FOR RELIEF IN BELGIUM
CHAPTER II, continued
4. The German Authorities and Relief Control. June-July 1915
The controversy over the freedom of action of the Commission's representatives proved to be the first phase in a much more vital conflict affecting the whole matter of control of relief. The rapid expansion of the relief organization in scope and importance, which the occupation authorities had not anticipated, convinced them that German interests and position in Belgium required a limitation of and greater official participation in relief measures. General von Bissing, thereupon, issued instructions which, in effect, would place the distribution of relief through the C.N. under German control. This policy, Hoover, the Belgians, the patron ministers, and finally the British Government energetically opposed, for it threatened the very foundation of relief since it undermined the position of the Commission as the guarantor for the equitable and exclusive use of relief supplies for Belgian Civilians.
DOCUMENT NO. 36
VON BISSING TO WHITLOCK, objecting to extension of activities of C.N., particularly the help given to the unemployed
BRUSSELS, 26 June 1915
To His Excellency, Mr. Brand Whitlock
Minister of the United States of America in Brussels
I have the honor to bring to your knowledge some measures which I have believed it my duty to take concerning the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation.
The protection and favors which I have never ceased to grant to this institution are proof of the interest I bear this Comité and its benevolent activity in favor of the Belgian population.
It has nevertheless become clear that the sphere of the Comité's activity has assumed an extension which had not been foreseen at the time of its creation. Consequently I have considered it necessary that the activity of the Comité be clearly delimited and that the mutual relations of the administration under my orders and of the sub-organizations of the Comité be regulated in such a way as to avoid the friction which necessarily was hindering the labors of the said Comité.
For this reason and also that a deeper knowledge of the method of working of the Comité may permit the authorities of the country to facilitate the Comité's work while at the same time preventing transgressions of the eventual powers of the sub-organization, I have issued instructions to the governors under my orders, the substance of which I have the honor to communicate hereinafter to Your Excellency:
The authorities in the provinces shall have as their duty to keep themselves informed of the activity of the numerous sub-organizations of the Comité National in their district. The presidents of the Civil Administration of the provinces shall endeavor to maintain a permanent contact with the directors of the committees in their chief towns. This contact would be established in the most useful way if the presidents were present at the regular meetings of these committees, as has moreover been the case for some months in the province of Hainaut. It is desirable that the German civil commissioners attached to the district commanders act in similar manner vis-à-vis the regional committees of their districts.
The censorship of the correspondence of the committees shall henceforth be exercised by the civil authorities (German civil presidents and commissioners) instead of and in lieu of the military authorities who have exercised it hitherto.
The committees will not be allowed to give instructions direct to the communes; they will not be permitted to make inquiries, to send interrogatory lists or circulars to the communes, nor have the latter make out any lists or statistics without first having consulted the president or the German civil commissioner. The committees may not make any rules or regulations with the communes in their favour. All measures of this kind must be proposed to the competent president or commissioner.
Since every restraint upon personal liberty or liberty of commerce is forbidden, it is necessary that no verbal or written threat pronounced or executed, against any person or any commune be permitted, whether to stop the supply of food, or to exact for this food a higher price, or to refuse relief.
As a general rule the committees should be forbidden to make use of any pressure of whatsoever sort to force communes or individuals to obey instructions. All measures to be taken against these latter should be proposed by the committee to competent authorities, who shall give to such measures whatever sequence they shall judge wise.
The monthly statements of the forecasts of receipts and expenditures established by the provincial committees must be communicated to the presidents of the German Civil Administration. The latter will thus be enabled to remain constantly informed regarding the movement of the funds of these committees.
In addition to the general rules enumerated above I have also given the following instructions for a certain number of individual cases:
Concerning the relief to be granted to those out of work the presidents shall take care that the latter do not hinder the resumption of work by the laboring population. Moreover relief cannot be given to workmen who refuse remunerative labor.
Since I myself have instituted estimates of the damages caused by the war, no inquiry of the Comité on this subject, as well as on the subject of the requisitions of the German troops, can be authorized.
Since the Comité has obtained from the communes the grant of police powers to its inspectors vis-à-vis the millers, bakers, etc., and since the communes have subscribed to the obligation to have the sanctions exacted by the inspectors carried out, all measures of this kind must be revoked since the administration under my orders is alone qualified to exact these measures. The supervisors of the Comité or of the Commission for Relief in Belgium have the right to make inquiries and statements regarding the abuses committed by the millers, bakers, etc., but their right is limited to making these statements. They are allowed to communicate these afterwards to the competent authorities with request to give to the statements such sequence as these may require.
No measures of coercion exercised vis-à-vis the communes or individuals for the obtaining of funds destined to constitute a floating capital or for any other use can be authorized.
The presidents of the Civil Administration shall come to an understanding with the directors of the committees in order to reduce as much as possible the price of food products.
Every tendency on the part of the Comité to monopolize the distribution of relief in Belgium must be forbidden.
The Principle must be maintained that all other organizations of benevolence, above all the Belgian Red Cross, have the right to perform their functions adjacent to and independent of the Comité.
I have no doubt that these measures taken by myself are in conformity with the intentions of Your Excellency. I have all the less reason to doubt this, because I have always had at heart to respect scrupulously the arrangements concluded with the government represented by Your Excellency, regarding the alimentation of the Belgian population. Your Excellency will have taken into cognizance the fact that all the measures outlined have as sole purpose the maintenance of rights which belong to the occupant of the country in conformity to international conventions.
I flatter myself with the hope that Your Excellency will share my conviction that the line of conduct thus traced for my administration will serve to guarantee a common and useful work, founded on mutual confidence, for the welfare of the Belgian population.
I beg Your Excellency to be so kind as to communicate the preceding to the Comité National, and I take this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurance of my high esteem.
(Signed) FREIHERR VON BISSING
DOCUMENT NO. 37
HOOVER TO PAGE, regarding the issue raised by the Germans: the paying of railway men to maintain a state of strike and attempts to use the C.R.B. as channel of payment to support workers refusing employment to embarrassment of the Germans
LONDON, 5 July 1915
His Excellency, The Hon. Walter Page, American Ambassador, London
DEAR MR. PAGE:
There are two or three matters revolving around this Commission at the present moment which fill us with the greatest anxiety, and I therefore wish to formulate and lay them before you for your advice and consideration.
1. Upon my arrival in Belgium on the 9th June I learned that an investigation by the German military authorities was in progress as regards the Comité National and, in effect, into our own organization in Belgium. This investigation appears to have arisen over a device for relief which had been adopted by the Comité National some few weeks previously, by which they undertook to make payments to unemployed workmen on the lines of some old Belgian law on the subject. The German military authorities gained a suspicion that these payments were of political import in producing strike conditions against public and other services in the country. My own impression of them is that this method of relief was socially wrongly founded as it was in effect giving money as a right to the unemployed rather than giving actual food as an emergency support pending employment. It appeared that the particular relief scheme had not met the approval of the whole Comité National but had been more or less imposed by the members of the socialistic and syndicalist tendencies as representing their section of the community. The Commission for Relief had but little difficulty in showing that they had no connection with this affair in any of its political phases. The ground of German suspicions, however, appears to revolve on certain facts which you will recollect I have laid before you from time to time, in that the Belgian military authorities had smuggled monies into Belgium with which to pay railway workmen and others to maintain a state of strike, and that this form of relief given by the Comité National more or less effected the same result.
You will also recollect that a great deal of pressure was placed upon us from time to time from December until April, often when we were hard up for money, to induce us to accept large remittances to be made to Belgium through our exchange department, these remittances to be for distribution to these railway employees; and you will recollect that not only did we refuse to have any association with this scheme or accept money for such purposes, but also that we vigorously protested against the whole act, both as to smuggling the money in, or any other feature of it, as being one which would sooner or later precipitate upon the Belgian people rigorous military action. In any case, these events have called the whole future of the Comité National into question, and as the result of this investigation a letter has been addressed to the Comité National by General von Bissing, copy of which I enclose. We are fearful that this letter may be followed by stipulations which will bring us into direct conflict with the undertakings given by the Allied Governments. The general limitations placed by these Governments on imports have the following intrinsic effects:
a) This Commission, as an institution, guarantees that foodstuffs imported shall reach the civil population only.
b) The limitations placed upon the amount of imported foodstuffs are based on a ration of 250 grams of flour per them per capita and certain other sundry commodities in supplement thereto.
It appears to us that a consequential obligation in this matter is to see that this foodstuff is distributed equitably over the entire Population and in general, that there shall be no interference by the German military authorities with the distribution of the food. It also appears to us that, as a humanitarian body, we should insist that rich and poor should be treated alike, and the constrainment of our finance is a further limitation placed on the amount of foodstuffs available. It is therefore necessary to enforce some kind of restriction on consumption as the above imports amount to only about one-third of the normal consumption. Hitherto we have done this entirely by indirection, in the limitation of the amount of the food in a given commune and the stipulation with bakers and other distributing agencies that this maximum shall be tendered to each person whom they are authorized to serve. Our only power of enforcement has been to cut off the supply to any given distributing agency which did not faithfully carry out these arrangements. You will see that General von Bissing's letter cuts straight across these arrangements.
2. The German military authorities in Northern France and Belgium have shown considerable evidence of wanting to use the food supply which we furnish to the people as a weapon to force them into labor on behalf of the German army. You will recollect that it is a fundamental to the agreement with the Allied Governments, that the food shall be distributed without interference. Moreover, it appears to us that this action on their part is a violation of the Hague Convention and is, in effect, using us, a neutral body, for unneutral purposes. We can only retort by cutting off the food supply or food supplies to large sections; but this, in turn, puts us up as censors and regulators of the acts of the German Army, and in any event it is the innocent population who suffer. Such a positive act on their part has taken place at Roubaix, and Mr. Crosby has suspended the whole shipment to the province, a little in the hope that the military authorities will be brought to a recognition of the fact that we cannot be used in this manner. In view of the event at Roubaix, we have addressed the enclosed letter to the French Embassy, asking them for their instructions, and it also appears to us that the letter of General von Bissing which I refer to above, has running through it a desire on the part of the German military authorities, by interference with the food distribution, to direct it as a weapon to compel the population to labor. If this labor were entirely of non-military value it would be an admirable social improvement. I enclose herewith a memorandum which I have handed to the Foreign Office, as the result of conferences with them, on the general question of imports and exports from Belgium, as bearing on the stimulation of non-contraband industry.
3. The whole nature of the acts set out above fills our minds with some forbodings. These things have not yet come to a positive and final issue. If they cannot be straightened out by negotiation within ourselves, it appears to me that the greatest catastrophe which could happen may ensue, i.e., that this work may break down on points of minor issue between the belligerent Powers; and if such an event becomes imminent I should be glad if you could consider whether it would be feasible, in view of the importance of this work, that the whole of the Ambassadors who comprise our Honorary Chairmen should have a meeting in Holland, at which attendance could be had from both the German and English Governments, with a view to placing the work of this Commission on a definite and feasible basis.
(Signed) HERBERT C. HOOVER
DOCUMENT NO. 38
GREY TO PAGE, objecting to German efforts to control relief and restating the British Government's conditions under which relief is to be permitted
FOREIGN OFFICE, LONDON
17 July 1915
MY DEAR AMBASSADOR:
I am much obliged for Your Excellency's letter of the 13th instant, enclosing a copy of General von Bissing's letter of June 26th to the patrons of the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation at Brussels, together with a copy of Mr. Whitlock's reply thereto.
Since this correspondence took place, Your Excellency has been good enough to transmit a copy of my letter of July 7th to Mr. Whitlock, who will therefore now be fully acquainted with the views of His Majesty's Government, and will be in a position to explain that spirit of non-interference in which His Majesty's Government intend to act, and in which they intend to insist that the German authorities shall also act, towards the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Comité National in all matters which fall within the functions of those bodies. It is on this spirit, and not on the strict belligerent rights of either government, that the whole work of relief is based, and the introduction into these discussions of any such claims of right cannot but be fatal to the continuance of that work. It will be clear to Your Excellency and to Mr. Whitlock how far General Bissing's letter is in accord with this spirit.
I do not intend to enter into a discussion of the various technical points of administration raised by General von Bissing. It is enough to say that the decision on these points must be governed, in general, by the spirit I have mentioned, and that the decision on each particular point must be in accord with the various definite conditions which I have laid down in correspondence with Your Excellency and with the Commission from time to time since the work of the Commission began. These definite conditions represent the absolute minimum on which His Majesty's Government can allow that work to continue. In order that there may be no misunderstanding as to the nature of these stipulations I here recapitulate them, and I must ask that the Commission and the Comité National shall enter into no discussions regarding the limits or methods of their work except upon the basis of these fundamental undertakings:
1. The Commission guarantees that the foodstuffs imported shall be consumed solely by the Belgian civil population.
2. No foodstuffs shall be imported which will, in effect, replace any foodstuffs requisitioned or purchased in Belgium by the German authorities.
3. Such commodities as may be acquired by the Commission for shipment into Belgium are to be consigned to the Commission for Relief in Belgium at their warehouses in Belgium and shall remain in the sole charge, and under complete control, of the Commission or its agents until issued to the Sub-committees of the Comité National in Belgium. These Sub-committees shall in their turn enter into sole charge and control of these commodities.
4. The only commodities imported into Belgium by the Commission shall be wheat and wheat flour, peas, beans, rice, bacon, lard, and maize for human consumption. Medical supplies destined and used solely for the civil population may also be imported as in the past, under the same guarantees.
5. The quantity of wheat and wheat flour imported shall not exceed sixty thousand metric tons per month and shall after the present harvest be reduced to such a monthly amount as will supplement the yield of the harvest during the period of its distribution.
6. The quantities of the commodities to be imported other than wheat and wheat flour shall be fixed from time to time in agreement with His Majesty's Government.
7. The whole yield of the present harvest of breadstuffs in Belgium shall be acquired by the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Comité National, and shall be held, controlled, and distributed by them alone, precisely in the same manner and under the same guarantees as the imported foodstuffs.
8. It is the duty of the Commission for Relief in Belgium to satisfy itself that all foodstuffs imported or acquired as above shall be distributed by itself and the Comité National with justice and equality over the entire civil population, and there shall be no interference of any kind whatever by the German authorities either in the sale of these foodstuffs or in their free distribution in the way of relief to those whom the Commission and the Comité National shall consider deserving of such relief.
9. The Commission for Relief in Belgium shall be maintained in its organisation and functions so long as these imports continue and shall remain under the patronage of Your Excellency and the Spanish Ambassador. The actual executive work of the Commission shall continue to be presided over by a responsible Chairman and Directors, and these officials together with all the members of the Commission shall be of neutral nationality and their selection shall in each case be approved either by Your Excellency or by the Spanish Ambassador as Patrons, or by both. The Commission shall maintain in Belgium a sufficient staff and have sufficient freedom of movement to enable them at all times to satisfy themselves that all the above conditions are maintained.
(Signed) E. GREY
DOCUMENT NO. 39
WHITLOCK TO PAGE, reporting German agreement to the British conditions and referring to difficulties connected with negotiations concerning the new harvest
BRUSSELS, 19 July 1915
MY DEAR COLLEAGUE:
My colleague, the Spanish Minister, and I have had two long conversations with Baron von der Lancken in reference to the note of His Britannic Majesty's Government which you sent to me the other day, in which are set forth the conditions under which the British Government will consent to the continuance of the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Comité National in feeding the civil population in Belgium.
I am pleased to be able to inform you that we are now able to say that the German authorities accept the principles laid down in the note, and that the work of the Commission will therefore go on under the conditions set forth. This declaration was formally and officially made at the conclusion this afternoon of our second long conference and will be produced in writing immediately and signed by the Governor-General. Upon the receipt of the note, which will be in a day or so, I shall promptly forward it to you; but I wish to apprise you promptly of this fortunate conclusion of our negotiations in order that there may be no misunderstanding or possible interruption of the work of ravitaillement.
It would be difficult to give you an idea of all the difficulties of the hard job, and of the amount of trouble we have had during the last month with all these new negotiations over the new harvest.
I am ninety-five years older than I was, and I wish I were on an uninhabited island up in the Georgian Bay!
I am, my dear colleague,
Yours very sincerely
(Signed) BRAND WHITLOCK
DOCUMENT NO. 40
BARON VON DER LANCKEN(21) TO WHITLOCK, giving formal undertaking of the Germans to agree to British conditions
BRUSSELS, 29 July 1915
I have had the honor of receiving the letter which Your Excellency was pleased to transmit to me under date of July 16, 1915(22) concerning the revictualing of Belgium by the Comité National de Secours et d'Alimentation.
I was happy to learn that, as a result of the measures which Your Excellency, as well as His Excellency the Minister of Spain had been so kind as to undertake, the British Government has pledged itself to facilitate until the harvest of 1916 the importation into Belgium of the products necessary for the feeding of the Belgian civil population within the conditions upon the principle of which I have already had the pleasure of placing myself in accord with Your Excellency.
I have already had the occasion to make known to Your Excellency that the Governor-General has declared himself agreed in principle that the work of revictualing of Belgium continue exactly, for the benefit of the population of that country, under the conditions which were formulated through the agreements entered into between the Governor-General and the representatives of the neutral Powers.
As to the details of these agreements I am glad to be able to inform Your Excellency that the Governor-General admits the following principles, which, I am sure, are the same as those admitted by Your Excellency, to wit:
That the feeding and support of the Belgian civil population must continue to be separated from the feeding and support of the German Army, and that the decisions made in this sense by the Governor-General in accord with the protecting ministers [MM. les Protecteurs] shall be carried out in all respects.
That the Belgian population alone shall derive benefit from the aid which is distributed by the Comité National.
That the Comité National and the Commission for Relief in Belgium shall be able to enjoy all liberty of action necessary for them to be in a position to fulfil the mission which has devolved upon them through the agreements entered into between the Governor-General and the representatives of the neutral Powers.
That the Governor-General shall never make use of the Comité National to force the Belgian population to employ itself in the service of the German Army contrary to the stipulations of the Hague conventions.
That the Comité National shall be the intermediary in the purchase of the harvest of grains in the territory placed under the orders of the Governor-General in Belgium, and that the distribution of these grains shall be done through the care of the said Comité in the same manner as the distributions of the imported goods; that likewise the Comité shall continue to distribute help in kind to the needy under the conditions determined by the previous agreements made between the Governor-General and the protecting ministers.
I have taken note of the communication of Your Excellency that the British Government will facilitate, in addition to the importation of grains, the importation likewise of peas, bacon, beans, rice, lard, and maize for human consumption, as long as the importation of these articles does not represent the replacing of other articles requisitioned by order of the Governor-General.
I have likewise taken note that Your Excellency will cause to be communicated to the British Government the modifications which might be brought by the Governor-General to the ensemble of the regulations decided upon by the agreements entered into between the Governor-General and the protecting ministers.
In conformity with the request which Your Excellency is pleased to make of me in his letter, I have the honor, in the name of the Governor-General, to confirm to Your Excellency the assurances and guarantees previously given and which are specified in the preceding stipulations.
I have communicated to the Governor-General the assurance which Your Excellency was pleased to give me, that the work patronized by Your Excellency shall continue to exercise its beneficent action under the conditions of strict neutrality justifying the aid and the protection which the Governor-General and the authorities placed under his orders have not ceased to bring to this institution since its creation.
The Governor-General is happy to state that the renewed assurance to this effect which Your Excellency has been pleased to give, constitutes for him a guarantee that the humanitarian purpose of this work can be pursued without injury to the rights which accrue to the occupant of the country, and to the interests of which he has charge.
I embrace this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my deep consideration.
5. Adjustment of Functions of C.R.B. and C.N. July 1915
From its inception in October 1914 to July 1915 the Commission had encountered and overcome a series of forbidding diplomatic, financial, and physical obstacles, had imported 650,000 tons of provisions costing $44,000,000, and a nation of over 9,000,000 had been saved from famine. At the end of these eight months the Commission's stocks afloat and contracted for assured for a few months at least a steady flow of the stream of supplies.
Though the contributions to relief had fallen away considerably after the first months' generosity, Hoover had secured, after arduous negotiations, a basic income for the undertaking from, Allied Government sources.(23) The Germans, moreover, were not only living up to their original guarantees as to non-interference with imported supplies, but had agreed, after more negotiations, to the principle that native crops would be reserved for the civil population.(24) The activities of the Commission were known all over the world and officially and unofficially it was the recognized channel of relief in the occupied territories. Its numerous Committees engaged in the collection of gifts were in every country, and its administrative agencies were established in the principal ports of North and South America and in India and Australasia. The C.R.B. flag on the high seas was a well-known and respected emblem. Within Belgium the distribution of relief as has been described was controlled by the Commission with the directors in Brussels and delegates throughout the provinces, and by the Comité National with its machinery extending down to the smallest commune embracing a membership of some 40,000 individuals. American intervention had contributed decisively in breaking through the difficulties that blocked the enterprise in the beginning; now this path appeared hopefully straight and clear.
DOCUMENT NO. 41
of a meeting in Brussels between representatives of the C.R.B. and the C.N., 20 July 1915, setting forth the functions of the two organizations
BRUSSELS, 20 July 1915
It was proposed by the Commission for Relief in Belgium that it was desirable to consider if the time had now arrived when the retirement of the Commission from the relief work in Belgium should be considered. The points advanced by the Commission for consideration in discussion of this proposal are as follows:
1. While initially, owing to the disorganization and restriction of movement and meeting, the Comité National in its components of provincial and communal committees required the assistance of the members of the Commission in building up and carrying on its organization, the now improved situation and the more liberal attitude of the military authorities in these particulars no longer, for this reason, require our active participation in executive work.
2. The Belgian people have so far recuperated from the total financial disorganization that they are now able, through their own resources and through the resources placed at their disposal by the Belgian Government at Le Havre, together with a charitable income from abroad, not only to finance the ravitaillement, but also in a general way to undertake the care of the destitute, and that therefore, at some early date, no further appeals for the charity of the world in their support is necessary, or if necessary, they could be made by the C.N.
3. The demonstration, by eight months' experience, that the Germans scrupulously perform their undertakings with regard to non-interference in the distribution and consumption of the imported foodstuffs, renders the sponsorship of a neutral body less important, and it is felt by the Commission, in view of this experience, that the Allied Governments should be approached to now accept the assurances of their own allies, the Belgians, and that the whole line of guarantees can quite properly be transferred from the commission for Relief in Belgium to the Comité National.
4. The joint organizations having carried through the negotiations by which the native foodstuff production in Belgium is conserved to the civil population in the occupation zone, and a reasonable arrangement in prospect for the Etappen, the rôle performed by the Commission for Relief in Belgium in conserving native food supplies has become less important.
In Summary.---The sole object of the Americans in their whole work in Belgium has been embraced in one expression: "To help the Belgians." The Belgian people obviously require no help from any other nationality the moment they are in position to obtain free play to their abilities and resources, and it appears to the members of the Commission that the general political situation has now ameliorated to a point where there is free play obtainable, at least to such an extent as is required for the purposes of this work. Therefore, the political, financial, and administrative necessity of American administrative help having now been nearly consummated, it appears to the members of the Commission that we should prepare the necessary steps for retirement from the situation. This retirement necessarily must take place gradually, and it is the view of the Commission that it could be consummated by the middle of October, thus marking the complete year of service.
The Comité National stated it could not agree to the above views, and that it was impossible that the Commission for Relief in Belgium should retire for the following reasons:
1. The Belgians had no certainty of freedom of movement or meeting, either internally or across frontiers, which would enable them to carry on the large trading operations involved in the ravitaillement.
2. The Commission for Relief in Belgium, being an independent and neutral body, founded on merely humanitarian principles, has acted and must continue to act as the guardian of the Belgian people; the presence of its members in Belgium, if for no other reason, gives confidence of protection and continuity of the food supply to the entire people, and tends to maintain order; its American complexion, and the support which it holds among humanitarian people the world over, is in itself a guarantee that the stream of foodstuffs will not be interfered with by either of the belligerents.
3. The Comité National does not conceive that the fresh and difficult problems which constantly arise will require less moral and diplomatic support than hitherto.
4. The disorganization of Belgium, while somewhat ameliorated, is still such as to make absolutely necessary the presence of a controlling body in the administration of the ravitaillement and aid to the destitute, because this function gives a cohesive character to the national, provincial, and communal committees which would break down if American aid were withdrawn.
5. The present financial resources of the two committees are precarious, and may at any time again require the energetic intervention of the Americans, either in banking arrangements or in charity.
6. In summary, the Comité National is certain that it could not go on without (1) the political and moral support of the Commission; (2) that the executive work could not continue without the co-operation of the Commission; and (3) that the finance, purchase, and transport operations are impossible at the present time by Belgians alone.
Therefore, the Comité National not only protests at the idea of withdrawal, but specifically requests the Commission to continue its activities without idea of cessation.
On the above grounds it is decided that the ravitaillement and care of the destitute in Belgium shall continue as a joint undertaking of the Comité National and the Commission for Relief. In order that the future administrative relations of each may be more clearly defined, it is agreed:
1. For administrative purposes the functions of both institutions are continued in the following three departments:
a) The Provisioning Department, for the ravitaillement of the entire population.
b) The Benevolent Department, for the care of the destitute.
c) The Exchange Department, for facilitating financial operations.
2. Provisioning Department.---The chief executives of the C.N. and C.R.B. will from time to time determine in consultation
a) The nature and quantities of foodstuffs to be purchased abroad.
b) The prices at which they are to be sold by the C.R.B. to the C.N. and by them to the subcommittees and the public.
c) The regional distribution of these foodstuffs in Belgium, together with the bread questions of rations and milling percentage, etc. These goods will be delivered by the C.R.B. to the regional warehouses, and the executive responsibility of the C.R.B. ceases upon delivery of the foodstuffs to the regional warehouses (the mills being considered regional warehouses for this purpose); the whole of the distribution after that point being undertaken by the C.N. and its component committees.
3. Benevolent Department (Secours ordinaire).---In the care of the destitute, it is agreed that the gifts entrusted by the benevolent world for the benefit of the destitute in Belgium shall be, together with the profits of the C.R.B. on its Provisioning Department, remitted to the C.N. through the Exchange Department of the C.R.B. in the form of a monthly subvention, of such amount as may be determined by the executive heads of the two bodies from time to time. These moneys and gifts shall be distributed as subventions from the C.N. to the provincial committees and other benevolent organizations, and they shall be allocated as a supplement to the other resources of the various subcommittees in proportion to the actual necessities of these bodies. It is understood that all these gifts are to be used by local organizations for the provision of "relief in kind." In order that the C.R.B. may properly account to the donors of these funds for the use of their gifts, the C.N. undertakes to furnish monthly a statement, audited by the accountant of the C.R.B., of the whole of the uses these gifts have been applied to.
All gift food received by the C.R.B. shall be sold to the Provisioning Department of the C.R.B. at its replacement value, and the moneys added to the cash subscriptions received by the C.R.B. and included in the above remittances.
4. Exchange Department---The C.R.B. Exchange Department will handle the moneys remitted from abroad to the C.N. These remittances are to be divided into the following classes:
a) Commercial Exchange; being payments to be made by the C.N. to private individuals in Belgium against similar sums of money paid to the C.R.B. abroad.
b) Benevolent funds, as above described (Secours ordinaire).
c) Remittances from the Belgian Government at Le Havre to the C.N. (Secours extraordinaire). In respect of these remittances, it is distinctly understood that the C.R.B. takes no responsibility whatever, the C.N. undertaking to account to the Belgian Government for the distribution of these funds.
5. It is also understood that no money is to be knowingly remitted by the C.R.B., nor to be knowingly distributed by the C.N., that is disapproved by either of the belligerent Powers, and that the C.R.B. has no responsibility of any kind in connection with remittances for Secours extraordinaire.
6. In order to facilitate co-operation in the above matters, it is agreed that the following interlocking of officials of the two bodies shall continue:
a) The Director and other members of the Commission as at present shall continue to act as members of the executive committee of the C.N.
b) The provincial delegates of the C.R.B. shall sit as members of all the committees, provincial and local, in their respective Provinces.
c) The representatives of the C.N. shall have the same relation to the C.R.B. in Rotterdam, London, and New York.
7. The accounts between the organizations will be adjusted as nearly as may be possible each month, the C.N. and C.R.B. furnishing audited statements as to their internal position as often as is practicable.
DOCUMENT NO. 42
on internal organization and duties of C.R.B. in Belgium (not including Northern France)
BRUSSELS, July 1915
(1) The personnel in Belgium consists of:
Director Chief Inspector
Shipping Manager.....Provincial Delegates.....Advisory Members
(2) The ravitaillement and the care of the destitute is a joint undertaking of the C.N. and the C.R.B. The division of functions is difficult to define, but so far as the C.R.B. is concerned, the one dominating idea is simply to help the Belgians. A memorandum settled with the C.N. on this subject is attached (No. 1), also a review of the conditions imposed by the Allied Governments (No. 2).
(3) The work of the C.R.B. is based upon intimate co-operation among its members, but in a general way the Director has necessarily the final decision in and co-ordination of matters affecting the C.R.B. internally in Belgium, and with its general staff co-operates with the C.R.B. abroad and with the heads of the C.N. in Brussels.
(4) The work of delegates falls in three main phases:
a) General service
b) The guarantees
c) Transportation and statistics
(5) The general duties of the provincial delegates are most difficult to define, and it is considered that for our purposes we should define a minimum of absolute duties, and that any further activity should only be undertaken at the request from time to time of the provincial committee and subcommittees themselves. It may be stated in general that this minimum is intended to entirely exclude, as soon as possible, executive and office functions. Furthermore it is our desire that there shall be no dictation to the provincial committees and no dictation to subcommittees or individuals, unless requested to do so by the superior committees themselves. We are here to help, not to order.
The prime and most important function of the delegates is to maintain representation in the provinces of the guardian neutral body, and to exemplify its ideals in constantly rendering aid and moral support to the people in their difficulties of ravitaillement and care of the destitute. Particularly it is to be assumed that the whole of the committee structure engaged in this work is now developed to a stage where it will function itself except for occasional difficulties. It is the desire of the directors to strongly impress delegates with the fact that they consider the time has come when the delegates should not occupy themselves with any executive functions and a minimum of office routine, but to direct themselves to help at the points of difficulty and to discover the points of abuse of our ideals and undertakings. It is our desire that the delegates should move frequently and freely over their entire areas in constant consultation with all committees involved in this work giving them such aid and advice as may seem appropriate, but under no circumstance to give direction unless requested by a superior committee to give orders. In case that injustice, incompetence, or abuses are found to be in operation, it is desired that each of such incidents may be taken up as a special case in itself, and the facts made known to the committee members most nearly concerned. If remedy is not made, the matter should be reported to the provincial committee, and if no appropriate action is taken in that quarter, then the matter should be reported to the head office of the Commission in Brussels, where it will be dealt with by the Director. It does not appear to us that the Commission is from now on concerned in enforcing any draconian scheme of rationing the population, as long as there is no real privation and no injustice. The most valued function of the Commission, for which it will stand out in the memory of the Belgian people, is the relief to the destitute. That is, together with the political phases mentioned, the prime raison d'être of the Commission; but in this department, as well as in the ravitaillement, we believe that the attitude of the delegates shall be entirely of the order of inspection and advice and not of executive action. The directors believe that with the abandonment of executive work, the delegates will have more time at their disposal in which to visit the various branches of the general organization to study their results. In order to maintain the intimate relations of the provincial delegates with the provincial committees they will sit as members of all the committees in their provinces, but it is definitely understood on both sides that they have no responsibility for any action; that their position is purely advisory. The relation of the delegates to the local German authorities shall be purely one of a friendly intermediary.
(6) The guarantees are of two sorts, the guarantees against military interference and the guarantees of justice in distribution. The first matter is a purely passive function, requiring no action by the delegates, unless the entire event of contravention occurs, in which case the matter should be investigated and the facts reported to the Director in Brussels for direction as to the policy to be pursued. The second phase embraces the fact that the military shall not interfere with any persons receiving food, and any incident must be treated in the same way. Beyond this, it also embraces the broad question of justice in distribution which is elaborated above, but our conception is that this can be expressed so that there shall be no Privation.
(7) The Commission has the duty, under the conditions imposed by the Powers, of retaining possession of the foodstuffs until their final delivery in regional warehouses, for which purposes mills are considered as regional warehouses. Such foodstuffs will be consigned from Rotterdam to the C.R.B. The bills of lading must necessarily be handled by the delegates and endorsed over to the proper committees, and when receipts for the bills of lading are received by the delegates and sent to Brussels, their interest in the matter entirely ceases. In order to intelligently guide the purchasing and transportation department of the Commission, it is fundamental that certain statistical information should be secured by the delegates and placed in the hands of the Brussels office. This information relates to the consumption, stocks, and requirements, the more detailed discussion of which is unnecessary here.
6. The Vermittlungsstelle. November-December 1915
Toward the end of the year 1915 the Commission encountered new and serious difficulties with the German officials in Belgium. It had been the policy of the authorities to entrust the supervision of all matters relating to the relief work to the Civil Administration of the German General Government in Belgium. The diplomatic negotiations passed, however, through the hands of the Political Department of the General Government, headed by Baron von der Lancken. For some time a rivalry between these two departments had been developing as to which should have the privilege of surveillance of the activities of the Commission and the Comité National. One product of this rivalry was the attempt of the Civil Administration to control relief operations by forcing a reorganization of the Comité National in June 1915. This resulted in a threat by the British Government to revise its policy with respect to relief unless the Germans gave new and specific assurances that they would not interfere with distribution.(25) The Governor-General, thereupon, had placed the control of relief operations largely in the hands of the Political Department. As the object of the attentions of these competing departments the Commission suffered. Matters came to a head in the fall of 1915 when the Political Department made the espionage charges described in Document 43. At this particular moment Hoover was discussing with the German General Staff a project for the relief in Poland,(26) in which the High Command was much interested. Hoover immediately declared to the military authorities that extension of the Commission's activities was out of the question since the civil officials appeared unwilling to co-operate in the relief already in hand. The pressure which the High Command applied to the Governor-General in Brussels had prompt results. The espionage charges, which were unfounded, were withdrawn, and, what was most important for the relief organizations, a new department, the Vermittlungsstelle, was created to regularize relations between the Commission and the German authorities.
DOCUMENT NO. 43
GIBSON ON CONFERENCE WITH VON DER LANCKEN, covering German demands for removal of three American delegates on suspicion of espionage
BRUSSELS, 30 November 1915
This morning Baron von der Lancken requested me to call upon him and immediately brought up the cases of the three men described in my memorandum of November 8th and stated that he desired to add to that list one more name, that of Mr. Poland,(27) to whom he objected as having written offensive letters (lettres grossières) to the Political Department. He showed me a letter from Mr. Poland, a copy of which is appended hereto. After reading the letter I stated that it had long been the custom of the Commission to deal on matters of loading, imports in Belgium, and general business with Doctor Rieth of the Politische Abteilung and that as a business letter the one in question contained nothing of an objectionable character, that the impatience shown in it was quite comprehensible owing to the interference to which the Commission had been subjected in the question of lighters and tugs entirely imperiling the work with which the letter dealt.
Baron von der Lancken began to take up the general question of removing the four men, but I interrupted him, stating that it seemed quite useless to consider the question at the present time as it was only one minor incident in matters of graver importance. I said that the conditions under which the Belgians were being fed had been steadily growing worse for some months, that the members of the Commission had been subjected to all sorts of affronts and outrages and the entire work threatened in many directions, and that far from receiving that sympathetic co-operation and adherence to the spirit of the work to which we were entitled, the German authorities in the occupied territory in Belgium seemed to be placing endless obstacles in our way. I stated that this was not true in the north of France, where the military authorities evidently understood the vital importance of the work and where we had received co-operation and understanding support. Going back a little I told Baron von der Lancken that Mr. Hoover had, while in America, informed the government officials of the character of the difficulties under which the Commission was working and that it was agreed that at any time he and his colleagues felt that their dignity and self-respect as Americans could no longer tolerate the treatment accorded them and they withdrew from the work, they would be supported in such action; that Mr. Hoover upon his return to England and learning of recent developments laid the situation before British officials and had endeavored to arrange that in the event of necessary withdrawal the work could be taken over by other neutrals and that the British Government had emphatically declined to entertain such an idea. I impressed upon Baron von der Lancken that the British Government had permitted the shipping of food into Belgium only because of the pressure of public opinion and in order to avoid giving the Germans an opportunity to say that the British were starving their allies. I pointed out to him very frankly that if the Commission were to withdraw and justify its withdrawal by a statement that it could not tolerate the treatment accorded it by the German authorities and the conditions under which the work was done, the British Government would not of course fail to seize the opportunity to stop the work by saying that under such conditions no other neutral body could hope to succeed and at the same time placing the German Government in an unfavorable light before the world. I stated to Baron von der Lancken that we had put up with extremely bad treatment and many serious outrages for many months, but that the time had come when we could no longer ask any American gentleman engaged in the work to submit to the sort of treatment they had had in the past; that Mr. Hoover and his colleagues were now seriously considering the withdrawal of the Commission and the stopping of the work; that the American people would not for one moment stand that men engaged in a work which in effect represented the American people should lower the dignity of their country by acceptance of such treatment.
Baron von der Lancken then exclaimed somewhat impatiently that it was all right so far as Germany was concerned; that she had plenty of food now coming from the Balkans and that the Belgians would not starve; that they would be given a ration of black bread and that if they did not like it and caused any riots, they would be shot down. (Nous leur donnerons du pain noir à manger, s'ils n'aiment pas cela et précipitent des bagarres, nous tirerons dessus, tout bonnement.)
I said I was glad that he had informed me that we were no longer needed but I was sorry that he had not told me so before, inasmuch as we were continuing the work only because we thought it was needed by the German Government as well as by other belligerents.
Baron von der Lancken's remarks, however, were apparently only a slight outburst of temper and he attempted to soften his remarks by saying very agreeable things about the work of the Commission. I told Baron von der Lancken that he must not think that the Commission was trying to avoid continuing the work, but that on the contrary it would be very happy if a satisfactory solution could be found under which the men engaged in the work of the Commission could be given treatment as gentlemen and proper facilities granted for carrying on the work.
I stated that I failed to see why a reasonable amount of time and attention by a high official should not be warranted by the Commission's work; that the President and the Secretary of State of the United States found it possible to give their personal attention to the matter, that the King of Spain was himself deeply interested in it, and that Mr. Hoover found no difficulty in securing the undivided attention of the British Prime Minister and of his colleagues in the Cabinet whenever the work of the Commission prompted him to do so. I intimated that it would be a very good thing if some one official with real authority could be delegated to deal with the work of the Commission. I concluded by saying that Mr. Hoover and his colleagues were very unhappy and discouraged about the whole matter, that they had come into the work full of enthusiasm and had made considerable sacrifices in order to devote themselves to the work, that it would of course be a keen disappointment to feel that they had so far failed through no fault of their own as to be obliged to abandon the work.
I added that I wished him to consider this conversation as quite informal and unofficial; that strictly speaking I should not have communicated with him upon the subject until plans had been more definitely formulated covering all the matters of first importance and could be formally presented to him by the Spanish Minister, the Dutch Chargé d'Affaires, and myself. I said, however, that I considered it only honest to tell him frankly what the situation was, rather than quibble on the minor matter about which he had wished to consult me; that he now understood how we felt and I hoped that he would understand that the Commission was very much in earnest and that a way might be found to solve the difficulties.
Baron von der Lancken apparently realized the seriousness of the situation and said that he would be very glad to talk it over with us further at the first opportunity, thanked me for my frankness in telling him of the matter so freely, and took leave of me in an unusually friendly manner.
DOCUMENT NO. 44
ON CONFERENCE VERNON KELLOGG, CASPAR WHITNEY, AND HOOVER WITH VON KESSLER, WENGERSKY, AND UHL OF GENERAL STAFF, regarding unsatisfactory treatment of Commission by German administration in Belgium (by Kellogg)
BRUSSELS, 2 December, 1915
Mr. Hoover stated he was glad to have the opportunity to go exhaustively into the whole situation; that the relations of the Commission with the Staff in the north of France had always been so cordial and the Staff engagements so justly and liberally carried out, the Staff attitude so open and frank, that he felt he could be frank even to brutality. That the situation in Belgium was becoming intolerable and that the ravitaillement of Northern France must collapse with that of Belgium. He sketched briefly the history of the Commission and its relations to the General Government, laying stress on the fact that while Governor von Bissing's attitude was correct, if not cordial, he was surrounded by an absolute pack of bureaucratic underlings whose sole desire and mission seemed to be to seize anything in Belgium and dress it up in some form designed to attract the Governor's attention to themselves and their energies. That it was patent that the utmost jealousy existed among these departments, and that we were the shuttlecock with which they beat each other over the head, hoping the Governor would notice their valiant conduct. He sketched the relations, first when the C.R.B. and the C.N. were under the Civil Department: how their control had been seized by the Political Department last June from the Civil Department, on the impeachment of the committee's bad political activities; how this was but an incident in the war between von Sandt and von der Lancken, and how von der Lancken had been put to it ever since to justify his representations to the Governor of that time. That we had been subjected to intolerable destructive inquisition, no remote helpfulness in attitude, and how gradually this was degenerating into violation of the spirit of the agreements.
He sketched the attempts to manipulate the relief, in violation of the undertakings about forcing labor through control of relief, and pointed out that the Commission would not go on one minute if it were to become an implement to force the population, against its will and consent to work for the Germany Army. That to use the control of men's food to force the civilian population to disloyalty to its government was a thing we would not stand for on humane grounds, to say nothing of the international undertakings upon which we were founded.
He took up the Poland incident as an example of bureaucratic tyranny and incompetence and gave them a sketch of this transaction and the notorious letter involved. They read the letter, and Kessler remarked that its contents were innocent and justified and that it was in text and character far different from that represented to him by the authorities. Hoover pointed out that if experienced men such as Poland were to be jerked out of the country on the breath of an arrogant clerk, in this manner, we would have to chuck the job at once. Hoover went into the incident of the three men and the failure to get any reasons for the attitude about them. He pointed out the hopelessness of obtaining men of character and honor if they were to be treated in this way. He stated that the heads of the business had a right to know what the charges were. Von Kessler said that he had heard several items, one of which was that information was conveyed verbally by these men to Young at Rotterdam as to the September offensive and through this route to the Allied Governments; that Young had proposed to introduce two spies into Belgium with Commission passes but had been stopped by protest of his American colleagues. He said he was unaware of the details but that in our position spread over the whole rear, the Staff were greatly disturbed by these reports. He said they had the utmost confidence in Hoover, Kellogg, Whitney, and most of the men, but that such matters as this transcended every food question.
Hoover agreed and stated at once that the matter must be gone into to the very bottom; that they would find him more Catholic than the Pope on the slightest breath of justifiable suspicion; that from his point of view he required no such evidence as was needed in law courts but the ground for reasonable suspicion would be sufficient; he expressed his absolute horror at the idea that ------- would jeopardize the lives of 9,000,000 people by such conduct, for it must genuinely reflect on the neutral character of the Commission. He expressed his absolute disbelief that there was a word of truth in it and stated he believed that it was a tittle-tattle produced by von der Lancken in accord with his general attitude. He suggested that any capable German officer be given the dossier and that this officer and Hoover should jointly hold an inquiry to establish, not guilt, but reasonable suspicion.
Von Kessler also said there was some complaint about a Major Winchell that Mr. Young had applied for a pass for, and gave the impression that they believed that he was an Allied agent. Mr. Hoover explained the circumstances of his belonging to the Salvation Army, etc., and that he had made the foolish inquiry whether he might be the head of their intelligence service, which joke had poor results. He stated he believed it could be proved to be absolute nonsense. As an example, neither Green nor van Schaick had arrived from America until after the date of the great offensive. Von Kessler agreed that more data should be given.
On the main issues von Kessler stated that he and his superiors had taken the matter up energetically with General von Bissing and recommended him to create a special department to look after the C.R.B. and C.N. and that it had been done, and that he had brought Captain Uhl from the Staff to take charge of our relations to this department. We all expressed pleasure at this arrangement, learning incidentally that Captain Uhl had been chosen because he was a good American resident of Santa Barbara, California. Von Kessler said that Wengersky would remain in Brussels for a fortnight to get the new bureau running. Mr. Hoover mentioned that Captain Merton had turned up, saying he was going to be associated with us; that we liked him and hoped it would be so. Von Kessler said it would be arranged as we wished.
Hoover then elaborated on the indivisibility of the C.R.B. and the C.N. in all departments, the fears and suspicions on all sides as to proposals made by the General Government, and the disastrous results that would follow to food and tranquillity, and hoped the new department would meet these matters in an intelligent manner. This, von Kessler and Uhl assured us would be the case. The discussion went on to the relief of Poland, which the General Staff wished the Commission to undertake.
DOCUMENT NO. 45
OF CONVERSATION BETWEEN HOOVER AND VON DER LANCKEN. Von der Lancken announces that the Governor-General has decided to set up the Vermittlungsstelle
BRUSSELS, 4 December 1915
Von der Lancken said he was glad to tell me that the Governor had decided to set up a new committee, comprising representatives from each---the Political, Finance, and Civil Departments, together with an officer from the General Staff, which would take over all questions relating to the C.R.B. and C.N. That Blum would represent the first, Pochee the second, ------- the third, and Uhl the fourth. Captain Merton would be censor and general intermediary. He stated he had sent for Poland and that incident was now out of the way happily and that all the broad, general, and detailed questions which had arisen lately could go over to the new Commission which should be established in ten days or so.
We then talked peace, the relief of Poland, etc., for about an hour.
7. Inspection and Control. January-February 1916
In Great Britain and elsewhere there was considerable opposition to Belgian relief on the ground that it was advantageous to the Germans, since it relieved them of the responsibility of supplying food to the regions they had invaded. Those who were of this mind were naturally quick to seize upon any evidence that seemed to show that the Germans were profiting directly from relief. For this as well as for more obvious reasons the relief organization made the most strenuous efforts to prevent even relatively unimportant and infrequent leakages. But to prevent isolated sale by uninformed or unscrupulous individuals to German agents was a difficult matter. Exaggerated reports of small leakages and British threats to stop all imports into Belgium made drastic action necessary. The service of relief inspection was overhauled and a new General Department of Inspection and Control in which the Commission played a greater part than formerly was created.(28)
Another difficulty arose at about this time from the diversion of Belgian livestock to Germany, and by German meat buying in the occupied territory. For a time the British stopped entirely the C.R.B.'s imports of bacon and lard and threatened further restrictions unless the exports of all foodstuffs from Belgium ended. Hoover's negotiations with the German officials on this whole question finally produced guarantees acceptable to the British.
DOCUMENT NO. 46
PERCY TO HOOVER, reporting leakage of relief supplies from Belgium into Germany, restricting C.R.B. imports and demanding reimbursement by Germans of supplies equivalent to those exported, and intimating that the whole relief activity might be stopped if leakages continued
FOREIGN OFFICE, LONDON
21 January 1916
DEAR MR. HOOVER:
A most unsatisfactory position has arisen with regard to your importations of rice into Belgium. In recent conferences with me you have estimated the monthly amounts which you wish to import at 5,000 tons. In September, October, and November last, however, you shipped from Rotterdam much larger amounts---namely, 13,064, 9,361 and 11,735 tons, respectively, the greater part of which was destined for Belgium. You informed me that these were advance shipments, and that you intended to stop further imports in subsequent months.
As I told you some time ago we were much disturbed by exports of rice from Belgium to Germany via Holland in October and November last. We now discover that this is due to the sale by the Relief Committees in Belgium of portions of the stocks with which you had provided them and to the purchase of these stocks by the Germans.
As you know, I have frequently warned you against any accumulations of stocks in Belgium for fear of some such incident. I need not emphasise the serious nature of what has occurred, undermining as it must, our whole confidence in the watertightness of your system.
I must therefore ask you for a statement of the full amounts of rice thus sold by the Committees, and we shall expect to hear within a month that the Germans have handed over an equivalent amount of rice to the Comité National from German stocks. Until this happens, you must import no more rice into Belgium, and if it does not happen within a month we shall reconsider, not only the question of rice imports but the question of your imports as a whole, since it will then be evident that we cannot rely either upon the efficiency of your organisation in Belgium nor upon the respect of the Germans for their own pledges.
For the moment, your importations of rice into France may continue, but only on the absolute condition that you accumulate no stocks there whatever, and if we do not receive satisfaction within a month, this also will be reconsidered.
(Signed) EUSTACE PERCY
DOCUMENT NO. 47
FRANCQUI TO HOOVER and W. B. POLAND TO HOOVER, stating that reports of leakages were greatly exaggerated
BRUSSELS, 30 January 1916
FOR HOOVER, LONDON:
"Received your letter No. 35. It was our agents who pointed out to us six weeks ago the disappearance, and since then the investigation has been in progress. It proved that your information is much exaggerated. Our subcommittees in general are not acquainted with these abuses, resulting from German private company who did this business in ignorance with Belgian dealers, who on their part purchased from consumers. General Government has been informed. They are making concurrent investigations with ourselves and have explained to us that all mistakes by Germans will be done away with. We are energetically acting in the same manner towards Belgian guilty parties. In any case you can now be sure that the information obtained by us proves that this matter does not reach proportions as indicated by you. I am writing."
Am requested by Smith(29) to inform you the irregularities have been very much exaggerated; information from Mr. Francqui today confirmed. Final report will probably not be ready before a week."
DOCUMENT NO. 48
HOOVER TO PERCY, reporting the investigation of leakage of food into Germany and showing that only small quantities of relief supplies were involved
LONDON, 8 February 1916
DEAR LORD EUSTACE:
EXPORT FROM BELGIUM OF OUR IMPORTS
This matter has now been under rigorous investigation in Belgium and I send you some of the data.
(1) The bills of lading of the 18,000 odd tons of goods shipped from Antwerp after the 1st September have been inspected and the only items of a character at all related to our imports were: rice, 855 tons; beans, 14 tons; corn flour, 10 tons. Of this total quantity, it appears that a considerable amount was gathered from old stocks, and there is constantly some small rivulet of these supplies across the frontier from Holland.
Judging by the instances which our people have been able to trace down, it appears a good deal less than one-half could have come from our imported material; thus approximately 400 tons have leaked away from a total of 1,200,000 tons imported.
(2) We find that some of the local committees, finding the fabulous price at which they could sell rice, have done so entirely in innocence of heart and have invested the money in potatoes, thus getting larger value for their destitute with the same funds. They have all been soundly lectured on this subject, and further the entire inspection staff in Belgium is being changed from the joint control of the Comité National and the C.R.B. to the sole control of the C.R.B.
Furthermore, it appears that all this stuff was gathered up by one German firm, newly established in Belgium for the export of commodities which are not in question, such as wine. The German authorities, in order to show fair play, are putting this firm out of action so far as dealing in any commodity which we may import is concerned.
I think you may take it that these measures will settle the business once and for all and that the strenuous tone of your note calling attention to this matter has done a world of good; still, I do not feel that in the midst of our other difficulties and complexities the matter merits further pursuit.
(Signed) HERBERT HOOVER
DOCUMENT NO. 49
PERCY TO HOOVER, referring to reports that Germans were taking food imported by the C.R.B. into Ghent
FOREIGN OFFICE, LONDON
11 March 1916
DEAR MR. HOOVER:
A report has reached us that the Germans are taking half of the food imported by the Commission into the district of Ghent. It is said that they are giving this food to their soldiers and are also sending it in part to Breslau. I should be glad if you would make an inquiry into this question because, although I know that this kind of story is a common one in Belgium, this particular account comes to us from an unusually trustworthy source, and it refers to the military zone in Belgium where I have always felt some doubt whether your control is sufficient to secure the safe disposal of your imports.
As you may shortly be going to Belgium there are one or two other points of a similar nature which I should like you to inquire into.
In the first place, I have statistics of shipments from Belgium to Germany via Holland for the two months November 28th to January 27th. These shipments contain the following items:
On one boat 150 tons of rice and 150 tons of coffee.
On two other boats an aggregate of 1,700 tons of coffee, rice and beans.
On another boat 400 tons of coffee, rice, beans, and flour.
On another 450 tons of coffee, rice, beans, and oil nuts.
Two further boats carried 1,200 tons of rice and beans, and 300 tons of rice, respectively.
These figures suggest a grave suspicion not only that shipments of Belgian native stocks, such as coffee and oil nuts, are being exported freely, which of course we knew before, but also that the leakage of your rice from Belgium, of which we have had evidence, is combined with a corresponding leakage of beans.
Finally, we have had a report that one particular mill owner in Brussels, by name Vuylsteke, is using the oil extracted in milling your grain for sale for the Germans for munitions purposes, and we are told that Vuylsteke is working in close touch with the Germans.
You will, of course, regard all this information as strictly confidential so far as it might betray the source from which it came.
(Signed) EUSTACE PERCY
DOCUMENT NO. 50
HOOYER TO PERCY, reporting a new investigation of leakage and the reorganization of the Bureau of Inspection and Control to prevent further trouble of this character
LONDON, 5 April 1916
DEAR LORD EUSTACE:
LEAKAGES OF IMPORTED FOODSTUFFS
Together with my American colleagues in Belgium, I have now completed a renewed inquiry into this matter all over that country. As I recently informed you, we early in March entirely reorganized the Bureau of Inspection and Control, by which it was brought entirely under American direction and considerably expanded. We have set up a complete bureau in each province, with an American head solely devoted to it, and in addition have now instituted an independent national service for the whole of the country, entirely separate from the Provincial Bureaux. In addition to the former inspectors, some of whom we have changed, we have reinforced the staff by recruits from former colonial, school, and railway and police services. A considerable number of these men are engaged in checking the accounts of the communal committees and in the comparison of the issue against food cards with the receipts into the communal magazines. Another section is devoted to tracing the origin of every parcel of overseas foodstuffs which we can discover in private hands. In this latter matter we have arranged with the 60 district Procureurs de Roi to co-operate in prosecutions, which they are doing vigorously. I enclose herewith specimen copies of the material presented by this Bureau to the weekly meetings of the Commission members in Brussels, at two or three different meetings, in order that you may get some idea of its activities.
From our experience of these bureaux, two conclusions are quite positive:
1. That the leakages from our imported foodstuffs are and have been extraordinarily small, and, in any event, the bulk of these leakages arises from Belgian causes as distinguished from German causes. For instance, we have found no gray flour of our peculiar composition (82 per cent milled wheat with 5 to 10 per cent maize) in private hands. We have, however, discovered some white flour of Belgian origin, which comes from the milling by peasants of hidden wheat and by the sifting out by bakers of a certain percentage of white flour from our supplies. The high price of white flour to wealthy Belgian customers is a powerful stimulation to small traffic in this direction and is impossible wholly to control.
Again, the brewers in Belgium, who are now desperate for brewing materials, have been from time to time buying maize from farmers out of the supplies which were issued to them for fodder purposes prior to the time when we stopped such issues.
2. There is a very much larger amount of smuggling from Holland in overseas materials than had previously been believed. From sources which are reliable I shall be able to present to you in the course of a few days some evidence as to quantities. They are very considerable, and at certain points the German authorities required the smugglers to sell to them at low prices from 30 to 50 per cent of their imports, the smugglers being allowed to sell the remainder of their imports to Belgians at any prices they could obtain.
The enormous gap between prices in Holland and prices in Belgium has created a vacuum, the suction into which it is impossible for the Dutch Government wholly to control. The traffic is not one of moral turpitude, since it has the justification of "feeding the Belgians" and since it is more or less simply the maintenance of the custom of trade across the frontier. In consequence, there is no moral feeling or public opinion against this traffic in Holland. I am convinced that the Dutch authorities make every possible effort to stop this traffic, but 300 kilometers of artificial border in an agricultural country with such intense populations on both sides, all intent on the traffic, makes any tight dam absolutely impossible. It just happens that the overseas imports are the foodstuffs of the most concentrated form, such as rice, beans, bacon, and lard, and, in consequence, these are favored articles of traffic. It is our impression, however, that the majority of the bacon, lard, and beans are Dutch, originating near the frontier. As an indication of the profit to be made in this traffic, the price of lard in Brussels is from Frs. 13 to Frs. 15 per kilo against Frs. 3 in Holland, or a profit on smuggling of £250 per ton. As one indication of the amount of smuggling, at our instance, 35 prosecutions were started in the Province of Limbourg against persons who had foodstuffs in their possession of the overseas type, and in 30 of these cases the owners were able to establish their Dutch origin.
On the 15th of March the Germans put in force a complete prohibition on all food exports from Belgium, and they appear to be enforcing it at all points vigorously, even to the taking from soldiers returning to Germany on leave the small amounts of butter or other articles which they carry with them. Furthermore at our request the German firm who exported foodstuffs from Antwerp has been suppressed from doing business in Belgium. The German authorities informed me that an inquiry into the operations of this firm indicated that they had purchased less than 50 tons of material which could have arisen from our imports, the balance of their exports being Dutch stuff smuggled over the frontier. This corroborates our own conclusions from tracing our own communal leakages. This particular organization maintained agencies along the frontier for the purpose of purchasing from smugglers, and they were able to aggregate considerable quantities for export to Germany.
For reasons which I will set out in another communication, the ration being issued by the communal committees is far below the necessities of the population and in such small quantities that the resale by individuals is improbable in the extreme, as people in this condition do not surrender their whole basis of subsistence. There is public knowledge as to exactly what the ration consists of, so that every person entitled will demand his full quota from the communal committees. The communes, owing to deficiency in overseas transport, have been undersupplied and in consequence the difficulties with their dependents have been very great and there has thus been sufficient pressure to guarantee that they make no disposals otherwise than in the proper manner.
I can only reiterate that there has been no leakage in our imports worth mentioning and with the measures now taken it seems to me absolutely impossible, and in fact, our men are generally complaining that the new bureau is discovering nothing but creating enormous labor to no purpose. We will, however, maintain it as an additional safeguard to the situation, although I may mention it has caused great difficulties in Belgium and we have had serious resignations from the Belgian committees as the result of feeling created.
(Signed) HERBERT HOOVER
DOCUMENT NO. 51
describing functions of C.R.B. and C.N. Department of Inspection and Control
BRUSSELS, 23 February 1916
The C.R.B. is required to certify that the goods imported by it are distributed to the civil population of Belgium and the North of France, and that the general terms of the undertakings of the German and British authorities are carried out.
For its part, the Comité National must take care that the distribution of food to the population is made in accordance with its instructions, which are inspired by the fundamental rules on which the imports of foodstuffs by the C.R.B. are based.
Finally, the Commission for Relief in Belgium and the Comité National must both be assured that the foodstuffs imported are equitably distributed among the whole civil population. With this end in view, both Commissions must insist upon the strict observance of the resolutions agreed upon by common consent.
In order to accomplish its mission, the C.R.B. has established throughout the country a numerous staff. In every province, it has responsible representatives empowered to see that the obligations imposed upon it are rigorously observed.
These representatives are to be sufficiently informed of the conditions governing the mission of the C.R.B., so as to enable them to certify that they have been regularly carried out. They must see that any irregularities are rectified, and call the attention of the Central Office of the C.R.B. in Brussels, through its Inspection and Control Department, to any violation of the terms of the guarantees.
In order to avoid irregularities in the distribution of foodstuffs, the Comité National has instituted for its part a Controlling Service in every province. The Provincial Controlling Services, each consisting of a Controller in Chief, Head of the Service, and his Assistants, exercise a general supervision over the Local Committees in the District of the province assigned to them.
In addition to and supplementing the Provincial Controlling Services, the Comité National has inaugurated an independent General Inspection Service. This Service superintends every Controlling Service in the province, to make sure that the rules and instructions of the C.N. are fully observed.
The result of the present organization is that the C.R.B. and the C.N. centralize in Brussels, each for its part, the control of the whole country: the C.R.B. through its Director, and the C.N. by means of its Executive Committee.
The Heads of the C.R.B. and of the Comité National, being now convinced that the purpose aimed at by their Controlling Services is identical, resolve to render this control more effective and more active, by amalgamating the organizations created by them, in order to bring about a more complete co-operation between the two Services.
For this purpose, the Controlling Services of the C.R.B. and of the C.N. in every province will be placed under the direction of the President of the Provincial Committee, or one of his Delegates, and of a Representative of the C.R.B.
Every failure on the part of the Provincial Committee to take action as outlined by the American Representative of the C.R.B. and the Chief Provincial Controller of the C.N. must be reported to Brussels, where a decision will be taken by the Executive Heads of the C.R.B. and the C.N.
The full responsibility for the general conduct of affairs as well as responsibility for the continuance of irregularities will continue to rest with the Provincial Committee.
The Central Inspection Services in Brussels, both of the C.R.B. and of the C.N, will also be united. This Central Service will be under the direction of the Executive Committee of the C.N. or its Delegate, and of the Director of the C.R.B. or his American Representative delegated for this purpose. These two Delegates will bear the title of Chief of the General Inspection and Control Department. (Each for his respective organism.)
The organization and procedure of this Central Service are subject to regulations drawn up for this purpose. Every modification of these regulations must be taken with the common consent of the Heads of the C.N. and the C.R.B.
DOCUMENT NO. 52
Statement of organization
of the Department of Inspection and Control by the Comité National and the Commission for Relief in Belgium
BRUSSELS, 23 February 1916
With the assistance of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the Executive Committee of the Comité National, which assures, by its central administration situated in Brussels, the direction of the food supplies of the whole country, acts in the provinces through the medium of the Provincial Committees established in the principal towns of the nine provinces and in Greater Brussels. In their turn, the Provincial Committees, who assume the provincial direction of the food supplies, act through the medium of District Committees, and these latter by Communal Committees established in every locality of the country.
The goods are sent in accordance with the instructions of the Comité National, to the Provincial Committees, who distribute them to the District Committees. These latter distribute them to all the localities under their control.
The Communal Committees receive the goods and deliver them to the consumers. It is therefore the Committees established in the communes who alone are in touch with the consumers.
The provisions are distributed between the Provincial Committees, the District Committees, and finally the Local Committees, in accordance with the requirements of the province, the district, or the commune, respectively.
With regard to the distribution direct to the consumers this is done by allowance, i.e., each person can only obtain a single ration of provisions, either a daily ration, as is the case with bread, or once a fortnight or once a month when it is a question of other provisions, such as bacon, lard, maize, beans, peas, rice, etc.
These distributions must be made in accordance with the instructions of the Comité National, instructions inspired by fundamental rules upon which the importation of foodstuffs into Belgium are based, and by resolutions decided upon, in conjunction with the Commission for Relief in Belgium, for guaranteeing the satisfactory working of the Food Supplies.
In order to assure the smooth working of an undertaking of this importance, it was necessary to appeal to the good will of all those who offered their services to the Comité National. The organization, which everyone, moreover, considered as temporary, could not be perfect. The situation continuing, it became necessary to complete these means by a service controlling the operations of the Local Committees, which, as aforesaid, distributed the food to the consumers. From the beginning of 1915, on the advice of the Comité National, the Provincial Committees organized for their respective provinces a Superintendence Service similar to that in force by the Commission for Relief in Belgium.
In the course of the year, the Comité National sent an expert accountant to visit the Provincial Committees in order to make himself acquainted with the working of these Committees and establish uniformity in the keeping of their books.
When, about the month of October 1915, the Comité National were advised of certain little irregularities in the distribution of the provisions, new instructions with regard to the control of the Local Committees were given, and it was decided to establish in Brussels a General Superintendence Service for the whole country.
This General Service, the headquarters of which are in Brussels, superintends all the Provincial and Local Committees for the purpose of assuring the execution of the rules and instructions of the Comité National.
We give, as an annex, the organic rules of the General Superintendence Service.
The Service is divided into two Departments, the "Administrative Survey Department" and the "Investigation Department." At the head of each Department is a General Superintendent, whose duty it is to direct the service and the large staff of surveyors attached to it.
The mission of the Administrative Survey Department, as the name implies, is to survey and see that the Provincial and Local Committees are well managed, to satisfy themselves that the instructions of the Comité National are duly carried out, and notably to discover any irregularities which may have been committed in the transactions of Local Committees, more especially with regard to the delivery of goods from their stores and the distribution of them to the inhabitants.
It is the duty of surveyors also, when necessary, to put the Local Committees and managers of stores au courant with the instructions of the Comité National, at the same time explaining to them the duties attached to the functions they fulfil.
The Administrative Superintendents send a report of their surveys to the Comité National. In order that their work may be carried out with method and regularity, and that any question, which might be of interest to the Comité National, is not overlooked, they make use, in their tours of inspection, of a list of questions drawn up by the Comité National. Their work, when making their tours of inspection, consists principally of gleaning information on all points raised by the list of questions, and to reply to any questions put to them in accordance with the information gathered on the spot.
In case of need, the surveyors present a supplementary report of their surveys when they consider it necessary to draw the attention of the Committee to a special question.
The list of questions and the reports of the surveyors are examined by the General Superintendent, who informs the different Departments of the Comité National, "Assistance," "Foodstuffs," or "Secretary's Office," of the matters which specially concern them.
Each of these departments deals with the matters affecting them and gives the necessary instructions to the Provincial Committees with a view to remedy the irregularities noted.
Should serious matters come to light which necessitate the application of repressive justice they are deferred to the Belgian Courts. From that moment they are out of the hands of the Comité National.
Judiciary decisions will be posted up in all premises occupied by the Comité National and by Provincial and Local Committees.
If the facts ascertained lead to the conclusion that illicit acts have been committed by certain persons attached to the Committees or otherwise, but that insufficient proof exists to justify the immediate intervention of the Courts, then the rôle of the Investigation Department comes into play.
The Investigation Department is directed by a special General Superintendent, assisted in Brussels and in the provinces by a large staff of agents whose services we have been able to secure, and who are specially qualified to follow up such inquiries. This Department is in constant communication with the Public Prosecutor.
The agents make inquiries, shadow suspected persons, and look after the transport of the goods. The Public Prosecutor, whenever he deems it necessary, orders the seizure of all foodstuffs the origin of which appears suspicious. The effect of these seizures is considerable, for even in cases where no legal proceedings are taken they have a salutary influence upon crimes and other equivocal intermediaries. They upset their calculations and cause them to lose money.
These seizures will inevitably have the result of driving away persons acting in good faith in the interests of agents who have organized the drainage of foodstuffs from Belgium.
When the Comité National took the first steps for organizing this service, they instructed the Provincial Committees to model their organizations of control in accordance with the General Superintendence Service adopted in Brussels, and to add to their administrative control an Investigation Department, with the co-operation of special agents in touch with the Public Prosecutor.
The Provincial Committees have also given instructions to the Local Committees of the larger communes in the country to organize the control of the operations of their stores, their administrative control and their investigations, in such a manner as to guarantee the regular working of these operations, and to survey their business generally, especially from the point of view of the traffic in foodstuffs coming from the stores of the Comité National.
For the purpose of completing this organization of control and investigation, a representative from the Commission for Relief in Belgium will be attached to the General Superintendence Department in Brussels. In like manner, in each province, the representative or representatives of the Commission for Relief in Belgium will collaborate with the Provincial Superintendence.
The collaboration of the Comité National and the Commission for Relief in Belgium is indispensable, the more so as the essential mission of the Representatives of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, especially in the provinces, is to see that the provisions imported are employed exclusively for the alimentation of the civil population in Belgium.
We give also, as an annex, No. 3, an order to be posted up in all the premises and stores belonging to the Committees.
This regulation résumés very clearly in a few words the principles of revictualing in Belgium, and the essential duties of the Committees and the inhabitants .....
But Committees are forbidden to anticipate general sanctions, such, for instance, as the refusal to deliver provisions to those who take advantage of the situation and resell the food. It has, therefore, so far only been a question of judiciary sanctions. And even then, in order to put in movement the judicial apparatus, it has been necessary to make each head of the family who received provisions sign a declaration by which he binds himself to conform to the rule of the Comité National, and not to resell the goods which he receives. Acting upon the advice of jurisconsults attached to the Committees, and in accord with the Public Prosecutor in Brussels, we have had inscribed on the householders' cards the text of this declaration, by virtue of which each holder of a card, i.e., all persons who are supplied, undertake themselves to consume, in their own households, the provisions which they receive. As a result of this declaration, the sale of goods coming from the stores of the Comité National constitutes an infraction of the engagement subscribed to by the holder of the card, and may give rise to legal Proceedings.
The permanent and active control of the Local Committees, as they are organized, will no doubt have the result of assuring a suitable allowance for the population, and will prevent the Local Committees from selling foodstuffs to dealers. On the other hand, the judiciary investigations and the legal proceedings, taken against indelicate consumers and suspicious intermediaries, the seizure of goods, and the eventual condemnations which will follow, will have the effect, as far as it is possible, of stamping out the dubious traffic which has been going on in connection with our stores.
Chapter 2, continued, (section eight)
Table of Contents