Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
Baron Herve De Gruben

Director of Political Affairs, Belgium, 1945-53.

Brussels, Belgium
May 26, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks

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NOTICE
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

RESTRICTIONS
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened June 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Baron Herve De Gruben

Brussels, Belgium
May 26, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks

[1]

DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: What I would like to do, sir, is to ask you some questions and to have you simply talk, informally, beginning with the comment I made that we regard the Marshall Plan as a high point of the Truman administration, and many people in Europe have told me that it was the turning point in the economic history of Europe. And I would like, if you will, to hear your general comment on your evaluation of the Marshall Plan. Do you think it was a turning point in the economic history of Europe?

[2]

BARON NERVE DE GRUBEN: It certainly was. You first have to remember the chaotic state of European economy after the war. Some nations, and Belgium was among them, recovered a little more quickly than others, but still a small country like ours is very dependent on the general economic health of other countries. So by ourselves, we made too little progress. That's why considerable assistance coming from outside, particularly in the form that it came from the United States, which is a highly industrialized country with a great variety of products, raw materials as well as finished products was particularly useful. You have in the United States an expression which characterizes what the situation was: "priming the pump," to set the whole economic cycle in motion.

BROOKS: You said that Belgium had recovered a little

[3]

bit more than some other countries. Would you give any particular reason for that?

DE GRUBEN: Well, this is a subject which is much discussed. Immediately after the war, our Government reestablished practically the complete freedom of international payments. Maybe we had a little more gold than other countries on which we could base our credits, but anyway it was sort of a challenge for the future, you see. We were not sure that it would succeed. Well, incidentally, that's what the present Chancellor Erhard in Germany thought in 1948. They established freedom of internal payments. Well, to this fact, you see, our recovery was attributed. We were in shape to import a great quantity of raw materials. You know that our economy is a transforming economy. We have no raw materials. We order raw materials, and our

[4]

labor transforms it into finished products that we re-export. So that's the way, just by importing raw materials, that's the way that we began to work again.

Our industrial equipment, however antiquated, had not been destroyed by the war.

BROOKS: Do you remember your immediate reaction to General Marshall's proposal, or the reaction of the Belgian people?

DE GRUBEN: Well, yes, there were two sorts of reactions. There was one sentimental reaction, which is the gratitude of the persons in need who get a magnificent gift. And the other attitude, the more political attitude, was to appreciate an act of enlightened policy on the side of the United States; besides, it was considered as a sound basis of policy that would be approved by the Congress in the United States.

[5]

BROOKS: Do you think that most of the European leaders were prepared for this statement, that Mr. Bevin and Mr. Bidault acted so fast that I wondered if they had expected something like that?

DE GRUBEN: It's possible that our great neighbors were informed but we were not.

BROOKS: I don't think they were officially informed.

DE GRUBEN: We were not. It came as a complete surprise to us, you see, to us at least.

BROOKS: But Belgium indicated immediately that it would cooperate?

DE GRUBEN: Yes, it was accepted without discussion. Of course, there were conditions; but those conditions were considered as sound and maybe as a way of helping us out of inertia.

[6]

BROOKS: You're referring to conditions...

DE GRUBEN: That we had to cooperate among ourselves.

BROOKS: This is apparently thought of, generally, as the unique contribution of the Marshall Plan, the emphasis on having the countries contribute themselves to the program, and that they cooperate. Did you believe then, Mr. de Gruben, that the degree of cooperation was possible that General Marshall called for? Did you people think this would really work?

DE GRUBEN: We were prepared and willing to make it work. We wanted to help ourselves out of this stagnation and there was a way offered to us, a sensible, generous way, so we felt that we have to answer positively. The will to cooperate always existed with us, without restrictions.

[7]

BROOKS: Would you say that the experience of the Benelux Customs Union was pretty significant in giving you experience at international cooperation?

DE GRUBEN: The Benelux Union? No, I wouldn't say that. First the Benelux Union started in London during the war by a very general agreement, and it was only in the years '48 to begin with, that it took shape.

BROOKS: And by that time, the Marshall Plan had already taken shape?

DE GRUBEN: Exactly, requiring that we elaborate a common economic system. The reason that Benelux came only later was that the Dutch were in a much worse state of economy than we were. We had to help them. The beginnings of the Benelux meant only that we were opening credits from

[8]

which the Dutch would profit. In other words, we sold our goods to the Dutch on credit. In this way we made with the Dutch a sort of Marshall Plan. But Benelux, as a system of economic and customs integration, began only later. The Benelux Treaty, the real treaty, was only signed in '48.

BROOKS: But there was some reference at the time of the Marshall Plan to the experience of the Benelux Customs Union? You were still trying to work it up?

DE GRUBEN: It was the same spirit, you see. Economic integration would not work between two small countries. It could only work on a larger sound economic frame, because we cannot restrict it to bilateral exchanges. We have to have a triangular or multilateral exchange system to make it work.

[9]

BROOKS: Now, Mr. de Gruben, the Russians were invited to join the Marshall Plan and they decided not to. Did you think it was a good idea to ask them?

DE GRUBEN: Well, it was certainly a very clever political move. It was just a gesture of peaceful will of cooperation to which a normal mind, as we consider it, could only answer positively. You would have had to be in a state of mind that we consider abnormal to reject it. Well, it proved something -- an unwillingness to work with us for ideological or economic or political reasons.

BROOKS: This evidently -- it may not have been thought so at the time -- but it evidently was a fairly important step in the breakdown in the relations between the East and the West.

DE GRUBEN: Yes, at that time, it put them in a

[10]

very difficult position, not with their own people because they are too imbued with their own system, but for their satellites, which were not as much absorbed as they are now, and who considered that it would be an open door or a link. That did materialize in the attitude of Poland and of Czechoslovakia, which were very hesitant at that time. There were circles there who were willing to join.

BROOKS: But generally speaking, the Belgians didn't expect the Russians to join or didn't think it would work if they did join?

DE GRUBEN: No, we never had many illusions.

BROOKS: Tell me about the Belgian attitude toward Germany, Mr. de Gruben. It seems to me that there's a dilemma there because there must have been emotional bitterness, and at the same time

[11]

most people thought Germany had to recover.

DE GRUBEN: Well, certainly there was a lot of emotional bitterness. Really not so much by reason of the military occupation. We are accustomed to that in our country. But when they released their concentration camps after the war, of which very few people knew, and when those people came back, that created a very strong reaction. There is a difference from the Dutch in that during the war we were under military administration, not under the political administration of the Nazis. The Dutch were. That makes a great difference. The Norwegians and the Dutch each had a Gauleiter. We had an army general, of Falkenhausen, who was not so much Nazi himself. So, we had a milder system of occupation than other countries. They didn't try to make those practical reforms, as they did in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

[12]

There they wanted to introduce all their systems because they considered the people there were Germans. In brief, there was certainly a resentment here, which is natural, and that's a fact which is acknowledged in Germany too, but we were the first Allied country who jumped over that hurdle, that obstacle.

BROOKS: There was considerable discussion at the time, Mr. de Gruben, as you remember, about the level of industry to which the Germans would be allowed to recover.

DE GRUBEN: Yes, I remember. That was the crucial question.

BROOKS: So the Belgians were not for reducing Germany to an agricultural nation?

DE GRUBEN: No, no. Maybe our general opinion was not so radical as the policy of some of your

[13]

people who were ruling over Germany at that time and who wanted an immediate recovery to alleviate the burden of the American taxpayer, which is reasonable. We were not so eager, but we have very close economic relations with Germany and we know that our prosperity depends on a sound state of affairs in our eastern neighbor.

I must say that after the Second World War, the situation was different from what it was after the First one: then our relations to Germany were not dictated by feelings.

BROOKS: You were in Germany after the First World War, were you not?

DE GRUBEN: Yes.

BROOKS: Well, a good many people in different countries, and including the Germans, have said

[14]

that the lesson of World War I was remembered after World War II.

DE GRUBEN: I, myself, am in a strange situation. I began my career after World War I, the defeat of Germany, the military occupation of Germany and all the questions arising out of it through the reparations. I worked with the Allied Commission in Koblenz after the First World War. After the Second World War, I went back to Germany, as Ambassador after a World War, the defeat of Germany, and military occupation. We had all the same problems -- after forty years. But, the general attitude was completely different.

BROOKS: That's very interesting. Now, may I turn to another point, Mr. de Gruben, and ask you about the Belgian representation at the Preparatory Commission meeting in Paris in the summer of 1947. Did the Belgians feel well represented?

[15]

DE GRUBEN: I couldn't give you correct information. You see, that was too far away from my scope of activities, but we never had the impression of not being properly represented or that our voice was not heard.

BROOKS: You didn't feel that any one of the big powers took too big a hand or anything?

DE GRUBEN: No, we always considered that we had a legitimate share.

BROOKS: Immediately thereafter, Mr. de Gruben, the winter of '47 - '48 was a hard time, and everybody knew that the Marshall Plan wouldn't be approved by the Congress for several months. Was this in itself a problem? Did the people here follow the debates in Congress?

DE GRUBEN: No, I wouldn't say so. You see, people are not so closely informed on international

[16]

affairs. And I must say, and it will probably be confirmed by people who are more close to it, that we certainly supported every effort and endeavor toward economic cooperation in the frame of the OEEC because it is in general line with our policy. Our policy has always been liberal. There's a traditional attitude which has always been in favor of a liberal economic policy. We have always supported very strongly, every effort in this direction.

BROOKS: Would you say that there were special points of view within Belgium as among various groups toward this proposal?

DE GRUBEN: No, I wouldn't say so. There was a general feeling that every person and every group was dependent on the general recovery of the country, and that this was a step that would certainly help in this way.

[17]

BROOKS: So that labor, agriculture, industry, everybody was pretty well agreed?

DE GRUBEN: Yes, well, the needs were such that the ways of help were not discussed.

BROOKS: Was there a problem here about stimulus to private business as against government control? Did the fact that the Marshall Plan aid necessarily had to come through governmental sources aggravate the problem?

DE GRUBEN: It was generally recognized that this help could only be provided through some administrative or governmental agency: that was not discussed. And as I said before, we had already entered a way of greater liberalization. People were aware of it and accepted that it was not possible to go any further at that moment. On this point, there was no conflict.

[18]

BROOKS: I'm interested, Mr. de Gruben, in the relation of the Marshall Plan to later developments. Did you people believe or even hope that the Marshall Plan would lead to further degrees of economic union, or something like the Common Market or political union…?

DE GRUBEN: You remember that the first movements for unification of Europe were simultaneous to the Marshall Plan: The Congress of the Hague, I think it was in '48 too. It was the first big Congress for the union of Europe. So there was a general disposition but I wouldn't say that at that time people established a close link between the two moves.

BROOKS: Mr. Monnet, Mr. Will Clayton, Mr. Paul Hoffman, and some others were arguing rather strongly that there should be a close link between the two, that the Marshall Plan should

[19]

be a stepping stone for closer economic union. Now some countries did not agree, I know, and I wonder what your thought was on that.

DE GRUBEN: Well, we certainly were in favor of economic cooperation, of the greatest possible degree of economic integration. That is our constant policy. But to say that many people saw a close link between the Marshall Plan and the political union of Europe, that would go too far. There was a general willingness, but not reasoning.

BROOKS: That's exactly what I want to know. Now I'd like to take a little different turn, Mr. de Gruben, and ask you if you have particular memories or impressions or interpretations of some of the people involved in these events. You were in Washington until '45. Now was that before or after Mr. Truman became President?

[20]

DE GRUBEN: Before. Roosevelt died in April '45, didn't he?

BROOKS: Yes, the 12th of April.

DE GRUBEN: Well, I left in the first days of May. I had no practical experience under the Truman administration.

BROOKS: Had you seen much of President Roosevelt? Did you know him well?

DE GRUBEN: I hadn't seen much of him. No. I wouldn't say that, but I followed very closely the American war effort, very closely because we did our best to cooperate in different fields. So at that time, there was very close contact with the Administration.

BROOKS: In that respect did you know a good deal about Mr. Truman and his investigating committee in the Senate? Was that something you were

[21]

interested in?

DE GRUBEN: No.

BROOKS: Did you meet him later on? Did you ever have any association with Mr. Truman later on?

DE GRUBEN: No, I'm sorry to say, no.

BROOKS: How about Bevin or Bidault?

DE GRUBEN: Yes, I knew them, but I wouldn't say rather well, but I had personal contact with them. I will say that I appreciated very much Mr. Bevin. He not only was a man who started his life as a docker or something of that kind, and I've been present at several international conferences where he spoke, and I always admired him for his knowledge of the situation and his sound judgment. Very sound.

BROOKS: How about the other Americans? Did you have

[22]

any dealings with Governor Harriman?

DE GRUBEN: No, not with Harriman, but with Will Clayton...with Will Clayton and Acheson very often.

BROOKS: How about General Marshall, did you ever run into him?

DE GRUBEN: No, I never met General Marshall.

BROOKS: Mr. Clayton you did know well, you say?

DE GRUBEN: Yes, I knew him in Washington rather well, and Acheson too.

BROOKS: And Clayton was one that was strongly for an economic and political union of Europe.

DE GRUBEN: Yes, he was internationally minded, I would say.

BROOKS: Mr. Kirk was the Ambassador here, was he not?

[23]

DE GRUBEN: Kirk. I knew him very well.

BROOKS: I've been hoping to see M. Spaak. He's not been very well, as you know, and I'm afraid I may not be able to see him.

DE GRUBEN: I worked with him from '45 until '51 or '52 while he was Minister of Foreign Affairs.

BROOKS: So you were pretty close to him?

DE GRUBEN: Well, I took part in practically every international problem, and in many conferences abroad too.

BROOKS: Do you have any special memories of your service in the United States? You were there for a long time.

DE GRUBEN: Seven years. You want to know my opinion of the United States?

[24]

BROOKS: Yes.

DE GRUBEN: Well, that's a long chapter. That's a very long chapter. That's such a great slice of my life.

It was, speaking objectively, a very interesting time, the time of war, the years immediately before the war and the years after the war. I left the United States the day the armistice was signed, May 8, 1945. So, I closed a chapter. I was immediately recalled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I was then associated with all the problems of the time.

BROOKS: In the United States, there was President Truman's speech about aid to Greece and Turkey in the spring of '47, and shortly after that there was the Marshall speech. One of them was better received than the other because there were some people who were tired of economic

[25]

warfare or any kind of warfare against the Communists. Some of them were more willing to support a program like the Marshall program. The question is this, was the Greek-Turkish aid program of particular significance here in Belgium, or of particular interest?

DE GRUBEN: No, no. Of course, nowadays any kind of warfare implies a large economic action as part of it, and it still is. So aid to Greece and Turkey was considered an act of more or less economic warfare than anything else. For us, the Marshall Plan was on a different level.

BROOKS: Do you think, sir, that there are any phases of the Belgian relation to the Marshall Plan that I haven't covered? I wouldn't want to leave out anything you thought was important.

DE GRUBEN: Certainly not. There would be an

[26]

interesting question, very difficult to answer, and that would be the economic impact of this aid to all general economic recovery. I think that very few people would be able to give you an answer to that.

BROOKS: It's very difficult to measure.

DE GRUBEN: There's no doubt that it added that little surplus to our economic system that helped to make it turn around again. We could have recovered differently, but you know that economic need always created a restrictive reaction in the countries, and that you have to break. We couldn't have succeeded in doing that. Everybody would have protected himself and its individual interests. For instance, the American administration in Germany involved the policy of protection for the German economy. My opinion is that first, the conception of Marshall aid

[27]

was a very bold and an enlightened step of international policy, it worked, and was extremely helpful to European economic recovery, European economic integration. And if it will develop into political integration, that we will see. That's another question that's so much in the future that I could not prophesy.

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List of Subjects Discussed

    Acheson, Dean, 22
    Allied Commission in Koblenz, Germany, 14

    Belgium, 25

      economic recovery of, 2-4
      and Germany, 10-11, 12
      and Marshall plan, 4
    Benelux Customs Union, 7-8
    Bevin, Ernest, 5, 21
    Bidault, Georges, 5, 21

    Clayton, William, 18, 22
    Congress of the Hague, 18

    DeGruben, Baron Herve:

      career of, 14
      and the Marshall plan, 26-27
      and Roosevelt, Franklin D., 20
      and the United States, 23

    Erhard, Chancellor Ludwig, 3

    Gauleiter, 11
    Germany, 3

    Greece, 24-25

    Hague Congress, 18
    Harriman, W. Averell, 22
    Hoffman, Paul, 18
    Holland, 7-8, 11

    Kirk, Admiral Alan Goodrich, 22-23
    Koblenz, Germany, 14

    London, England, 7
    Luxembourg, 11-12

    Marshall, George, 4, 6, 22
    Marshall plan, 7, 8, 18-19

      Belgium's reaction to, 4-5
      cooperation, as a condition for, 5-6
      de Gruben, Baron Herve, and, 25-27
      Europe, as a turning point for, 1-2
      speech announcing, 24-25
      and the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics, 9
    Monnet, Jean, 18

    Norway, 11

    Preparatory Commission meeting in Paris, 1947, 14

    Roosevelt, Franklin D., 20

    Spaak, Paul Henri, 23

    Truman, Harry S., 1, 19, 20-21, 24

      Marshall plan speech of, 24-25
      Truman Doctrine speech of, 24-25
    Truman Doctrine, 24-25
    Turkey, 24-25

    Union of Soviet Socialists Republics, 9
    United States of America, 23-24

    World War I, 13-14

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