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The Displaced Persons Act of 1948

More than three years after the end ofWorld 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 promoting a stronger 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 required date of residence in a DP camp from 1946 to 1948. The amendment broadened the definition of Displaced Persons to include German citizens. It also introduced more flexibility into the nationality quota, which had originally excluded many Jewish survivors and displaced people from Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. In fact, the provisions of the original act made immigrating to the US easier for some Nazi collaborators from the Baltic states than 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 people who entered the US through the DP Act were uprooted victims of World War II and the Holocaust.4

For more on US immigration policies and the DP Act, see Haim Genizi, America's Fair Share: The Admission and Resettlement of Displaced Persons, 1945–1952 (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993). 

See the USHMM Holocaust Encyclopedia for more on policies in the postwar United States that allowed European refugees, including Holocaust survivors, to immigrate to the US.

Libby Garland, After They Closed the Gates: Jewish Illegal Immigrants to the United States, 1921-1965 (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2014), 183–96.

Many of the Nazis and Nazi collaborators who escaped to the United States after World War II came to the US with the knowledge of US intelligence agents who sought to use them to undermine the Soviet Union in the Cold War. For more, see Richard Breitman and Norman J. W. Goda, Hitler's Shadow: Nazi War Criminals, U.S. Intelligence and the Cold War (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2010); Christopher Simpson, Blowback: America's Recruitment of Nazis and Its Effect on the Cold War (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1988); and Gerald Steinacher, Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
United States Congress
Source Number United States Statutes at Large, 80th Congress, 1948 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1949), 1009–1014.
Date Created
June 25, 1948
Page(s) 1009–1014
Washington, DC, USA
Document Type Legislation
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