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"Wanderers Yesterday--Americans Today" : Jewish humanitarian agencies and the Americanization of displaced persons, 1945-1955 Geizhals, Emily


In the immediate post-World War II period, from 1945 to about 1955, more than 650,000 Jewish displaced persons (DPs) left European DP camps and immigrated to the United States. Guided by American Jewish humanitarian agencies, these DPs undertook the process of acculturating to American life. Under the 1945 Truman Directive, many of these organizations acted as sponsoring agencies for DPs and were required to guarantee that DPs would receive transportation, housing, employment, and would not become a “public charge.” Beyond these four specific guarantees, humanitarian organizations also partnered with the US government to turn DPs into naturalized US citizens. At the same time, American Jewish humanitarian agencies took advantage of the opportunity to engage the American Jewish community by fundraising and calling for volunteers. In addition to providing English and citizenship classes, as well as job training to help “new Americans” become acculturated citizens, humanitarian agencies provided space for DPs to develop an American Jewish identity. This paper examines five American Jewish humanitarian agencies that assisted in the acculturation and Americanization of DPs in New York City during this period: the United Service for New Americans, the European-Jewish Children’s Aid, the Educational Alliance, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training. Each participated in the dual project of creating American citizens out of former DPs and also in strengthening the American Jewish community through their acculturation. This paper contributes to the growing trend towards transnational studies of the Holocaust, and places post-World War II Jewish immigration in the longer history of European Jewish immigration to the US.

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