The needs of the World War II Displaced Persons were anticipated by the United States. American authorities were not fully aware of the enormity of the NAZI crimes in the occupied countries, but it was clear that there were large numbers of displaced persons. The United States thus helped established and fund the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration--UNRRA (1943). The purpose of the new agency was to provide services for the postwar refugees and to help repatriate them to their own countries. UNRRA was not created specifically to assist Jewish refugees, but refugees in general. Because of NAZI race policies, however, Jews were the group most affected by the War and in need of assistance. While established in 1943, UNRRA could not begin its principal work until NAZI occupied Europe was liberated. UNRRA opened camps in North Africa and began prepsrations for its work when after D-Day and Soviets offences in the East, the NAZI empire was rapidly dimantalled. UNRRA was in place when Germany surrendered (May 1945). The collpase of the NAZI war economy and the homocidal administration of many NAZI camps meant that huge numbers of people were in desperate straits when the Allies reached them. UNRRA had the task of saving millions of starving individuals and organizing the homeward journey of most of the refugees. UNRRA set up refugee camps in old schools, military barracks, even barns. These camps were meant to be short-term transit camps, and in fact most non-Jewish refugees within a year and a half had been returned to theit home countries, an amazing accomplishment. Jewish refugees, however, presented an especially difficult problem. [Greenfeld] In most cases they were unwilling or unable to go home. Returning people to Soviet occupied countries was another major problem.
NAZI crimality is often described as war crimes. The killing was not limited to the War, but the great bulk of the killing did take place during the War--but often not part of military operations. There were actual war crimes, but the most horrendous crimes were killing civilians that were not a threat and had nothing to do with the war. German military successes early in the War put the NAZIs in a position to carry out these crimes and the killing was conducted during the War. And not all of the killing was done by NAZI organizations. The Wehrmacht was involved as well doctors iand nurses in civilian hospitals and healt facilities. The ultimate authority for these actions, however was the NAZI government instaled by Reich Führer Adolf Hitler. The most serious war crimes was the mistreatment and muder of POWS. Here there was a destinction between POWs in the East and West. Not only did huge numbers of Russian and Polish POWs perish, but large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support yhe war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East. There was also the Lebensborn program aimed at children. In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking ws the T-4 Program.
The needs of the World War II Displaced Persons were anticipated by the United States. The American public and even well-enformed authorities were not fully aware of the enormity of the NAZI crimes in the occupied countries. They in fact defy understanding. It was clear that there were large numbers of displaced persons with enormous needs.
The United States helped established and fund the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration--UNRRA (1943). From an early point, it was U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt who came up with the idea of a United Nations and used the term in him war-time speches. He had been a strong supporter of President Wilson and his League of Nations. UNRAA would be the first U.N. agency. Roosevelt proposed UNRRA (June 1943) to provide relief in areas liberated from the Axis powers. Mrs. Roosevelt was a strong supporter from the beginning. The focus from the beginning was on areas liberated from the NAZIs in Europe. More than 40 other countries endorsed the effort to form the first United Nations organization. The founding document was signed by 44 countries in the White House in Washington (November 9, 1943). It was called a United Nations agency, but the United Nations did not yet exist. And the United States was the only country in the position to provide assistance at the level needed. The purpose of the new agency was to provide services for the postwar refugees and to help repatriate them to their own countries. Its charter charged it to "plan, co-ordinate, administer or arrange for the administration of measures for the relief of victims of war in any area under the control of any of the United Nations through the provision of food, fuel, clothing, shelter and other basic necessities, medical and other essential services". The staff consisted of about 12,000 people, with headquarters in New York.
UNRRA was not created specifically to assist Jewish refugees, but refugees in general. Because of NAZI race policies, however, Jews were the group most affected by the War and most in need of assistance. But most of the Jews who fell into NAZI hands were murdered. Thus the numbers of Jews who could be helped were tragically limited. By the time UNRAA was operational, most of the Jews that the Germans had bee able to round up had been killed. Another problem was the initial UNRRA charter. The charter empowered UNRRA to provide aid only to nationals from the United Nations (Allied nations). This thus did not include German Jews or Jews from other Axis nations (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania). Jewish organizations brought this issue to the attention of President Roosevelt. This was thus changed (late-1944). Ironically, it was German Jews who were often the most likely to have survived the Holocaust. The change added the phase, 'other persons who have been obliged to leave their country or place of origin or former residence or who have been deported there from by action of the enemy because of race, religion or activities'. UNRAA was unable to assist the Jews in German hands, only those who had escaped from Germany occupied areas or who managed to survive until liberation.
Both th United States and Brtain had relief efforts in the Middle East. We know the United States was active in because we notice American food containers in various countries. The United States had been active in the region as a result of Near East Relief launched to save the Armenians being murdered by the Ottoman Turks (1910s-20s). In addition to the local population, after the outbreak of World War II there was also camps set up for European refugees. Some camps for Poles were set up in Iran. Most promently, the British set up several camps as part of their Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration (1942). The program was adminitered from offices in Cairo. The program assisted some 40,000 people (mostly Greeks, Poles, and Yugoslavs) who managed to escpe the NAZIs and Soviets. UNRRA took over the effort (1944). The refugees were cred for in camps located in Egypt, southern Palestine and Syria. Almost all of the food distributed by the British and UNRRA was provided by America.
The United States sperheaded the formation of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) (1943). UNRRA's first operations were in the Middle East and North Africa, taking over the operations
of the British Middle East Relief and Refugee Administration and the camps thy set up to care for Europeans that manged to escape from the NAZIs and Soviets. The Middle East was he one area that the British managed to hold and sucessfully resist Axis military offensives. The numbers of European refugees reaching the Middle was realtively small, something like 40,000 people. It was not easy to escape from the NAZIs and Soviets. The refugees escaping ftrom the NAZIs were mnostly Greeks and Yugosalvs. The refugees escaping from the Soviets were mostly Poles. Other southern European countrues near the Middle East were either Axis coutrues (Italy, Romania, and Bulgaria). Spain did not joint the Axis, but has clse rekations to the NAZis and Italian Fascists, The difficulties of eacaping meant that the numbers of refugees was relativly small, compared to the desperate situation being created by the NAZIs in Europe. The need for asssistance building up in NAZI-occupied Europe was without parallel in European history, including the situation after World War I. Most of the food it distributed was provided by the Americans.
While established in 1943, UNRRA could not begin its principal work until NAZI occupied Europe was liberated. Some work as noted above could be done in North Africa. UNRRA operated its first camps in North Africa. The real work could only begin whem Allid arms liberated Europe. This began in Sicily (July 1943) and mainland Itlaly (September 1943). German success in opposing tghe Allies meant that much of the country for a while remained in German hands. ome wa not liberated for nearly a year (June 1944). Meanwhile UNRRA prepsrations for its work. This began in earest when after D-Day and Soviets offences in the East, the Germans bgan falling back on all fronts. Work could begin in France (June 1944), Belgium and the Netherlands (September 1944), and Greece and Yugoslavia (October 1944). The goal of assisting the millions of displace persons (DPs) in German hands, however, could only begin after the Allies entered the Reich and liberated the NAZI concentration and labor camps (March 1945). The NAZI empire was rapidly dimantalled.
The collpase of the NAZI war economy (November 1944) and the homocidal administration of many NAZI camps meant that huge numbers of people were in desperate straits when the Allies reached them (1944-45). UNRRA was in place when Germany surrendered (May 1945). It faced a massive undertaking, Europe wasah with DP's, many in terrivle condition, sick and starving. And kin addition the civilian population who remained in their homes was also facing severe food shortages and their problems, so addressing the needs of the DP's would have to come from abroad, meaning primarily America.UNRRA had the task of saving millions of starving individuals and organizing the homeward journey of most of the refugees. UNRRA set up refugee camps in old schools, military barracks, nunneries, even barns. What ever space they could find. We note an image of UNRAA workers helping DP children in an old nunnery. They even used some NAZI camps. UNRRA was especially active in 1945 and 1946. UNRRA oversaw extensive operations in occupied Germany, mostly to operate camps for Displaced Persons. The Germans had brought 11 million peope into the Reich, mostly forcibly, to provide labor for the NAZI war economy. UNRRA did not, however, provide assistance to ethnic Germans
Most of the resources available to UNRRA came from the United States. The dmensions of the problem were such tht only government action could meet the desperate immediate need. Funding came from many countries and totaled $3.7 billion, of which the United States Government contributed $2.7 billion; Britain $0.6 billion, and Canada $0.1 billion. Other countries contributed smaller amounts. The British contribution is notable considering the fact that the British people were suffering few a very strict ratiuoning program. UNRRA was not just a government effort. Not all the aid was from the United States and other governments. An important part of the effort was the activities of private charitable organiizations. It addition to American and other government funding, assistance was provided by many private groups, mostly in the United States. Many Americans were touched by the images they saw in the newsreels and periodical publications and wanted to help. UNRRA frcm the beginning worked closely with volunteer charitable organizations which were already in existence at the time UNRRA was founded. They sent hundreds of experiences aid workers to work with UNRRA. They also help launch drives to collect food and clothing which could be distributed in war ravaged Europe.
The bulk of UNRRAs work was done in 3 years (1944-47). UNRRA managed to destribute about $4 billion worth of goods, food, medicine, clothing, tools, and farm implements to a continrent awash with desperate people. The DPs were the most desperate, but large numbers of people who were still in their communities were also deperately short of food and other essentials. There were shortages of everything in Europe and the transportation system was destroyed in Europe and barely operating in the liberated countries. The UNRRA camps for DPs were meant to be short-term transit camps, and in fact most non-Jewish refugees within a year and a half had been returned to their home countries, an amazing accomplishment. UNRRA was certainly not perfect. There were reports of inefficiency, poor planning, shortages as well as incompetent personnel. There were also some reports of corruption--mostly associate with the Chinese Nationalists. Given the enormity of the problem and the need to rapidly deliver aid to prevenbt an humanitarian disaster, UNRRA's performance in Europe was a major success. [Hitchcock, p. 225.] We might say it was more accurately described as a near mirracle. UNRRA was thus able to largely shut down operations (1947). As an American relief effort, UNRRA was largely replaced by the Marshall Plan (1948).
Jewish refugees presented an especially difficult problem. [Greenfeld] UNRAA attempted to provide emergency relief as needed and to ger refugees back to their countries of origin. This was not easy in the case of thge Jewish refugees. In most cases they were unwilling or unable to go home. The NAZI killing process was so sucessful, that the communities that they had come from no longer existed. Some Jews trying to return home were attacked, especially in Eastern Europoe. An especially egrious pogrom occurred in Poland. And many Jews were afraid to return home because of the way many of their countrymen had cooperated with the NAZIs. So the primary UNRAA policy of getting the refugees home could not be pursued in the case of most Jewish refugees. And the children were a special mproblem because in most cases their parents and even extended famikly were all dead. UNRAA provided support for displaced persons camps, but Jewish oirganization from an early point organized the Jews in these camps. At the time Israel did not exist. And the British to placate the Arabs were not allowing Jewish migration into Palestine. Jewish organizations attempted to get somec refugees ito Palestine surepticously.
Returning people to Soviet occupied countries was another major problem.
UNRRA became part of the United Nations when thast organization wsas founded in San Franciso (1945). UNRRA's functions were eventually split up among several agencies as the United Nations developed, primarily the International Refugee Organization and the World Health Organization.
Greenfeld, Howard. After the Holocaust (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins Publishers, 2001).
Hitchcock, William I. The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe (2009).
Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main World War II refugee page]
[Return to Main displaced children page]
[Return to Main Holocaust displaced children page]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]