Q: My daughter-in-law’s father, born in Germany, came to the United States in 1950 aboard a ship manned by the US Navy. Why would he have immigrated this way?
A: He may have been transported under the Displaced Persons Act, passed after World War II to help deal with the crisis of displaced individuals throughout Europe. Beginning in 1948, more than 200,000 displaced persons and 17,000 orphans received visas without regard to immigration quotas. The act was amended in 1950 to add another 121,000 visas plus additional provisions for orphans, and extended in 1951. Those classified as displaced persons were mostly Eastern Europeans, often who’d been forced to work in German factories and farms; others were survivors of German concentration camps. Before being issued a visa, a person had to have an American sponsor and be screened by a board set up in Hamburg “to sift out Communists and other subversives.”
The US Navy and the Army Transport Service (later the Military Sea Transportation Service) transported many of the “DPs,” mostly from the port of Bremerhaven. Built to move nearly 3,500 GIs, a troop ship typically carried fewer than 700 refugees, according to an account at the American Merchant Marine at War site.
One crewman aboard the General M.B. Stewart recalled its arrival in New York with passengers ranging from 7 weeks to 79 years old: “As the ship approached the Statue of Liberty, the fireboats sent up their streams of water and the whistles of greeting reached a crescendo. New York was welcoming these citizens-to-be as only New York can welcome … Amidships were 11 foreign flags representing the nations from which these future citizens had been drawn.”
From the July/August 2015 Family Tree Magazine