Many Displaced Persons (DPs) left Europe through the port of Bremerhaven in a region of occupied Germany controlled by the United States. In October 1948, the General W. M. Black left Bremerhaven carrying the first group of people to immigrate to the US under the recently passed DP Act of 1948. Some 813 DPs from eleven different countries left Europe amid great fanfare.1 This film, captured by documentary filmmaker Julien Bryan, shows how officials prepared decorations and staged festivities to celebrate the occasion.2
For the DPs, the voyage marked the last step in a long process of emigration from Europe. In order to have qualified for admission to the US under the DP Act, the DPs in the film must have already completed many bureaucratic requirements. They had obtained US visas, secured American sponsors, received a clean bill of health from a physician, and gathered documents proving their eligibility for DP status. Some of them may have even taken English lessons in DP camps in anticipation of their immigration to the US.
The celebration marking the departure of the General W. M. Black was optimistic, but many DPs found difficulty adjusting to life once they arrived in the US. The promise of the ship’s banner—"America Welcomes Its New Citizens"—did not always hold true. DPs did not arrive in the US as citizens and the path to citizenship could be long and difficult. Some DPs faced discrimination or discovered that they were unwelcome additions to the regional workforce.3
Although leaving Bremerhaven on a vessel dubbed "the ship to freedom" was the culmination of a long emigration process for the DPs aboard, it was still only the beginning of a long sea voyage and a longer process of adjusting to life in the United States.