More than three years after the end of the World War II and the Holocaust in Europe, President Harry S. Truman signed the Displaced Persons (DP) Act in June of 1948. Pressure from the president—as well as political and religious groups advocating a greater US response to the humanitarian crises posed by the displacement of millions in postwar Europe—prompted the US Congress to draft this legislation in the spring of 1948.1
Three main provisions in the DP Act seriously limited who was eligible to come to the US as DPs. First, the act created a very narrow official definition of a DP by offering assistance only to those who had reached specific countries in Allied zones of occupation. Second, it only included those who had been displaced during the war and were living temporarily in DP camps during the six months immediately after the war's end. Third, the act required people to receive medical clearance and secure sponsorship from an American citizen in order to come to the US.2
President Truman worried that the DP Act imposed too many limitations. Many Jewish survivors had been displaced before the war had even begun, and the act's provisions often made it easier for non-Jewish DPs to immigrate. Truman criticized the act for perpetuating "a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice." DP activist groups like the Citizens Committee for Displaced Persons also argued that these "restrictive requirements" hampered Jewish immigration.3 Despite these misgivings, Truman signed the act into law.
In 1950, the DP Act was revised to extend the period of residence in a DP camp from 1946 to 1948. The amendment broadened the definition of Displaced Persons to include German citizens and it introduced more flexibility into the nationality quota, which had originally excluded many Jewish survivors and displaced Eastern Europeans. In fact, the provisions of the original act made immigrating to the US easier for some Nazi collaborators from the Baltic states than it was for many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Although some former Nazis and Nazi collaborators managed to immigrate to the US by falsifying their applications to pass through the rigorous screening process, the vast majority of those who entered the US through the DP Act were uprooted victims of World War II and the Holocaust.4