Earl G. Harrison

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Earl Grant Harrison (April 27, 1899 – July 28, 1955) was an American attorney, academician, and public servant. He worked on behalf of displaced persons in the aftermath of the Second World War, when he brought attention to the plight of Jewish refugees in a report, commonly known as the Harrison Report, that he produced for President Harry S. Truman. He also had a distinguished career as an attorney in the Philadelphia area and was a name partner in the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP.

Government career[edit]

Harrison was born in Philadelphia on April 27, 1899, the son of grocer Joseph Layland Harrison and stock-company actress Anna MacMullen, both foreign-born. He earned his A.B from University of Pennsylvania as a valedictorian in 1920, and his LLB from the same university's law school in 1923.[1] He practiced law at the firm of Saul, Ewing, Remick, and Saul from 1923 to 1945, becoming a partner in 1932.[1]

Harrison served in the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, first as Director of Alien Registration in the United States Department of Justice for six months from July 1940 to January 1941.[2] He was the United States Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization from 1942 to 1944. During his tenure, the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service experienced significant reform and restructuring following its transfer from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice.[3]

Harrison Report[edit]

President Roosevelt appointed him the U.S. representative on the Intergovernmental Commission on Refugees on March 15, 1945.[4] He became Vice-President of the University of Pennsylvania and dean of its law school the same year. On June 22, President Truman asked Harrison to conduct an inspection tour of camps holding displaced persons (DPs) in Europe. He left in early July as the head of a small delegation that split up to visit more than two dozens camps for DPs. He produced a report on his findings dated August 24.[5] It blamed U.S. military authorities for the horrible conditions it described:[5]

Many Jewish displaced persons ... are living under guard behind barbed-wire fences ... including some of the most notorious concentration camps ... had no clothing other than their concentration camp garb.... Most of them have been separated three, four or five years and they cannot understand why the liberators should not have undertaken immediately the organized effort to re-unite family groups.... Many of the buildings ... are clearly unfit for winter....

He contrasted these conditions with the relative normal life led by the nearby German populations and wondered at the contrast:[5]

We appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them. They are in concentration camps in large numbers under our military guard instead of S.S. troops. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy.

He wrote that to date U.S. authorities were handing DPs in traditional ways as national groups, but that conditions and the history of Nazi anti-Semitism required recognition of the distinct identity of these DPs:[5]

The first and plainest need of these people is a recognition of their actual status and by this I mean their status as Jews.... Refusal to recognize the Jews as such has the effect, in this situation, of closing one's eyes to their former and more barbaric persecution.

He recommended to the President that 100,000 DPs in those camps be permitted to resettle in Palestine.[5] Truman forwarded the report to General Eisenhower, Commander of U.S. Forces in Europe. Eisenhower responded promptly with a series of measures that segregated Jewish DPs, found housing even if it meant displacing German locals, increased rations, and preference in employment, perhaps aided by information about the Report's contents before it reached Truman.[5] Another immediate result of Harrison's recommendations was the appointment of an adviser on Jewish affairs to the U.S. Army with the rank of major-general, based on the recommendation of several Jewish organizations to the secretary of war. Rabbi Judah P. Nadich was the first, followed in October 1945 by Simon H. Rifkind, a New York City judge and municipal official.[5] Finally, the Report focused the attention of the Truman and the U.S. military on the Jewish DPs. Truman wrote to Eisenhower on August 31:[5]

I know you will agree with me that we have a particular responsibility toward these victims of persecution and tyranny who are in our zone. We must make clear to the German people that we thoroughly abhor the Nazi policies of hatred and persecution. We have no better opportunity to demonstrate this than by the manner in which we ourselves actually treat the survivors remaining in Germany.

It also highlighted Palestine as the solution and British control of immigration there as a crucial barrier.[5]

Eisenhower replied to the Harrison Report with a lengthy update to Truman in mid-October, explaining changes in conditions and contesting Harrison's assertion, in Eisenhower's words, that "our military guards are now substituting for SS troops". He wrote that:[6]

Mr. Harrison's report gives little regard to the problems faced, the real successes attained in saving the lives of thousands of Jewish and other concentration camp victims and repatriating those who could and wished to be repatriated, and the progress made in two months to bring these unfortunates who remained under our jurisdiction from the depths of physical degeneration to a condition of health and essential comfort.

Harrison responded in a radio address the next day that what Eisenhower viewed as improvements fell far short of what was required: "The point is that they shouldn't be in any camps at all, but in houses. Shifting them from one camp to another can hardly be said to be liberation."[7]

Harrison's report was part of the impetus for the creation of the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry on Palestine, which was formed to recommend policies for dealing with both Jewish war refugees and the problems of Palestine. Harrison campaigned on behalf of his proposal in the months that followed, testifying in January 1946 before the Anglo-American Committee.[8] In 1946, the New York Times called Harrison's work "the first official proposal for the immediate settlement of 100,000 Jews in Palestine".[9] Harrison's report has been credited by some historians as a crucial step in the development of United States support for the State of Israel.[10] In June he called for the United Nations to create an agency to address the problems of those uprooted by war, many now stateless, and he thought Latin America might welcome many of them.[11]

Later years[edit]

In the spring of 1946, Harrison testified on behalf of a black student denied admission to the University of Texas Law School and isolated in a one-student school in the case of Sweatt v. Painter, a forerunner of Brown v. Board of Education.[1]

Harrison resigned as dean in 1948, effective August 31, when the University of Pennsylvania's board of trustees named Harold Stassen university president, a post for which Harrison had been considered a likely candidate.[12] He joined the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis in 1948 as a name partner, where he worked until his death in 1955.[13]

Other activities[edit]

Harrison was recognized for his unfailing responsiveness to the needs of the community and his dedication to public service. He was described by his contemporaries as "spare-framed, square-jawed, red haired," "a Roosevelt Republican," and "an almost indefatigable worker." In addition to his work for the United States government and his professional career, he was an officer and director of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and general campaign chairman of the Philadelphia United War Chest, a predecessor of the United Way. Harrison also served as director of the Philadelphia Area Council of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP. He was a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and of the University of Pennsylvania. He was considered for nomination as a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 1946.

He died on July 28, 1955.


  1. ^ a b c Stevens, Lewis M. (March 1956). "The Life and Character of Earl G. Harrison". The University of Pennsylvania Law Review. 104 (5): 591–602. JSTOR 3309852. 
  2. ^ "Resigns Alien Registry Post". New York Times. July 22, 1941. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Harrison Resigns Immigration Post". New York Times. July 20, 1944. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  4. ^ "E.G. Harrison Appointed". New York Times. March 16, 1945. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Königseder, Angelika; Wetzel, Juliane (2001). Waiting for Hope: Jewish Displaced Persons in Post-World War II Germany. Northwestern University Press. pp. 31ff. 
  6. ^ "Text of Eisenhower's Letter to Truman on Displaced Persons". New York Times. October 17, 1946. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Harrison Strikes Back". New York Times. October 18, 1945. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  8. ^ "Palestine Board to Hear Harrison". New York Times. January 6, 1946. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  9. ^ "Fraternity Honors Dean". New York Times. May 3, 1946. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  10. ^ Harry Reicher, "The Post-Holocaust World and President Harry S. Truman: The Harrison Report and Immigration Law and Policy", accessed July 16, 2013
  11. ^ "U.N. Urged to Plan World Agency to Deal with Displaced Persons". New York Times. June 15, 1946. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  12. ^ "Minnesotan Assumes Duties in the Fall-Will Do Part in Campaign". New York Times. July 30, 1948. Retrieved July 16, 2013. 
  13. ^ Schnader Harrison: A Survivor at 75

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