Occupation, Region, and Agriculture vs. Academia

DPs Joking with NCWC Staff

DPs joke with NCWC staff at Ellis Island

The United States, where many refugees and DPs would find their new homes, was, of course, not a homogenous environment. As well as the urbanized and industrialized East Coast, personified by places like New York City—frequently associated with traditional narratives of immigration—the United States contained large tracts of agricultural and rural land, particularly in the South. The US bishops and other charitable organizations working to resettle the DPs attempted to place them in the region of the country that would best suit their occupational skills. Since many DPs originally came from agricultural areas in Eastern Europe, the rural South seemed an obvious destination for them. Other DPs, however, were forced to work agricultural or manual labor jobs because their previous skill set did not translate well in a new country; a number of DPs, for example, had been professors or government officials in their homelands, but now found themselves working in a factory because they could not speak English fluently.

  • Why was it important that DPs be able to work and support themselves, and not be a drain on the economy?
  • What efforts did the US bishops make to find work for DPs with specialized or academic experience?
  • Do the authors of these documents, in general, speak of DPs as being more agricultural, or more intellectual? Why are DPs with agricultural experience presented as particularly valuable to the United States’ postwar economy?
  • Did US culture have a previous tradition of placing a high value on farming, and, if so, how do we see that operating in these documents?

 

Sending DPs to the rural United States, however, held its own set of difficulties. As a survey of Catholic opinion organized by Catholic University researchers shows, better-educated or white-collar Catholics were slightly more favorable to the admission of DPs into their communities than blue-collar workers (Frederick J. Dougherty and C.J. Nuesse, “Differentials in Catholic Opinion on the Admission of Displaced Persons” in The American Catholic Sociological Review, Vol. 12, No. 4 (December 1951), 215). In some cases, the DPs may have been viewed as a source of competition for agricultural jobs.

This is, in fact, what happened in the Flannery O’Connor story “The Displaced Person,” which describes the disruption caused by a Polish DP family’s arrival on a Southern farm. Both white and black workers on the farm view the DP family with suspicion, both because they are from Europe, supposedly a breeding-ground for unwholesome ideas, and because the DPs are extremely hard-working and seem to threaten the Americans’ employment. The other workers come to resent the DPs, especially Mr. Guizac, the head of the family, more and more, until disaster ensues at the end of the story. Although Flannery O’Connor portrays the characters in her story in a deliberately unflattering, Southern gothic fashion, woven into the story is a moral about loving one’s neighbor and seeing Christ in the face of the stranger.

  • Can you find examples, in the documents, of the US bishops drawing a spiritual moral or parable from the stories of the DPs? Do the authors of the documents say we have a duty to help the DPs and, if so, why?
  • Why else do you think that better-educated Catholics would be more receptive to the idea of DPs settling down in their community?

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