In the last weeks of World War II, the Allies liberated one death camp after another in which the German Nazi regime had held and slaughtered millions of Jews. Surviving Jews in the formerly Nazi-occupied territories were left without family, homes, jobs or savings.
In August 1945, Truman received the Harrison report, which detailed the plight of Jews in post-war Germany, and it became clear to him that something had to be done to speed up the process of finding Jewish refugees a safe place to live.
In late August, Truman contacted British Prime Minister Clement Attlee to propose that Jewish refugees be allowed to immigrate to Palestine, which at the time was occupied by Britain. Attlee responded that he would look into the matter and asked for a joint Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry to examine the complicated issue of integrating Jewish settlers into territory that was home to an Arab majority. Meanwhile, two U.S. senators introduced a resolution in Congress demanding the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine.
In April 1946, the committee issued its report, which recommended the immigration of 100,000 Jewish refugees to Palestine. Truman wrote to Attlee for his help in moving the repatriation process forward. However, by mid-1946, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff had weighed in, bringing up the question of who would control the lucrative oil fields in a region that had the potential for unstable political and cultural relations between Jews and Arabs. Since the threat of communist expansion into politically unstable regions then dictated most of U.S. foreign policy, Truman and Attlee became convinced by their respective military advisors that Jewish communist sympathizers in a new Jewish state might jeopardize the west’s access to Middle Eastern oil. The settlement plans were put on hold.
Truman was again inundated with requests for help from the Jewish community. The issue of the establishment of a Jewish state was debated and delayed for another two years even though the newly formed United Nations, which had no enforcement power without the participation of the United States and Great Britain, had decided in favor of a Jewish state by 1946.