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BELGIAN RELIEF

When World War I started in August 1914, Hoover helped organize the return home of 120,000 American tourists and businessmen from Europe. Hoover led five hundred volunteers to distribute food, clothing, steamship tickets and cash.

On August 4, 1914 Belgium had been overrun by the German army heading for Paris via Belgium. King Albert and his army had stood up to the larger German forces with such resistance that their acts of bravery became legendary.

Belgium was blockaded by the British and occupied by a German army. Over seven million Belgians faced certain starvation.

Hoover undertook an unprecedented relief effort as head of the Commission for the Relief of Belgium (CRB). The CRB became, in effect, an independent republic of relief, with its own flag, navy, factories, mills and railroads. Its $12-million-a-month budget was supplied by voluntary donations and government grants.

In an early form of shuttle diplomacy, he crossed the North Sea forty times seeking to persuade the enemies in Berlin to allow food to reach the war’s victims. Whatever the task required Hoover was the man for the job. His relentless energy combined with urgent action would keep the Belgian people from starvation.

The success of the CRB depended on the extraordinary cooperation established between Hoover and Emile Francqui, who with other leading Belgians, including Brussels mayor Adolphe Max, Ernest Solvay, Emmanuel Jansen and Edouard Bunge, formed the Comite National de Secours et d’Alimentation, known as the Comite National. It was thru the tireless efforts of the many Belgians who worked on this committee that the goods shipped by the CRB were distributed in the affected communes and provinces throughout Belgium.

After the United States entered the war in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the American Food Administration, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. He succeeded in cutting consumption of food needed overseas and avoided rationing at home.

After the end of the war, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for millions of starving people in Central Europe.

Hoover never lost his contacts with Belgium and following the war, with a sizeable amount of money left in the accounts of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. He saw an opportunity to aid in the rebuilding of Belgium by investing in its educational institutions. Thus was born the Fondation Universitaire which disbursed thousands of dollars to Belgium’s leading universities. In 1920, Hoover set up the Belgian American Educational Foundation (BAEF) offering scholarships to young Belgians for study in the U.S. The program still exists today and counts hundreds of graduates.

Source: Hoover Presidential Library

 

 

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