Letter from NCWC Executive Director Patrick O'Boyle to US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, with enclosed memorandum on American Policy on Displaced Persons, March 20, 1946

Bishop Mulloy posing with a DP family at Ellis Island

Bishop Mulloy poses with a DP family at Ellis Island, from a set of photos ordered by Bruce Mohler, intended to promote awareness about DPs and resettlement

This document helps to demonstrate the US Government’s and the US bishops’ efforts to define their policy on Displaced Persons (DPs) after the close of World War II. In his letter to Secretary of State James Byrnes introducing the memorandum, Patrick O’Boyle even presumes to push Byrnes a little for a concrete statement on the government’s position on DPs. O’Boyle wanted this information because the National Catholic Welfare Conference was trying to determine its position on DPs by March 31. Anticipating later Cold War rhetoric, the document speaks of “the totalitarian attitude”. This refers specifically to the efforts of the Russians at UN meetings to immediately cut off aid to refugees from Communist-held countries. More generally, the “totalitarian attitude” refers to the Americans’ perception that Communism was built on a mentality that gave little value to the individual person. Therefore, people like the DPs were in danger of becoming pawns in a larger political game, and of having their human rights abused if it furthered Soviet interests. If DPs from Eastern European countries such as Hungary, the Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania suddenly ceased to receive aid from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), they would probably be forced to return to their homelands out of need and hunger. At that time, the UNRRA was seriously considering closing most of the refugee camps in Europe by the fall of that year, which, in the memorandum’s opinion, would spark a humanitarian crisis. To fail to care for these Eastern European refugees, the memorandum states, would be a betrayal of the basic ideals of freedom for which the Allies had fought during World War II.

 

Letter from O'Boyle to Byrnes, March 20, 1946

O'Boyle to Byrnes

Questions:

  • How many refugees, according to the memorandum, have already been repatriated? How many are considered unrepatriable, and for what reasons? What is the demographic makeup of the refugees who refuse to return to their countries of origin?
  • Why should Catholics be particularly concerned for the fate of these DPs, according to the memorandum? Why are the Soviets so interested in having DPs return to their country of origin?
  • Why, according to the memorandum, is it not possible for the Displaced Persons to resettle permanently in Germany?

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