish victims of Nazi persecution within the United States zone of Germany. It deals with conditions reported by Mr. Earl G. Harrison, United States representative on the Inter-Governmental Committee on Refugees, which was forwarded to me under cover of your letter of 31 August, 1945.

Since Mr. Harrison’s visit in July, many changes have taken place with respect to the condition of Jewish and other displaced persons. Except for temporarily crowded conditions, the result of shifts between established centers and an influx of persons into centers as winter approaches, housing is on a reasonable basis. Nevertheless, efforts to improve their condition continue unabated. Subordinate commanders are under orders to requisition German houses, ground and other facilities without hesitation for this purpose.

The housing problem must be seen in full perspective. This winter the villages and towns in the United States zone of Germany will be required to house more than twice their normal population. One million and a half German air-raid refugees who were evacuated into southwestern Germany, together with some 600,000 Germans, Volksdeutsche and Sudetens who fled from Poland, New Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia before the advancing Red armies have created a condition of congestion in the United States zone which forces the most careful conservation of housing space. At this moment the United States zone is under orders to absorb 152,000 more Germans from Austria. Added to this influx of population, there is the loss of housing in bombed-out cities, averaging well over 50 per cent; the necessity for billeting large numbers of our troops; and the accommodation required for prisoners of war. The resulting housing shortage is not merely acute, but desperate. Notwithstanding this situation, in my recent inspections and those made by my staff of Jewish centers, although crowded conditions were found, in nearly every instance more than the thirty square feet per person of floor space required for our soldiers was available.

Displaced persons have absolute preference over Germans for housing, but the requirements of the distribution of supplies, the provision of medical care and the need for welfare activities make it desirable that displaced persons be sufficiently concentrated so that these services may be performed efficiently by the limited supervisory personnel and transport at our disposal. Thus, considerable use has been made of large installations such as brick barracks, apartment blocks and other public buildings in preference to scattered individual billets.

Special centers have been established for displaced Jewish persons. In the latter part of June the Armies were directed to collect into special assembly centers displaced persons who did not wish to or who could not be repatriated. On 25 July, 1945, Dr. Rabbi Israel Goldstein, president of the United Jewish Appeal, recommended that non-repatriable Jews be separated from other stateless people and placed in exclusively Jewish centers. As a result, the American Joint Distribution Committee was called upon to supervise the establishment of these centers. This policy was reiterated and expanded on 22 August. Special Jewish centers were established for “those Jews who are without nationality or those not Soviet citizens who do not desire to return to their country of origin.”

At the time of Mr. Harrison’s report there were perhaps 1,000 Jews still in their former concentration camps. These were too sick to be moved at that time. No Jewish or other displaced persons have been housed in these places longer than was absolutely necessary for medical quarantine and recovery from acute illness. It has always been our practice, not just our policy, to remove these victims with the utmost speed from concentration camps.

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. Despite all precautions, more than 2,000 of them died from drinking methylated alcohol and other types of poisonous liquor. Many others died by violence or were injured while circulating outside our assembly centers. Perhaps then we were overzealous in our surveillance. However, my present policy is expressed in a letter to subordinate commanders wherein I said:

Necessary guarding should be done by displaced persons themselves on the volunteer system and without arms. Military supervisors may be employed, but will not be used as sentries except in emergency. Everything should be done to encourage displaced persons to understand that they have been freed from tyranny and that the supervision exercised over them is merely that necessary for their own protection and well-being, and to facilitate essential maintenance.”

I feel that we have the problems of shelter and surveillance in hand. Of equal importance is the provision of sufficient and appetizing food. In the past, a 2,000-calorie minimum diet was prescribed for all displaced persons in approved centers. Our field inspections have shown that in many places this scale was consistently exceeded, but there have also been sporadic instances where it was not met. Three or four thousand persons of the persecuted categories, including German Jews, in the American zone have returned to their home communities. Many are there making a genuine effort to re-establish themselves. Until recently, there has been no clear-cut system of assuring adequate food for this group, although in most cases they have been given double rations.

I have recently raised the daily caloric food value per person for ordinary displaced persons in approved centers to 2,300, and for racial, religious and political persecutees to a minimum of 2,500. Feeding standards have also been prescribed and sufficient Red Cross food parcels and imported civil affairs military-government foodstuffs are on hand to supplement indigenous supplies and meet requisitions to maintain these standards. We are now issuing a directive that those Jews and other persecuted persons who choose and are able to return to their communities will receive a minimum ration of 2,500 calories per day, as well as clothing and shoes, the same as those in centers.

Clothing and shoes are available in adequate amounts and of suitable types. Uniformly excellent medical attention is available to all Jewish people in our centers, where they have generally adequate sanitary facilities. UNRRA and AJDC staffs, which are administering an increasing number of our centers, are becoming efficient and are making it possible for these people to enjoy spiritually uplifting religious programs as well as schooling for children.

It is freely admitted that there is need for improvement. The schools need more books; leisure-time and welfare activities must be further developed; paid employment outside the centers needs to be fostered; additional quantities of furniture, bedding and fuel must be obtained. We have made progress in reuniting families, but postal communications between displaced persons and their relatives and friends cannot yet be inaugurated; roads and walks must be improved in anticipation of continuing wet weather. We are conscious of these problems, we are working on them, and we have expert advice of UNRRA, of Jewish agencies and of our chaplains.

In certain instances we have fallen below standard, but I should like to point out that a whole Army has been faced with the intricate problems of readjusting from combat to mass repatriation, and then to the present static phase with its unique welfare problems. Anticipating this phase, I have fostered since before D-day the development of UNRRA so that persons of professional competence in that organization might take over greater responsibilities, and release our combat men and officers from this most difficult work.

You can expect our continued activity to meet the needs of persecuted people. Perfection never will be attained, Mr. President, but real and honest efforts are being made to provide suitable living conditions for these persecuted people until they can be permanently resettled in other areas.

Mr. Harrison’s report gives little regard to the problems faced, the real success attained in saving the lives of thousands of Jewish and other concentration-camp victims and repatriating those who could and wished to be repatriated, and the progress made in two months to bring these unfortunates who remained under our jurisdiction from the depths of physical degeneration to a condition of health and essential comfort. I have personally been witness to the expressed gratitude of many of these people for these things.[10]

The following images show Eisenhower’s prepared report on the situation from November 1945, sent from Germany by the Office of the U.S. Political Adviser to the Secretary of State.[11]

 

When Eisenhower left Germany in November much had been accomplished regarding Jewish Displaced Persons.  Conditions in the camps improved with the opening of all-Jewish camps, the concentration camps were closed, and the care of the displaced persons was transferred to the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.  But much had not been accomplished, and work addressing the needs of the victims of Nazi persecution would continue through Truman’s Administration, and later that of President Eisenhower.  The work still continues today.


Footnotes

[1] Memo, Joseph Grew, Acting Secretary of State to The President, Subject: Mr. Earl G. Harrison’s mission to Europe on refugee matters, June 21, 1945, with enclosed draft letter from the President to Harrison, June 21, 1945, File: Decimal 800.4016 D.P./6-2145, Central Decimal Files 1945-1949 (NAID 302021), RG 59. Leonard Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), pp. 34-36.

[2] Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust, pp. 39-40.

[3] Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust, p. 40.

[4] Headquarters U.S. Group C.C. Incoming Message, Ref No. W-43716, From AGWAR signed WARCOS to USFET Main August 3, 1945, File: 840.1 – Jews, Classified General Records, 1945-1949 (NAID 1717994), RG 84.

[5] Headquarters U.S. Group C.C. Incoming Message, Ref No. S-16830, From USFET Main signed Eisenhower to AGWAR, August 14, 1945, File: 840.1 – Jews, Classified General Records, 1945-1949 (NAID 1717994), RG 84.

[6] Dinnerstein, America and the Survivors of the Holocaust, p. 40.

[7] Letter, Report of Earl G. Harrison to The President, “Displaced Persons in Germany,” The Department of State Bulletin, September 30 (vol. XIII, No. 327), pp. 456-463.

[8] Letter, Harry S. Truman to General Eisenhower, August 31, 1945, “Displaced Persons in Germany,” The Department of State Bulletin, September 30 (vol. XIII, No. 327), pp. 455-456.

[9] HQ US Forces European Theater Outgoing Classified Message, Ref No. S-23374, From Eisenhower to AGWAR Personal for President Truman, September 14, 1945, File: 840.1 – Jews, Classified General Records, 1945-1949 (NAID 1717994)

[10] Despatch No. 1263, Donald R. Heath, Charge d’Affaires ad interim, Berlin to the Secretary of State, Subject: Final Report by General Eisenhower on Jewish Displaced Persons in Germany, November 5, 1945, File: Decimal 800.4016 D.P./11-4545, Central Decimal Files 1945-1949 (NAID 302021)

[11] Letter, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Office of the Commanding General, Headquarters, U.S. Forces European Theater to The President , October 8, 1945, “Displaced Persons in Germany,” The Department of State Bulletin, October 21, 1945 (vol. XIII, No. 330), pp. 607-609.

 

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