Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Not Mentioned in History Class - Pt. II

Herbert Hoover shares the distinction with a very short list of folks who by their life's work have saved millions of lives. 
It was a choice he made at great personal cost. An interesting fellow indeed.

Refugees fleeing Antwerp, 1914.
Herbert Hoover and the War Years

World War I destruction inLouvain, Belgium, 1915.
World War I destruction
in Louvain, Belgium

"Trapped between German bayonets and a British blockade, Belgium in the fall of 1914 faced imminent starvation."

My classes covering WWI focused on politics and leaders, battles and numbers. Real life for the millions of families caught up in the maelstrom received little commentary.  Herbert Hoover wasn't mentioned at all.
1919-90, CRB, American Relief Administration Food Distribution, Poland, CA 1919
Hoover's food relief efforts during World War I
saved between 15 and 20 million European
children.  (unknown copyright)
Here's the rest of the story beginning with Belgium.

"Hoover was asked to undertake an unprecedented relief effort for the tiny kingdom dependent on imports for 80 percent of its food. This would mean abandoning his successful career as the world's foremost mining engineer. For several days he pondered the request, finally telling a friend, "Let the fortune go to hell." He would assume the immense task on two conditions-- that he receive no salary, and that he be given a free hand in organizing and administering what became known as the Commission for the Relief of Belgium." 

Throughout the war, Herbert Hoover orchestrated supplies for the displaced peoples.  At the peak of his effort, 10.5 million people were fed every day.

"War inflicts a special terror upon children," and Hoover being himself an orphan, "made their needs his top priority-- first in Belgium and northern France, where he fed an estimated 11 million youngsters between 1914-18, and later throughout the ravaged continent of Europe. When children in the war zone showed signs of rickets and tuberculosis, cocoa was added to their diet, along with an extra "Hoover lunch" of white bread and thick vegetable soup."

The organization which he chaired, the Commission for Relief in Belgium, grew to include a fleet of ships, the dedicated production of factories and mills, and even railroads.  A monthly budget of $11 million which Hoover raised moved over two million tons of food and supplies during the war.

Belgian refugees in London.

Hoover had become an established businessman by the time the war began in 1914. With successes in mining and industry, he had proved himself an extraordinary corporate leader in several countries.

At the request of the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., Hoover began his humanitarian efforts in Belgium, crossing the North Sea forty times to meet with German military authorities to persuade them to allow the relief efforts.  He met regularly with representatives of British, French, German, Dutch, and Belgian governments to protect the work during the war years and after.

At war's end, like most of Europe in 1918, Germany was devastated.  The economy had collapsed, their currency was worthless, farms were dead, livestock had been eaten by soldiers, and people were starving.  Hoover orchestrated extraordinary humanitarian aid to the defeated Germany, Europe, and Russia after the war.

Cologne, Germany, 1945
In the years that followed and leading up to WWII, Hoover was a well-known hero in Germany and was revered by children as the great American humanitarian.  

Following WWII, Hoover joined in yet again to assist the recovery. 

From the Hoover Archives:
Hoover is surrounded by Polish war orphans during his famine-relief survey of Warsaw. 1946-53
Hoover is surrounded by Polish war
orphans during his famine-relief
survey of Warsaw, April 2, 1946.
(International Newsreel)
... Hoover frowned on receiving medals--what he called "toys"--even from Belgium. Eventually King Albert persuaded him to accept a unique title on condition that it would lapse upon his death. And so Hoover became "Friend of the Belgian People," with a passport stamped "Perpetual."
Official honors aside, countless gifts of appreciation were sent to Hoover for his fifty years of relief work. These included honorary degrees and beautifully decorated albums, embroidered and woven hangings, books and letters, sculpture and artwork ranging from a child's crayon drawing to richly illuminated testimonials. 
Hoover's personal favorites were the letters and drawing from children in many countries, including those from German youngsters who in the wake of World War II thanked him for their daily "Hoover Speisung," or Hoover lunch, and addressed simply to "Onkel Hoover, New York, New York."

Herbert Hoover shares the distinction with a very short list of folks who by their life's work have saved millions of lives.  It was a choice he made at great personal cost.  An interesting fellow indeed.

Henry Ford, on the other hand, ... see Not Mentioned in History Class - Pt. I