Letter from Swanstrom to Carroll, November 1, 1947, with enclosed memorandum “The Displaced Persons Problem and its Implication for the Catholic Church in the United States.”

Letter from Swanstrom to Carroll with enclosed memorandum, "The Displaced Persons Problem and its Implication for the Catholic Church in the United States"

Swanstrom to Carroll with "The Displaced Persons Problem and its Implication for the Catholic Church in the United States"

As he does elsewhere in the documents, Swanstrom begins by emphasizing the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in Europe and the need for Catholic action. This memorandum touches on many of the common themes we see throughout the documents, such as Catholic-Jewish relations, the Church’s negotiation with the US government, questions of “American-ness” and assimilation, and the Church’s vision of its mission in a changing world. It starts out with the figures- over 1,200,000 Displaced Persons (DPs) in and out of camps in Germany, Austria, and Italy, who are estimated to be around 70 per cent Catholic, 17 per cent Jewish, and 13 per cent Protestant, and who are principally cared for by the International Refugee Organization, which operates on a budget of around $120,000,000. Despite the relatively small number of Jewish people among the refugees, the memo notes that Jewish organizations are, at that moment, better prepared than the Catholics to negotiate about immigration laws, and to find new homes for the refugees.

The legislation currently under discussion to allow greater numbers of DPs into the United States will not pass, the memo asserts, unless Christian organizations demonstrate that they are equipped to handle the influx of newcomers. Notably, the primary responsibility for caring for DPs once they have arrived in the United States will rest on religious organizations, and not on the United States government.  This memorandum also establishes what will become a pattern for War Relief Services- National Catholic Welfare Conference: networking and cooperating with other groups to complete the resettlement effort.

 

Assembly of Immigrants at Ellis Island

Immigrants assembled at Ellis Island, Bruce M. Mohler papers

All of these various charitable organizations will go about the work of resettlement, as this memo explains, under the guidance of the Vatican Migration Bureau, which is “a symbol of the interest of the universal church in the problems of the Displaced Persons.” Therefore, refugee aid and resettlement was not a special pet idea of the US bishops alone, but an expression of the Universal Church’s intentions. The Catholic Church was, in the post-World War II era, in the process of reinventing its self-image to include greater engagement with the secular world. On a certain level, it will not be the US bishops, but the American Catholic laity who will be the real actors in the resettlement process, as this memo explains. The laity will do the concrete work of welcoming DPs into their communities and homes, finding jobs for them, and helping them to adjust to American society. The US bishops will take an educational role instead, helping to erase the fear of outsiders that lingers among some Americans, and preparing them to take an active role in this work of charity.

Questions:

  • From which nations are the majority of the refugees and Displaced Persons?
  • What term or label is given to the refugees who refuse to return home because their country of origin is now, in the aftermath of World War II, under Communist rule?
  • In what areas does the memo anticipate that many refugees and DPs will be settled? In what areas are they not likely to settle? How does this compare or contrast to the demographics of the American Catholic population at that time?

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