Harrison Report Confirms Deplorable Conditions of DP Camps

August 3, 1945

Following the defeat of the Nazis, there were between 50,000 and 70,000 Jews in the western part of occupied Germany. Hundreds of displaced persons (DP) camps were created for those who were unable or refused to return to their countries of residence. Conditions in the camps were deplorable and were reported to the War Refugee Board. On June 22, 1945, President Truman appointed Earl Harrison, the Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania and former Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, to go 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 [the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Forces] area of Germany – with particular reference to the Jewish refugees – who may be stateless or nonrepatriable.

Harrison traveled to thirty DP camps in Germany and Austria in July 1945. His report on August 3 revealed that many of the rumors of poor treatment were indeed true and that “we appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we do not exterminate them.”  The camps under the auspices of General George S. Patton in Southern Germany were especially poorly run.  The report urged the immediate evacuation of the DPs and specifically called for opening the gates of Palestine to Jewish immigration: “The evacuation of the Jews of Germany and Austria to Palestine will solve the problem of the individuals involved and will also remove a problem from the military authorities who have had to deal with it.”

In late August, the president asked Great Britain to allow 100,000 Jewish refugees to be admitted into Palestine.  Truman’s request led to the creation of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in January 1946 which suggested  100,000 Jews be admitted into Palestine.  Neither the President’s request nor the Anglo-American Committee’s recommendations were adopted: the British continued to restrict Jewish immigration based on the 1939 White Paper.   The complete Harrison Report appeared in the New York Times on September 30, 1945.  The report and the public outrage caused by its release led to improved conditions in the camps including increased food rations, but did not increase the number of Jews allowed to enter Palestine at that time.

In the photo are Earl Harrison (right) and Dr. Joseph Schwartz, the JDC’s Director of Overseas Operations, in Germany during the summer of 1945. (Photo from JDC)