While at the Hoover Institution I joined a team organizing a large volume of unprocessed materials covering the American Relief Administration to Europe after World War I. This research revealed new facts about extraordinary accomplishments of the United States in saving tens of millions of people. When finished analyzing almost nine hundred boxes a new picture of the organization emerged; one that showed an even more impressive picture. The scale of operations in each country became much clearer. Unbeknownst to me most of the facts contained in the records had been forgotten by the countries which received aid and by contemporary historians who merely praised the relief efforts for its efficiency, grit, and ingenuity.
As a result of my involvement in developed two unique ideas to First, I wrote the screenplay for a documentary that was shown on European television. This was repeated by popular demand eight times. Secondly, I came up with the idea of organizing a large exhibit illustrating accomplishments of the ARA. After acquiring the funds, I wrote the script, selected the materials, and oversaw the entire production process and the installation at different venues in Europe. We also received the full approval and support of the State Department. Enthusiastic coverage in the media attracted tens of thousands of visitors. After a year I moved the project to the United States, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Buffalo, and Stanford.
I believe that I successfully restored forgotten episode of the American role in the recoveries of many post-WW I Central European nations and the role of Herbert Hoover who run the biggest relief operation known to man and who truly deserves the title of the first global humanitarian. It is estimated that relief organizations established by him between 1914 and 1922, fed 200 million people. Millions were given hope and freedom from hunger. Without him, new nations like Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia might not have survived political tensions in the region. Poland was high on . He went there to strengthen its newly regained independence.
Hoover in Europe: With the outbreak of the war in 1914, most Americans in Europe moved to London. Thousands were stranded, frequently without money for food. Herbert Hoover decided to do something to help Americans return home. He organized a group of five hundred volunteers to assist some one hundred twenty thousand of his compatriots. As it turned out his private efforts were more efficient than the official government program.
Belgium: In mid-October 1914, when Hoover was ready to return to the United States, he was contacted by a group of Belgians who told him about the starvation that followed the German invasion of their country, which was cut off from outside shipping. Hoover organized a private aid group, the Commission for Relief in Belgium. He accepted no pay for his services; collected funds to run the operation, and even contributed his own money to the effort. In its most active period, the CRB required 25 million dollars per month to operate. Hoover sought food supplies throughout the world, delivered them safely with fleets of ships, past the armies and navies of warring nations, and distributed them to the civilian population, making certain that none of it fell under the control of the German authorities. The Poles approached Hoover in a similar way in 1915 asking for assistance to their starving nation.
American Relief Administration in Europe: In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson asked Hoover to organize aid to war-devastated Europe. Thus in December, with the help of some of his colleagues from the CRB, Hoover set up headquarters in Paris for the American Relief Administration (ARA). Soon the ARA began delivering food, clothing, and medical supplies. Four thousand former U.S. Army officers and soldiers in Europe, and tens of thousands of civilian helped run Hoover's program. At his request, ships coming to Europe were filled with relief supplies. Also, the U.S. Army turned over all its extra food and clothing to the ARA, which Hoover, as food administrator, collected.
American Relief Administration in Poland, 1919–1922: The ARA Mission in Warsaw began its work in January 1919 with two aims: to provide one meal a day for the neediest children and to develop a permanent institution that would function in the future as a countrywide child welfare organization. As one of the ARA wrote at that time: “Reports from special inspectors, confirm the belief that conditions in Poland, caused by the lack of food, are deplorable. In town and industrial workmen cannot obtain food for their children, and that mortality among them is so great the whole civilized world is filled with compassion and a desire to actively assist.”
Food: In the first months of 1919 tens of thousands of rail cars with American food left the port of Gdansk on their way to Polish cities. The towns most affected by were in the most remote parts of the country, where local authorities were not firmly established. Thus feeding stations and warehouses were created first in large cities and then proceeded east from village to village. Within six months deliveries reached the value of $50 million. In 1919 the program fed over 1.5 million children. After the 1920 Hoover increased the number to an additional half million and expanded the number of kitchens to 10,000. For almost four years following the wa billion meals were provided to the hungry and starving of Poland. Transporting food by rail was extremely difficult, owing to a lack of cars and locomotives. Where railway facilities or horses were lacking, American motor trucks were pressed into service. When the first carload of American Relief flour arrived at Warsaw in February 1919, a journalist wrote: “America is the only nation that has ever made a promise to Poland – and kept it.”
During Hoover's visit to Poland in Ahe witnessed a heartbreaking scene in Warsaw: Twenty-five thousand children had walked barefoot to pay him homage. Within hours he telegraphed for help and 700,000 overcoats and 700,000 pairs of shoes were shipped to Poland before the onset of winter. Another half million coats and shoes were delivered in the following two years. The visit had convinced him that the ARA’s original plan—to withdraw after the harvest of 1919—would be impossible in face of drastic food shortages. Indeed, the program was extended and expanded to include, besides children, the intelligentsia and students.
Orphans: Hoover was especially concerned about the children, his own experience as an orphan making him very sensitive to the plight of some 2 million children living in horrible conditions in Poland. Thus he set up programs to ensure that all children got at least one meal a day. Orphans and homeless youth were sheltered in numerous institutions organized and supported by the ARA. The Russian invasion of 1920 and the subsequent occupation of nearly half the country, including the requisition of food and livestock by the invading troops, pushed Poland back to where it had been a year earlier.
Invisible Guest Dinner organized by Herbert Hoover at Hotel Waldorf Astoria in New York City on December 29, co-hosted by John J. Pershing who commanded American forces during the war. The candle symbolizes a distinguished child’s life. guests paid $1000 each for a meal worth twenty-two cents, a typical ration for a Polish child. This evening Hoover was able to collect one million dollars. John D. Rockefeller Jr. who also attended the event helped push the fundraising to $3 million for the night. Hoover said in his speech: “These children are the obligation of every man and woman who has a penny more than his own children and his neighbor’s children require. This is the real wastage of the war, this mass of the undernourished, under-clad, the mentally, morally and physically destitute children.” The Invisible Guest campaign did not stay in New York City; similar events took place across the country. In Northern Kentucky, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, an Invisible Guest club was formed with a fee of $10 to save the life of a child until the next harvest.
Monument of Gratitude: To commemorate the contributions of Hoover and the United States, Poland erected a monument in Hoover Square on the Krakowskie Przedmiescie thoroughfare. At the entrance to the two marble stands bore the inscription: Herbert Hoover. The monument was unveiled on October 29, 1922. In 1946, during his next humanitarian mission to Poland, Hoover visited what was left of it. Under Poland's communist regime (1945–1989), the square's name fell into disuse. In 1992, a stone memorial was erected and dedicated and the square returned to its prewar name, Skwer .
Volumes of gratitude: On Oct. 14, 1926, U.S. President was presented with 111 volumes composed of sheets bearing an estimated 5.5 million signatures of Polish citizens as well as drawings by Polish artists, decorative bindings, official seals, photographs and calligraphy. This gift symbolized the friendship and gratitude of the Polish people for the United States on the 150th anniversary if American independence. The signatures in these volumes represented the entire spectrum of Polish society, encompassing more than of Poland's population at the time. This extraordinary gesture on the part of Poland serves as a testament to the strength of the influence that American political institutions had in shaping modern Poland and even more telling was the fact that on July 4, 1926, as they had done before, Poles celebrated America's Independence Day as well.