History of a Friendship: Herbert Hoover and Poland

Saturday, October 30, 2004
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No American president understood Poland better or was more sympathetic to its struggle for independence than Herbert Hoover. He visited Poland in 1913, 1919, 1938, and 1946. He organized American relief efforts in Poland following the two world wars—programs that saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Polish children. He was a friend and admirer of the brilliant pianist Ignace Jan Padarewski and of the distinguished statesman and military leader Jozef Pilsudski. During and immediately after World War II, he remained in touch with his Polish friends in the West and was very critical of Roosevelt and Churchill’s shortsighted concessions to Stalin at the expense of their Polish ally. In a public statement, at the height of Stalinist terror in People’s Poland, Hoover recalled the tragedy of war and held out the hope of a just peace:

The Polish Nation was betrayed not only by the Germans but by the Russians, and also by the Western Allies, who defaulted on the Atlantic Charter which had been held out as the faith and hope for all peoples. The Polish Nation has fought for its independence and the freedom of its people for over 1,000 years. It has often succeeded, only to be eclipsed by the aggression of its neighbors for long periods. That spirit in the Polish race cannot be submerged forever. There lie in this Nation those inspirations for freedom and independence that will carry it to independence and freedom.

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Free Poles appreciated Hoover’s sympathy and friendship. When the United States and Britain abandoned their Polish ally, withdrawing recognition from the London-based Polish government in exile, Polish political and military authorities in the West transferred their archives to the Hoover Library. Protected from dispersion and from falling into the hands of the Soviet-dominated government in Warsaw, these archives have made the Hoover Institution into a repository with the richest and the most comprehensive documentation on twentieth-century Poland outside Poland. Thanks to generous support of the Taube Family Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, those archives have now been organized and microfilmed. In recent years, the Hoover Institution has donated these microfilms to Poland. To date, some 1.5 million pages of microfilmed documents have been transferred to the state archives of free and democratic Poland. Among these are documents that will help Polish historians understand more fully the political and the diplomatic history of the Warsaw Uprising.

The sixtieth anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising is a good time to recall the special relationship between President Hoover and Poland. He visited Warsaw 18 months after the uprising, in March 1946, on a fact-finding mission to assess Poland’s food situation. He saw the ruins and the suffering of the survivors, and he recommended relief operations on a grand scale. That visit, several earlier ones, and many other Polish episodes from Herbert Hoover’s life are recalled in an archival exhibition, which opens on November 12, 2004, in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. Titled “American Friendship: Herbert Hoover and Poland,” cosponsored by the Hoover Institution and the Royal Castle, and made possible thanks to funding from the Taube Family Foundation, it will be a fitting tribute to a great humanitarian and a celebration of American-Polish friendship in a city that he helped so much.