Collection Spotlight: Michigan Commission on Displaced Persons

DP's Arriving in Detroit...Detroit Times November 1, 1948

We’ve gathered hundreds of collections in our nearly 50 years, so sometimes even we forget what amazing things that are in our stacks. The Michigan Commission on Displaced Persons Records is certainly not our most popular collection, but it is particularly relevant given the current climate in our country.

The collection was deposited in 1965, processed in 1970, and seems to be an intact collection, meaning that archivists did not remove (or “weed”) any material during processing. The Commission was established in 1949 after the Displaced Persons Act was signed and worked in conjunction with various non-profit groups and government agencies in resettling displaced persons and refugees from 1940s-1960s. Files include the usual administrative documents found in most collections, such as minutes, reports, and legislation. In this particular collection, clippings prove to be fascinating insights into America’s plans to help those seeking refuge from war torn Europe. Most agreed that the only thing that mattered was that thousands of people were seeking refuge, peace and stability in the land of the free. The collection also contains material dealing with Mexican immigration to Michigan for harvesting sugar beets, and a full account of “I Am An American” Day; a pluralistic, patriotic display that happened all over the country for many years.

But that’s not the most interesting part of the collection. There are lists - and I mean good lists - of displaced persons from the war-ravaged Europe in the 1940s and refugees fleeing central Europe in the 1950s when the Iron Curtain was drawn tight. The lists contain names, places of origin, occupation, ages, how many are in the family and what ship they were on. Digging into the collection a little bit further, there is a series called Interpreter Releases. At first you might expect interviews of immigrants coming to America. Instead, they are large bound volumes assembled for ease of reference into some of the most vitally important reports from the Federal government on immigration issues. They contain verbatim testimony, quota reports, refugee destinations across the United States, and any change in regulations.

This collection may be helpful for anyone interested in immigration and refugees in the United States. The evidence in this collection speaks to the truth of our past as a country that opened its arms to those seeking refuge from hardship to build their lives again. Archives are interesting places, built up by the collections that we preserve, relying on the popular ones to improve our reputations. At the Reuther we know that the strength of our repository is girded by the value of important lesser-used collections as well. Without these collections, history would be without a solid foundation.

There are many other collections at the Reuther that deal with immigration and refugees. Here is a list of just a few.

Michigan Coalition for Human Rights Records
Emma Schaver Papers
International Institute of Metropolitan Detroit Records
UFW Information and Research Department Records
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) Records
Valery Burati Oral History
Frank Felt Oral History
Greek-American Family Life Oral Histories

Dan Golodner is the archivist for the American Federation of Teachers at the Walter P. Reuther Library.