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Date of Award

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Department of History

Abstract

In 1939, the United States government denied the entry of German Jewish refugees traveling aboard the MS St. Louis into the country. Less than ten years later, President Harry S. Truman declared his support for the creation of a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, legitimizing his position based on war atrocities, genocide, and Jews’ right to self-determination. This project poses questions that seek to understand how U.S. foreign policy-shifts impacted American culture and postwar discourses on Jewishness in the age of Jim Crow between the years 1945 and 1949. This study illustrates the geopolitical forces impacting domestic social and political culture through an examination of the multiple layers of discourses on Jewishness after the Second World War: the mainstream domestic and international media’s collection and circulation of information on the Holocaust to the U.S. public and beyond; the postwar language and attitudes of U.S. politicians towards the displaced persons issue and the creation of an Jewish nation-state; and the display of some Americans’ racialized attitudes towards Jews and Jewish immigrants in the semi-private spheres of the neighborhood and the workplace after the war. The key themes of this research center on first, how American public discourses changed between the years 1945 and 1949 to accommodate post-Holocaust rhetoric on memorialization and humanitarianism and second, how the American people’s reception of these discourses remained determinant upon space and place. Oral histories, State and Defense Department records, newspaper articles, public opinion polls, and personal and public presidential papers serve as the backbone of this study in order to outline the struggles between prewar and postwar discourses in the public sphere. While antisemitism did not end after World War II, geopolitical events complicated American thought and public discourses that simultaneously emphasized the U.S.’s postwar position on aiding Holocaust survivors, support for the creation of Israel, and the existence of a national socioeconomic hierarchy based on racial and ethnic identity.

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