Although the Nazis had murdered six million Jews and burned their books, schools and synagogues, the suffering of Europe’s displaced Jews did not end with the Allied victory in 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, homeless and unwelcome in their native countries, lived under poor conditions in displaced persons camps (DP) operated by the Allies. A commission appointed by President Truman to investigate the situation, reported: “We appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them except that we do not exterminate them.” Truman ordered, “Get these people into decent housing until they can be repatriated.” The problem was that there was no place for the Jews to go as their homes had been confiscated and U.S. immigration policy was based on a quota system. Recognizing that the Jewish DPs might be living in the camps for long periods of time (Israel wasn’t established until 1948), American Jewish organizations tried to help the DPs “to restore communal life and reinvigorate Judaism.” In 1945, however, not one complete set of the Talmud could be found in Europe.
Judaism draws on two important bodies of tradition. “The first, known as the Written Law, comprises the Torah or Five Books of Moses. The second, known as the Oral Law, consists of a large body of orally transmitted material that was compiled and named Mishnah and, later, a larger body of discussions of the Mishnah were compiled in the Gemara. Mishnah and Gemara together are known as the Talmud, meaning instruction.”
According to the American Jewish Historical Society, in 1946, a delegation of DP rabbis approached General Joseph McNarney, Commander of the American Zone of Germany, “asking the Army to consider publishing the Talmud.” With guidance from two Jewish Army chaplains, McNarney authorized the project. A Talmud from New York was sent to Germany and engravings made from it. “The plant that had previously printed Nazi propaganda was now printing 500 sets of the Talmud – the only time in history that a national government published the Talmud.” The Jewish DPs never forgot “the unprecedented humanism of Gen McNarney and the U.S. Army.”