Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Thomas W. Zeiler

Second Advisor

David Shneer

Third Advisor

Fred Anderson

Abstract

This project started as a diplomatic study comparing U.S. and Soviet policies on the creation of Israel in the context of the early Cold War. Supporting the creation of a Jewish state and thus alienating the Arab-Muslim world at the onset of their struggle for influence seemed counterintuitive. This approach led my research to shift the focus toward post-World War II Europe and the question of Jewish refugees. Indeed, at the onset of the Cold War, Europe was the main battlefield for both superpowers, and therefore their goals in Europe were a major factor in all foreign policy decision-making. The Soviet Union needed to control Poland to relieve its insecurity vis-à-vis German revanchism and the West. In parallel the U.S. sought to rebuild Germany as a stronghold against Soviet influence on Western Europe. Yet, Jewish refugees were an extraterritorial entity whose presence became a liability for both superpowers’ goals in Europe, as Polish and German peoples nurtured a strong post-Holocaust antisemitism and associated the Jewish refugees with occupation authorities.

This dissertation argues that solving the problem of the Jewish refugees in order to uphold their Cold War policy in Europe was the driving force behind the superpowers’ support for Jewish emigration from Europe to British Mandate Palestine, and eventually for the creation of a Jewish state. It would represent an outlet for Jews to leave Europe, and therefore remove the problem of antisemitism without repressing the populations they sought to control. In parallel, this work also reassesses the role that Jewish refugees in Europe played in the framing of U.S. and Soviet policies, toward both Europe and Palestine, and therefore how they regained agency and control of their own fate. The Cold War context indirectly gave them more influence than their number and the scale of the problem they represented might have allowed otherwise. Jews’ homelessness, stranded among antisemitic populations, interfered with U.S. and Soviet goals for Europe, reinforced their sense of a common Jewish identity, and developed their Zionist activism. In this context, the Jewish refugees became the bridge between U.S. and Soviet policies in Europe and in Palestine.

Available for download on Thursday, May 13, 2021

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