The announcement of UNRRA's formation not only meant that there would be a flurry of bureaucratic activity, but also that the academic community would critically assess the efficacy of the program and that several journals would provide updates to the ongoing effort to provide relief on an international scale. Several journals were very active in this endeavor to provide critical feedback and additional insight into the program's functions.
The secondary writing on this topic began with the release of three volumes chronicling the historical nature of UNRRA and providing full accounts of the administrative workings and legal binding agreements that were entered into by the national or recognized authority governments of member and receiving countries. George Woodbridge headed this effort as the staff historian for UNRRA. The recognition of the gravity and importance of such an undertaking to provide relief to millions surely necessitated the assemblage of historians to make some sense of the countless documents, statistics, and monographs submitted by mission chiefs and DP camp administrators. Many of these accounts still sit in the United Nations Archives full of minute detail of their personal experiences with the UNRRA program.
Later accounts of UNRRA have expanded the knowledge on this institution but generally focus on the broader Displaced Person phenomenon and the experiences of thousands of nurses, DPs, administrative workers, and anyone generally involved in providing relief at this particular moment in history.
The two speeches given at the opening of UNRRA's First Council Session elaborated on the goals set forth by the document that each member country's representative signed on December 9, 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt opened the festivities with recognition that "the work confronting UNRRA is immediate and urgent" and that "it would be supreme irony for us to win a victory, and then to inherit world chaos simply because we were unprepared to meet what we know we shall have to meet". Herbert Lehman added in his own acceptance speech as first Director General that "we must act promptly and decisively" so that "a bridge may be thrown across the torrent that separates them from the normal processes of peace".
The opening salvo of idealism was tempered by the realization of the immense task that stood before them. The basic policies for the administration of relief had been determined at Atlantic City. At Montreal the Council was faced with practical questions of the application of those policies to particular situations; questions that must be decided in preparation for actual operations (Simons 433). As to relief goods which will have to be brought in from the outside, those countries of Western Europe which possess foreign exchange resources intend themselves to pay for all or most of their imports. But there are other nations as fiercely proud, who have given their full measure of blood and treasure in meeting the hammer blows of the Fascist blitz machine-gallant nations such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Albania and Greece-which have very limited foreign exchange resources (Sayre 97). The clear identification of these countries that would receive significant aid showed that was all important in that it represented particular goods and supplies, vitally necessary and crucial for relief but perhaps unobtainable through ordinary channels because of world shortages of shipping and of supply (Sayre 97).
Later on in the mission some details about the actual field work appeared in journals like the British Medical Journal which covered UNRRA quite extensively. One account details the work in Yugoslavia.
A country in which U.N.R.R.A. has carried out some of its most intensive work is Yugoslavia, and the results of it are now visible in a lessening of child malnutrition and disease. Dr. Eleanor Singer, a young London practitioner who attached herself to U.N.R.R.A. two years ago for work in Yugoslavia, has lately returned on leave from Sarajevo and described some of her experiences at an U.N.R.R.A. press conference. She stated that the number of war orphans in Yugoslavia was computed at 88,000, and that there were in addition nearly half a miilion children who had lost one parent. (BMJ 271)
The challenges on the ground were simply too great for UNRRA to solve single-handedly. It should be noted that while UNRRA was originally established to provide aid for the Allied countries which were victims of war, and which could not pay for their own relief and recovery, Austria and Italy were made to qualify for UNRRA assistance by a special UNRRA Council resolution. Another fact regarding UNRRA is that its total resources were approximately three and one-half billion dollars-an amount trifling in comparison to the devastation visited on the war ravished countries. This latter figure has been estimated at approximately 350 billion dollars. At no time did anyone believe that the UNRRA resources would anywhere approach minimum needs (MacFarlane 70). Any criticism of the UNRRA program was usually tempered with the acknowledgement that no task of this magnitude have ever been attempted and there were always extenuating circumstances that limited the ability of UNRRA to fulfill its stated mission fully and to universal satisfaction.
Some of the more recent literature related to UNRRA commented on the lack of "good men" to run the administration. William I. Hitchcock noted in The Bitter Road to Freedom that the staffing of senior positions was always a problem because so many men were already claimed by other wartime duties. Eventually they did find men like Australian naval officer Commander Robert Jackson to assume responsibility as the Operational Chief of UNRRA (p.221). As long as the Allies were still fully engaged on the military front, winning the war took priority over UNRRA's needs. In Susan Armstrong-Reid's Armies of Peace released in 2008, her discussion of Canadian concerns and considerable commitment to UNRRA are beautifully illustrated. She stated that like the displaced persons themselves, the relief teams were a new phenomenon and they would have to learn their job within an untried and ill-defined administrative structure (p.101).
Mark Wyman wrote a slightly earlier account on the Displaced Person experience titled DP: Europe's Displaced persons 1945-1951 in which his focus is on personal accounts over bureaucratic wrangling within UNRRA. Initial camp activities for incoming DPs centered on immediate dangers - protecting the larger group from infectious diseases and satisfying the individual's hunger. With hundreds, even thousands of DPs coming and going overnight, the problem of health loomed large (p.49). The breadth of historical work already done on UNRRA demonstrates both the complex nature of this topic and the treasure trove of opportunities for continued research. UNRRA is approachable from different perspectives and is often necessarily included in any discussion of post-war Europe and international organizations. It can also be viewed on a deeply personal level with accounts from DPs and camp officials who contemplated what UNRRA meant to them as a real life experience shared by thousands of others.