Back to Repatriation page 1
The events of the Cold War between the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) are some of the most pivotal events of the twentieth-century. The clash of the world’s two remaining superpowers, the possible use of atomic weapons, and the uncertainty of the conflict all contributed to its lingering importance. When those who lived through these events and historians who analyze them from a distance discuss the origins of the Cold War, it is usually described as a bi-lateral conflict- from the Berlin Blockade to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The lesser-known origins of this long and historically significant war also involved the nascent international community.
The United Nations (UN) represented the newly forming international community that had just been set up as a forum for countries throughout the world to engage with each other diplomatically in the hopes of preventing future violent conflicts and wars.1
The United Nations’ role in rebuilding war torn areas after the Second World War was the first task in which the international community was heavily involved. The great numbers of people in Europe who were dislocated from their countries of origin due to the circumstances of the war became the largest problem for the UN to solve as well as one of the most controversial. In fact the problem of displaced people would become the first salvo in the Cold War, one that occupied the international community, not just the US and the USSR.
A majority of the people displaced from their countries of origin after the war were residing in Germany and Austria after World War II and ended up there from all parts of Europe. The displaced persons (DPs) included a significant number of prisoners of war (POWs) taken by the Nazis, especially Frenchmen and Russians. Forced laborers, or people taken from their home by the Nazis to work in Austria or Germany, also made up a large portion of the DPs and were primarily from Eastern Europe and France. The main reason these groups were in Austria and Germany at the end of the war was a shortage of labor. According to Ulrich Herbert’s A History of Foreign Labor in Germany, 1880-1980, the Nazis began forcing POWs to work both in the agricultural and industrial sectors to do the jobs German men would have done if they were not fighting the war.As the war escalated, more German men were fighting elsewhere in Europe and in order to keep the economy and war machine running, the Nazis began importing labor, both willing and forced, from its occupied territories to the east and west.2
When the Nazis were defeated, the physical territory of Germany and Austria, and with the responsibility over the DPs who found themselves in these territories, were divided between the Allied powers of the United Kingdom (UK), the US and USSR. With so many governments involved in the rebuilding of Europe, the Allies decided to start addressing it before the war was even over. The Allies made agreements at Munich and Yalta.
The Allies discussed and decided the fate of the DPs at Yalta. They agreed that all three nations would help repatriate the other Allies’ citizens who were displaced and in their territory as speedily as possible. They also agreed to help repatriate the citizens of nations who were not at Yalta.3
While at the time these agreements were believed to solve the problems that arose due to the differences in policies and principles between the United States and USSR, those differences factored into each government’s interpretation of the documents. Who would be considered a citizen of the USSR? Would it include those people who were living in territory conquered by the Soviet Union from Poland and the Baltics in 1939?
This politicized problem of interpreting who was and who wasn’t a citizen, displaced person, and/or refugee ended up involving not just the three Allies, but the entire international community as well. Shortly after its establishment, the UN created the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to do its part in helping DPs. 4
Allied troops and UNRRA personnel separated displaced persons into camps according to their nationality. The Allied powers each ran the camps in their section of Germany or Austria and worked with the UNRRA to care for DPs and help repatriate them. While this would prove to be a difficult situation in terms of logistics, it would become even more complicated as some DPs refused to return to their country of origin or protested repatriation.
One thing all sides could agree upon--the DP situation needed to be resolved quickly. Most of the displaced people in Europe returned home in the months following the end of the war. The German and Austrian economies were practically non-existent at the end of World War II with few jobs available and after years of fighting the Nazis, allied troops were ready to go home.5
The USSR lost many men and much of its workforce in World War II so it had an interest in repatriating all of the displaced persons from the territories in its sphere of power, including Ukrainians, Poles and Yugoslavian.6
However, there were some groups who refused to return to their counties of origin, many of whom the Soviets claimed as their citizens. The majority of DPs from Soviet dominated areas who resisted repatriation included Russians, White Russians, Poles, Yugoslavians, Czechoslovakians, and Ukrainians. The reason most often cited for this refusal was that the government of their homeland had changed to communism while they were in Nazi POW or forced labor camps. Some DPs felt they would be persecuted by their homeland’s new communist government simply because they had experienced “the West” and capitalism.7
They referred to themselves as refugees. Still, the reasons these groups did not want to repatriate were probably more complex than a dislike of their homelands’ new governments.
Historians argue that DPs who refused to return to their country of origin were afraid of what might happen to them on their return.8
In his book, Making Sense of War, Amir Weiner explains that those who feared returning had reason to do so, as Stalin declared any of the POWs or forced laborers still alive in Germany at the end of the war collaborators.The USSR’s policy was based on the argument that because they were still alive at the end of the war, they must have not tried hard enough to defeat the Nazis.9
DPs’ fear of being classified as Nazi collaborators by their homeland’s new government and, in turn, their refusal to repatriate meant that they were trying to declare refugee status. This new idea of a displaced person who feared returning to his/her homeland, marking them as refugees, along with the USSR’s desire to repatriate all of the DPs within their sphere of influence made the DP situation a problem requiring attention, and made it the first battle in the Cold War. Some refugees went so far as to commit suicide than repatriate to the newly communist run areas, turning the situation into a humanitarian issue.10
Because almost all of the members involved in the DP problem wanted it to be resolved and some of the DPs were trying to claim refugee status, the approximately one and a half million displaced persons left in Germany and Austria in the fall of 1945 became an extremely complicated issue. The discussion over the fate of DPs claiming to be refugees did not take place at the bi-lateral level between the two remaining superpowers, the US and USSR, but in the international community at the United Nations. However, the historical debate has not recognized the political aspect of the DP crisis. Instead, the debate over refugees has been discussed as the first humanitarian issue in the United Nations but has not been seen as central to the origins of the Cold War.
Some historians have continually recognized the fact that the refugee problem was one of the first issues debated in the United Nations. In her book, Dyczok is very aware of the significance of refugees to the beginning of the United Nations. The problem is that she addresses the issue of DPs as if it were a purely humanitarian issue; displaced persons who did not want to return home feared for their life and the UN got involved because it was an issue of humanitarian importance. 11
Elliott’s book, Pawns of Yalta, approaches the international community and the DP situation from a similar point of view. Much is made of what Elliott describes as the humanitarian crimes of the US and USSR in forcing repatriation and the attempted suicides. While there is something to be learned from the humanitarian aspect of the DP problem, these historians fail to recognize the political importance of the international crisis in starting the Cold War.
Those historians who study the origins of the Cold War have often ignored the DP problem entirely when discussing the beginnings of the conflict. The historical debate over the origins of the Cold War began to emerge in the 1960s and 1970s. Two of the most well known historians of the period were DF Fleming and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. DF Fleming was a revisionist historian in that he was attempting to revise the commonly accepted history of the origins of the Cold War as the American response to Soviet aggressions in Europe. 12
He argues in his book, The Cold War and Its Origins,that the United States was mostly responsible for the Cold War because of its desires to be the only world power.13
He goes into detail about the 1946 Iron Curtain speech by Winston Churchill at Westminster College as well as the Truman Containment policy. According to Fleming, these statements provoked the Soviet Union and were the reason the USSR took a defensive attitude to the US, thus beginning the Cold War. The book does not mention the international community throughout its discussion of the Cold War origins. In an extensive chronology of the Cold War- 1944 to 1950- at the beginning of the book, Fleming does not list the debate over displaced persons or the United Nations at all.14
Although historians had different ideas from Fleming about who was to blame for the Cold War, like Fleming, they do not consider the international community’s debates over DPs significant to the discussion.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was one of the first to respond to Fleming’s revisionist history. In Origins of the Cold War, he argues that the United States was simply reacting to what the Soviet Union was doing, focusing on the question of whether places like Poland, Greece and Turkey would be democratic or not.15
He says that problem was a difference in how each government saw the future of the world, either in terms of spheres of influence for the Russians or universalism for the Americans. Schlesinger defines spheres of influence as when the major powers of the world control spheres or regions of the world that are of interest to them, creating a balance of power. Universalism is the idea that no one or two countries should decide what happens in the world, but all nations should have an equal voice in international issues. 16
While there is mention of the international community, he only talks about the actual conflict in terms of the future of Poland, Greece and Turkey as well as the Truman Doctrine and Soviet response to it.17
The conflict about displaced persons, their repatriation, and the politicization of the refugee question that took place in the UN is not in the story.
The origins of the Cold War in the international community will be discussed through the lens of the situation of Ukrainian DPs refusing repatriation. Most of the DPs in Germany and Austria had an internationally recognized country before World War II, such as Yugoslavia and Poland, both of which were clearly independent nations under Soviet influence. While in the 1920s the USSR officially recognized the Ukrainians as a national group during its policy of indigenization to garner public support, the Ukrainians have historically seen themselves as being a stateless nationality overrun by the Poles and Russians. Because of their lack of a modern state, there was confusion among the western Allies as to what the status of DPs claiming to be Ukrainian was.18
Technically their country of origin was the Soviet Union or the eastern part of Poland that became part of the Soviet Union at the end of the war. However, many claimed they did not want to return to a communist run homeland. The Ukrainians were a unique group of DPs because of their lack a modern nation and in turn, the ambiguous status of their citizenship. Were they Soviet citizens and if so, should they be forced to repatriate under the Yalta agreement? Given Ukraine’s long history as part of Russia and, after 1917, Communist Soviet Union, if they became refugees to be resettled in the United States, would they bring Soviet communism with them?
The humanitarian aspect of the refugee problem meant that the majority of countries’ delegates in the United Nations disagreed with the USSR and other eastern countries delegates about the fate of the DPs. Heading up this opposition were the Soviet’s wartime allies, the United States and United Kingdom. While the first part of the first session was not very political, the debates became more rhetorical in the second part of the first session. In 1947, this debate began to affect politics in the United States Congress, specifically concerning the possible resettlement of these refugees in the United States.
By examining the debate over Ukrainian refugees, we will see that the Cold War did not begin because the USSR or US overreacted to whether X or Y country would be communist or democratic like Fleming and Schlesinger argue. It began over the politics of refugees and the role of humanitarian arguments in the international community. The debate in the United Nations over DPs escalated the beginnings of the Cold War because it brought out fundamental differences between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Politics heightened even further when the U.S. Congress wrestled with the question: would Ukrainian refugees bring the possibility of a foreign communist invasion through resettlement and immigration.
With over one and a half million displaced people in Europe at the end of 1945, the refugee problem had become of great importance to the newly forming “international community,” represented after the war by the United Nations. At preliminary UN meetings, delegates decided that the Economic and Social Council of the UN would be responsible for the DP problem, because it was considered an issue of humanitarian, rather than political, concern.19
The council decided that a semi-permanent international organization should be set up to work on the refugee problem, and therefore, it established a special committee to create it. The debates in the UN General Assembly over DPs concern the creation of the semi-permanent refugee organization and its possible purposes.
The General Assembly of the UN, in which all member countries have one seat and one vote, devoted most of its first session to administrative concerns.20
The only substantive debate the General Assembly took up was the DP question, showing how pressing the issue was. The UN General Assembly verbatim transcripts of the first and second part of the first session show how the UN debate over refugees became gradually more political and fomented the beginnings of the Cold War.
The first time the UN General Assembly addressed this pressing problem was on February 12, 1946, during the First Part of the First Session.21
The debate was over creating an International Refugee Organization (IRO). The delegates addressed a resolution that would give guidelines to a Special Committee to write a draft constitution for the IRO.22
The debate took place over a series of three amendments to the guidelines resolution that the delegate from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) proposed, approved by the delegate from Yugoslavia and supported by Polish and the Ukrainian delegates. Even though the Ukraine was not a recognized country both before and after the war, the USSR fought to get this territory, which they controlled, a voice in the United Nations.23
The United Kingdom’s delegate and the United States’ delegate, Eleanor Roosevelt, generally opposed the three amendments that the USSR proposed.
The USSR amendments to the resolution under consideration were:
Despite the differences in opinion between the US, UK and USSR delegates, it is obvious from the transcripts that they were trying to come to a resolution to the DP problem on which all sides could agree. The Rapporteur, or secretary, of the Third Committee, Mrs. Dalen from Norway states, “Seven meetings, apart from meetings of a Drafting Sub-Committee, were devoted to discussions of the refugee problem..., and more than a score of delegations took an active part.”25
Seven meetings of a committee devoted only to the subject of DPs shows that the delegates were willing to take the time to work together and find a mutually agreeable solution. The U.N. seemed to be working as a forum for international diplomacy and compromise.
Subsequent committee meetings were not the only occasion in which delegates spent time talking about DPs. The General Assembly’s very first meeting made the DPs one of the UN’s first problems to solve. As the first official gathering of the “international community,” all the participants spoke with idealism about solving the DP problem diplomatically and not politically.
Mr. Andrei Vyshinsky, the head delegate from the USSR, was the first to speak on the question of DPs and made a persistent effort to maintain his country’s relationship with its wartime Allies. He says that no one is forcing DPs to repatriate if they do not want to. His argument in favor of the amendment involving propaganda attempted to play on the common interests of the US and USSR. He refers to “fascist or semi-fascist propaganda directed against every principle that is obligatory for all of us” being distributed in DP camps. Vyshinsky suggests that the fight against fascism and other principles “obligatory” formally bind the countries of the UN together. He raised the specter of fascism in his defense of the second amendment as well.26
However, the desire to find common ground did not mean Vyshinsky completely disregarded Soviet political interests. Despite a statement by Vyshinsky’s that the resolution would not force DPs to return to their homeland, buried in the original resolution was a clause that made it impossible interfere with repatriation agreed to in “… present or future international arrangements or agreements.”27 He is referring to Yalta and the agreement to repatriate each country’s DPs. To the USSR, the DP problem was a humanitarian issue only when Vyshinsky desired to appeal to other UN members; underneath the surface, repatriation was really a political goal.
Like the USSR, Yugoslavia supported the amendments and called for repatriation under international agreements. Rather than use such undiplomatic words as “forced repatriation,” Mr. Alas Bebler, the Yugoslav delegate, questioned the motives of those refusing to go home. He argues that only traitors and those whose past included “...anti-democratic activities” had a reason to fear returning to their homeland and implies that those claiming refugee status must be Nazi collaborators. This is an attempt to not only build camaraderie through a common enemy but also further their- and seemingly the USSR’s- political goals. To build community, Bebler thanks Eleanor Roosevelt, the American delegate, for her understanding attitude in recognizing the chief goal of the resolution should be to encourage and help DPs repatriate. 28
Despite the attempts of the USSR and Yugoslavia to gain support for the amendments by finding commonalities, Mrs. Roosevelt spoke out against them. When she first spoke against the amendments, she apologized for her opposition. She reminded the other delegates that she was speaking from her point of view as an American and that she saw the problem differently than Europeans.
Throughout the debate, never once does either delegate say by name the largest difference between their two nations- communism. However, the debate over the propaganda amendment illuminates the tension between the two nations’ governing ideologies beneath the diplomacy. This subtle tension illuminates the vast difference between the governing principles of the US and USSR, and their beliefs on the freedoms of common people. This is the first sign of the ideological conflict that would become the Cold War, despite the fact that the delegates do not say it outright.
Mrs. Roosevelt flatly says that she objects to the resolution’s propaganda amendment. Her reasoning almost perfectly illustrates the values of the US:
“It is like saying you are always sure you are going to be right. I am not always sure my Government or my nation will be right…We can always stand having amongst us the people who do not agree because we are sure that the right is so carefully guarded, and the freedom of people is so carefully guarded, that we shall always have the majority with us.”29
She is arguing that DPs have rights and the people in charge of their well-being should not restrict their freedoms because they are afraid a minority might spread the wrong kind of ideas. Two ideas in this quote show the democratic values of Mrs. Roosevelt and the US: the right to believe and say governing bodies are wrong and that the majority can protect the “right.” Whether intentional or not, Mrs. Roosevelt uses the rhetoric of the Cold War in her discussion of DPs and attempts to convince other nations that the US’s ideology is the right one, but she does it covertly rather than overtly.
There were only three intervening speeches before Vyshinsky returned to the podium to respond to Mrs. Roosevelt’s speech, showing how serious the USSR was taking this now ideological discussion about DPs. He was critical of Mrs. Roosevelt’s speech because in his words, she “...propounded a thesis of unrestricted freedom- I repeat, unrestricted freedom.”30
He goes on to argue that allowing unlimited freedom of speech would leave the camps open for tyranny, such as fascism, to infiltrate. In reference to the pre-war appeasement of Nazi Germany, Vyshinsky asks, “…whether it ought not to be said that we had too much tolerance in the past and that we paid too high a price.”31
Unlike the US delegate who touts the power of the majority despite dissenters, he argues that the wrong ideas can destroy a society if not restricted. Similar to Mrs. Roosevelt, Vyshinsky is trying to convince the other delegates by using the example of DPs that the USSR’s ideology is right.
None of the USSR’s amendments passed, but despite this, the resolution passed unanimously. At this time, solving the DP crisis was so important to the international community, that the resolution to form a refugee organization passed despite the USSR’s attempt to have more input in the guidelines. Even though the desire to keep peace and work through conflict overrode the building tension between the US and USSR during the first part of the UN’s first session, the unspoken agreement began to unravel by the end of 1946.
The Economic and Social committee met during the summer months of 1946 to create the new International Refugee Organization (IRO) draft constitution. Note the shift from the word “DP” to “refugee” showing recognition by many that some people do not want to be repatriated. It is at these special sessions that the delegates created a working definition of who could claim refugee status. It would apply to those persecuted because of racial, religious, or political reasons by persons outside their country of origin or were unwilling or unable to find protection for themselves by their homeland government.32
Still, the differences in opinion between the USSR and US about the purpose of the IRO ended the brief era of compromise in favor of deadlock and the start of the Cold War. The refugee’s’ countries of origin (such as the USSR, Poland and Yugoslovia) wanted to ensure that the organization would only help DPs (in other words, not refugees) who wished to return to their homeland. The DPs who refused repatriation, they argued, were to be sent back as criminals, quislings and traitors. In other words, all the Soviets wanted to ensure that all DPs would repatriate, either willingly or as a war criminals. These countries also want to ensure that they had the largest representation in the IRO because, according to them, they had the most at stake in the crisis.33
On the contrary, the US and UK, along with the other western countries, argued that DPs should be allowed to claim refugee status and all UN members should have equal representation in the organization.34
The USSR and other countries of origin exhausted their efforts to get the draft constitution more in line with their aims. During those few summer months the Soviets and their allies submitted more than fifty amendments during committee to no avail; the draft constitution allowed DPs to claim refugee status after an IRO screening, and apply for resettlement.35
The debate over the IRO’s draft constitution continued in the second part of the General Assembly’s first session in December 1946. Compared to the GA’s first meeting, the second’s discussion of DPs- or by this point, refugees- more clearly showed the rhetoric of the Cold War. This time the Americans would invoke the humanitarian crisis of the refugees. Roosevelt wanted the IRO to be a resettlement organization and, in turn, meet the political goals of the US. As the first to speak on refugees, Roosevelt stated that while some would return to their countries of origin, “some of them are looking forward to having their rights as human beings assured.” She infuses her language with politics and in doing this, ups the linguistic stakes of the debate. She goes on to say that, the UN should resettle those who do not want to return for “valid reasons.”36
Trying to find support for the constitution, she tells the delegates, “As UN members, we owe them [the refugees] a place to live. They shared our fight [.]”37
In other words, DPs helped to beat the Nazis and the world owed them the right to claim refugee status. Like the USSR, the US was now willing to use political commonalities to gain delegates votes. She continually tried to convince the delegates that this was not the problem of a few countries due to the accident of war, but a “heroic situation” requiring the attention of the entire international community.38
The Soviet response to Roosevelt was one of the most emotional, ideological, and angry speeches given in the UN up until this point. Instead of Vyshinsky, Andrei Gromyko, who served as ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, represented the Soviet Union in the GA, and he was very harsh in his judgment of the UN’s role in the DP- not refugee- problem. He opposed the IRO constitution, because it did not clearly represent what the Soviets felt the purpose of the organization should be, helping DPs repatriate. Showing a clear difference in opinion from the US, he says the UN has an obligation to repatriate DPs and their work in doing so “has been completely unsatisfactory,” backing his statement with UNRRA repatriation figures.39
Gromyko made the first outright attack on the US in the UN, perhaps even the first in the Cold War:
“It appears that those who speak in favour of resettlement and those who express the desire to accept such emigrants wish to take this opportunity of obtaining cheap labour. We have recently read in American newspapers indications of the desirability of bringing 20,000 women refugees to New York to be used for domestic service.”
Arguing that the US only wants DPs to resettle because they want “cheap labour” is the first time the Soviets used a Marxist critique of the U.S. in the international community. Gromyko’s statement shows the communist disdain for what he would call American opportunistic capitalism; for the US the problem is not about humanitarian issues as Roosevelt claims, but about capitalistic aims.
Whereas in the GA’s first part of the first session not many other delegates besides the Allies and the countries of origin spoke on the question of DPs, the discussion on the IRO constitution in December 1946 brought a more diverse group of delegates to the podium. The delegates from Canada, Brazil, and Lebanon spoke in favor of the document. All of them clearly argued that all men had rights and it was the United Nations job to help protect them. In the case of refugees, this meant allowing them to resettle if they did not wish to repatriate voluntarily.40In this way, we see Cold War rhetoric internationalized.
In response to these countries, the Soviets had its allies speak. The delegates from Yugoslavia and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic supported the USSR’s position against the constitution. Like Gromyko, these delegates spoke with more forceful Cold War rhetoric than in the first GA meeting. The Ukrainian delegate, Dr. L.I. Medved, gave a speech that is the best example of this, at one time stating:
“So long as a single murderer of our people remains in refugee camps, so long as one murderer of our old people and children, or one incendiary or one destroyer of our villages remains in the camps, we will not rest and we will not be put off by any talk of freedom of speech.”41
Medved suggests that the resistance to repatriation among many DPs was the result of wartime criminal activity. In his view, prosecuting “crimes,” or extradition, trumps freedom of speech. Ironically, by marking those who resist repatriation as “war criminals,” he simultaneously heightened their case for refugee status.
Those in favor of the constitution and those opposed to it used Cold War rhetoric to not only discuss refugees but also to promote political ideology to a degree that previously would have been unheard of at the international level. The vote on the constitution shows that the former wartime Allies were no longer willing to work together on this issue. For the first time, the USSR and its expected supporters- Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and Yugoslavia- voted against the majority in the UN led by the US. A vote of 30 to 5 officially created the IRO. In the end, the Soviet Union and its satellites refused to recognize the IRO as an organization.42
With the IRO’s constitution in place, the Cold War began, four months before Harry Truman publicly “declared a Cold War.”43
On March 12, 1947, US President Harry Truman gave his famous Truman Doctrine speech to a joint session of Congress. The speech discussed the political situation of Greece and Turkey, specifically whether they would be democratic or Soviet. He clearly states the differences between American and Soviet ideology- such as restrictions on freedoms- already displayed in the UN General Assembly the previous year. The Truman Doctrine was the policy of the US during the Cold War to help democratic countries not fall to communism. 44
To most Cold War historians, this speech is the official beginning of the Cold War. Truman mentions the UN only to assert his desire to see it used as a peacekeeping organization, but does not discuss the refugee problem, nor how the U.N. had already become a Cold War battleground the previous year.
However, the refugee problem continued to affect American politics during the beginning of the Cold War. The US Congress was one of the first countries to approve the IRO constitution. One of the key questions senators had was whether membership to the IRO would require them to help resettle some of the refugees.45
While joining the IRO would not require the US to resettle refugees, it would be only four months before the issue of immigration would come before Congress.
In July 1947, the House of Representatives Judiciary sub-committee on Immigration and Naturalization heard testimony as to whether the United States should allow admission of 400,000 DPs. The use of the “DPs” instead of “refugees” suggests that the US Congress had not yet made up its mind as to whether DPs could claim refugee status. In the hearings, it is obvious that the Cold War had begun in American politics. These hearings are also the first time we see the use of Ukrainians as a political pawn.
The majority of those speaking against the bill to allow immigration were labor union representatives and isolationists. One of the first to speak against the bill was Mr. Charles Babcock, chair of the National Legislative Committee of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. He argued that “[u]nrest and dissatisfaction always follow in the wake of war” and that people “...will adopt almost any means in order to accomplish their desires.”46
He is questioning the motives of those DPs who declare refugee status and, in turn, suggests they are lying about their fears to return to Soviet controlled states. Furthering his point that refugees cannot be trusted, he states:
“We submit the introduction of 400,000 people of doubtful loyalty to their own nations would be detrimental to the general welfare of the United States...We are hearing too much about Communists [.] A strict compliance with immigration laws as to eligibility of these displaced persons would no doubt disqualify many of these people for admittance here as immigrants for permanent residence.”47
He is asking whether the refugees are communist or capable of democratic “loyalties.” These are the first signs of what historians would later call the “Red Scare.”
Some US Representatives feared that allowing DPs to immigrate to America would open the door for communist infiltrators. Representative Ted Gossett of Texas suggested that if the Soviets wanted to spread communism they would encourage DPs to lie about their political background in order to infiltrate the US. Babcock agrees with Gossett’s assertion and goes on to argue, “[H]e would claim anything else that would hide the fact that he was a communist and that might keep him out of the country.”48
Speaking with perfect anti-communist Cold War rhetoric, Gossett and Babcock portrayed DPs from Soviet controlled countries as communists, liars, and possibly even spies. Even those DPs whom Babcock says in his words are as “…opposed to communism as I would be,” are still accused of having “communistic tendencies.”49
To Babcock, any DP, especially a Ukrainian DP, who may have lived under Soviet role for more than thirty years, was a possible communist, showing not only that DPs were still significant in the Cold War, but how little time it took for the conflict’s rhetoric to become part of American politics.
Those testifying in favor of the bill were generally people who were on the ground in Europe and worked directly with DPs. They also discussed the DP immigration problem using heavy Cold War rhetoric early in the conflict. The testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Sage of the United State Army Headquarters of European Command in Frankfort, Germany is similar to the speeches of Eleanor Roosevelt in the UN. Both concentrated on the humanitarian refugee crisis. Sage tells his story of being captured by Nazis and attempting to escape. He attributes his successful escape to the help of a Ukrainian laborer and Pole.50
Like Roosevelt in the second part of the UN GA meetings, he is suggesting that DPs took part in the defeat of the Nazis and the US had a responsibility to help them.
Throughout his testimony, Sage attempts to ease the fears of the Representatives that the DPs had questionable motives. As someone who directly interacted with DPs, he was able to include personal anecdotes to show that most DPs were anti-communist and in fact feared repatriation. He says he witnessed and calmed the panic in Ukrainian or Yugoslav DP camps when they heard Soviet soldiers were coming to question them for repatriation.51
Sage also gives a quote from a Yugoslav DP with which he kept close contact:
“Should I go home to a political regime I hate and fear, to be tried…accuse[d] of being a collaborator during the time I was spending 2 years and 50 pounds of flesh in German prison camps?”52
Sage is using what he would call “first-hand testimony” to argue that the Nazis abused DPs and the US owed them at least admission to the US. He is also stating that the DPs had valid reason for not returning, fear of being considered a “collaborator.” This closely mirrors the US’s humanitarian argument in the UN for allowing DPs to claim refugee status. Here we can see the overlap of Cold War rhetoric from the international community to American politics.
Taking Sage’s testimony as true about what was happening in European DP camps, the fact that he mentions “Ukrainians” eight times throughout his testimony is significant.53
It suggests that the US Army acknowledged and recognized the Ukrainians, at least as an ethnic group, even though they did not have an internationally recognized country. No other document mentions the “Ukrainians” specifically. To Sage, Ukrainian DPs are a unique, persecuted, anti-communist group that deserved the US’s support in resettling.
This is vastly different from Babcock’s testimony in which all DPs from Soviet controlled areas were the same and had “communistic tendencies.” While Babcock recognizes that “communist” DPs could come from Poland, a well-established country before World War II, he lumps Ukrainians with the other DPs of what he would call questionable motives. The differences between Sage and Babcock’s testimony relating to Ukrainians show that American Cold War politics did not allow for a truthful discussion about the Ukrainian DPs’ complicated situation.
In the end, those with the optimistic view of Ukrainians, and refugees in general, won out. The bill passed allowing 400,000 refugees from Europe into America.54
No doubt after the bill passed, there were still some Representatives who feared America would be flooded with communist immigrants, but there was no further “Red Scare” involving refugees. America would have to wait until the 1950’s for the “Red Scare” mentality and “McCarthyism” to take over politics and society.
Up until now, historians have not recognized refugees or the “international community” as a major player in the beginnings of the Cold War. In the first session of the United Nations in 1946 and later in the 1947 US Congress, the debate over refugees- or DPs- gradually took on the rhetoric of the Cold War. The debate over DPs in the UN brought the differences in Soviet and American ideology to the forefront when, ironically, the UN was to be a forum to end international conflict. While the Soviet delegates clearly represented their countries desire to repatriate all DPs, the US delegate discussed freedoms and rights of man to argue DPs should be able to claim refugee status.
This type of rhetoric increased as the debate over the possible immigration of refugees brought the crisis closer to home. Refugees became a domestic Cold War issue because there was fear among American politicians as to the political status of these people. Were they communists or did they have the capability of being loyal to democracy? Arguments in favor of DPs closely mirrored those made in the UN in their favor. This overlap shows that the UN debate over DPs affected the beginnings of Cold War politics in America.
For Ukrainian DPs, the result of the debate in the UN and Congress over them was bittersweet. Ukrainians did not get their own country, as they would have liked, but some were able to claim refugee status and resettle in not just the US, but Canada and South American countries as well. While as a whole, Ukrainians would not truly be independent from the Soviets until 1992 a few displaced persons had a chance at a new, independent start. This is not in spite of the fact that they were central to the origins of the Cold War but because of it.55
2. Ulrich Herbert, A History of Foreign Labor in Germany, 1880-1980,(Michigan: University of Michigan
Press, 1993), 131
4. Marta Dyczok, The Grand Alliance and Ukrainian Refugees, (Oxford: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 99
5. For information on the economic situation of Germany after WWII, see Dyczok, 118-119. See Dyczok, 49-51 for a more detailed discussion of the attitudes of Allied military personnel.
6. Dyczok, Grand Alliance, 118
9 .Amir Weiner, Making Sense of War: the Second World War and the fate of the Bolshevik Revolution, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 160-162
13. DF Fleming, excerpt from The Cold War and Its Origins, Ed. Donald Kagan, Brian Tierney and L. Pearce Williams, The Cold War- Who is to Blame?, (New York: Random House, 1977), 9
14. DF Fleming, The Cold War, 5-8
15. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., excerpt from Origins of the Cold War, Ed. Donald Kagan, Brian Tierney and L. Pearce Williams, The Cold War- Who is to Blame?, (New York: Random House, 1977), 55-58
16. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Origins of the Cold War, 48-50
17. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Origins of the Cold War, 61
18. Dyczok, Grand Alliance, 7-9
19. United Nations General Assembly, Official Records, Verbatim Record, First Part, First Session, 603
Belgium, Canada, China, Cuba, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Iran, Lebanon, Liberia, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippine Republic, Union of South Africa, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay and Venezuela voted for the constitution. Voting against were the aforementioned USSR and her satellites. UN GA,Official Records Second Part, First Session, 1454-1455
Archives of Europe: http://www.uidaho.edu/special-collections/euro1.html
If this site was helpful to you, please consider making a donation to keep it going.