Archives provide valuable sources for dissertation on the topic of ‘Humanitarian Capitalism’

Spotlight on Research: Our guest author Andrew Marion visited the Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA) recently, and writes about both the visit and his research on the topic of Humanitarian Capitalism: Displaced Person Resettlement in America, 1948-1952. Marion is one of this year’s Grant-in-Aid Award recipients, and is a History Ph.D. candidate at the University of Mississippi.

Following World War II, hundreds of thousands of Europeans, particularly from Baltic and Eastern European nations, found themselves displaced from their homes and placed in camps in the Allied zones of Germany. Many of these displaced persons (DPs) could not return to their home countries because of the destruction of their homes and the threat of persecution from the Soviet Union. The plight of these DPs became a global humanitarian concern, and numerous countries developed resettlement programs to bring DPs to their countries. President Harry S. Truman and officials in his administration believed the U.S.’s leadership in DP resettlement could help establish the U.S. as a global moral superpower in the early years of the Cold War.

My dissertation analyzes the implementation of DP resettlement in the United States and how it reflected the nation’s view of itself as both a humanitarian and capitalist nation. Truman, federal resettlement officials, religious organizations, civic leaders, and others pushed for DP resettlement because of deeply-held beliefs about the U.S.’s humanitarian duty to the DPs. Other Americans, including many farmers and businessmen who wished to sponsor the resettlement of DPs, viewed the resettlement program as an effective way to procure laborers. Through a study of DP resettlement in three regions of the U.S., the rural South, the industrial Midwest, and the ascendant West, my dissertation examines the tensions, contradictions, and similarities between these two motivations for DP resettlement. Documents held at the Immigration History Research Center Archives (IHRCA) at the University of Minnesota Libraries provide valuable information on three major aspects of DP resettlement in the U.S.: the lobbying efforts for the passage of the DP Acts of 1948 and 1950, the work of voluntary agencies to promote and facilitate DP resettlement in the U.S., and the actions of individuals in the U.S. who directly communicated with and resettled thousands of DPs to the U.S.

Files pertaining to the Citizens Committee on Displaced Persons (CCDP) held in the Immigration and Refugee Services of America Records at the IHRCA show how certain groups of Americans lobbied for the passage of the DP Acts of 1948 and 1950 through direct lobbying of elected officials, pressure campaigns directed toward prominent civic and political groups, and pro-DP radio and film productions. Earl G. Harrison, a government official in the Roosevelt administration and Dean of the University of Pennsylvania law school, wrote a report about the conditions of the DP camps in Europe, and he led the CCDP as they promoted DP legislation in the U.S. Articles written and released through U.S. major and regional newspapers from the CCDP emphasized the poor conditions of DP camps as well as how DPs could benefit American sponsors and communities. The CCDP also enlisted the help of famous Hollywood stars to produce radio programs and short newsreels about the DP crisis in Europe. Notable examples include the films The Search and The Time Is Now and the radio program A Man With A Cause, starring Henry Fonda. The CCDP’s successfully lobbied civic groups and elected officials in support of DP legislation, and their broader media campaigns to educate the public about the DP crisis built broad national support for DP resettlement. In order to succeed, the CCDP had to appeal to American humanitarian sympathies for the plight of DPs while also convincing Americans that DPs would make good productive citizens who could provide much-needed labor for their American sponsors.

Documents in the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee (UUARC) Records at the IHRCA detail how voluntary agencies like the UUARC pressured state officials to establish state DP committees, communicated with potential DP sponsors about the benefits of resettling DPs, and facilitated the resettlement process. The UUARC’s Executive Director Walter Gallan led the group’s national effort to resettle as many Ukrainian DPs into the U.S. as possible. Gallan wrote to state governors, business leaders, farmers, college and university presidents and others about the benefits of resettling and employing Ukrainian DPs. The UUARC published advertising in agriculture magazines throughout the U.S. with information on how DPs could benefit farmers seeking labor. Even single men seeking DP wives would write to the UUARC and Gallan for advice and guidance. The UUARC collected nominal fees from potential DP sponsors in order to organize and pay for DP transportation to the U.S. and other related resettlement fees. DP sponsors would also communicate with the UUARC about various complaints about the DPs they resettled, especially concerning DPs leaving their sponsors earlier than they had anticipated. The UUARC functioned similarly to other ethnic or religious voluntary agencies such as the National Lutheran Council or the National Catholic Welfare Conference, but in order to resettle as many DPs as possible, these voluntary agencies had to orient their activities around the capitalist motivations of DP sponsors.

Photo of an undated letter in black typescript, with letterhead of the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee.
Walter Gallan letter, undated (circa 1948), folder 4, box 110, United Ukrainian American Relief Committee Records, Immigration History Research Center Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries.

The papers of Alexander A. Granovsky, a Ukrainian immigrant to the U.S. and former professor at the University of Minnesota, demonstrate the extraordinary personal investment in funds and time that Granovsky and his wife Irene Thorp dedicated to the resettlement of Ukrainian DPs to the Minneapolis area. The Granovskys communicated directly with Ukrainian DPs in Europe, often corresponding with them over the course of many months, in order to learn as much about them as possible and match them with the best possible sponsor in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. DPs would send the Granovskys portrait photos of each member of their families with details of their work histories and biographies. Some of these DPs had previously taught at universities, practiced medicine, or created vibrant works of art. While the Granovskys were not always able to place these DP families in similar occupations once they arrived in the U.S., the Granovskys continued to provide aid, advice, and guidance as they acclimated to their new lives in America. Granovsky would work directly with DP employers to ensure the DPs received the help and services they needed. Of the many individuals that this dissertation will discuss, the Granovskys stand out as some of the most personally invested in the well-being of DPs, and their efforts brought thousands of Ukrainian DPs to America.

Documents at the IHRCA will be foundational to my dissertation because they address all major aspects of the project. The documents show the important work conducted by concerned Americans to lobby for the passage of the DP Acts of 1948 and 1950, the efforts of voluntary agencies like the UUARC to resettle as many DPs as possible by appealing to the needs of potential American DP sponsors, and the personal dedication of individuals like the Granovskys to resettle DP families in need. Without my two visits to the IHRCA, I would not be able to adequately or effectively write about my topic. My time researching in the IHRCA has been some of the most enjoyable and productive experiences that I have had at any archive that I have visited for this project. The professionalism and helpfulness of the staff, including excellent student workers, stand out as highlights of my visits to the IHRCA. The second-to-none reading room and the thoroughness of online finding aids make researching a stress-free and efficient experience. I look forward to future trips to the IHRCA.

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