After the Holocaust

Pittsburgh-area liberator Joseph Eaton
Photo © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As the war came to a close, Allied forces discovered and liberated Nazi concentration camps, freeing thousands of Holocaust survivors, many of whom had lost everything. More than two million Europeans were displaced, including 250,000 Jews. American, Soviet, British, and French occupying forces set up displaced persons (DP) camps to house them. In 1948, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act, authorizing 200,000 DPs to enter the United States without being counted against the immigration quotas. The act did not include any special provisions for Jewish DPs.

Between the establishment of the DP camps in 1945 and the closure of the last camp in 1957, approximately 140,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors immigrated to the United States. Approximately 1,500 of them came to Pittsburgh.

Now that America was finally opening its doors, the American Jewish community was about to shoulder a responsibility that would test its resources, commitment, and understanding. Unlike previous generations of Jewish immigrants, these refugees were often the only survivors of their entire families.

Pittsburgh Jewish Federation campaign to get Jews out of DP camps in Europe
Photo © Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives

In Pittsburgh, the aid organizations that had been established throughout the previous century opened their doors to these refugees. They met newcomers at the train station, took them to appointments, offered English and naturalization classes, and helped them find housing. Organizations like Service to the Foreign Born provided survivors with assistance in filing for reparation and pension claims from West Germany. Montefiore Hospital treated refugees free of charge.

“We had no sense of the Holocaust as we know now, with a capital H. We really didn’t understand what people were telling us. The stories sounded too horrible. We simply did not believe them.”

-Ethel Landerman, a young social work intern for Montefiore Hospital

Disbelief of the stories of survivors could sometimes manifest in callousness, as many older immigrants did not realize how much the experiences of these new refugees differed from their own. As survivor Bella Heppenheimer said, “I don’t know what they had against us. That’s why we had the Friendship Club. They didn’t want to know what we had gone through.”