Herbert Hoover Looses his Head

Herbert Hoover views the ruins of Warsaw while standing in

Herbert Hoover views the ruins of Warsaw while standing in “Hoover Square,’ where the statue “Monuments of Gratitude to America” used to stand.

A story that Herbert Hoover liked to tell concerned one of the more unusual tributes given by a grateful people in honor of Hoover’s humanitarian service.  He describes it in An American Epic: “I received many marks of appreciation from the Poles—a square named for me in Warsaw, streets in Cracow and other towns, a statue in the park at Warsaw, and degrees from all the universities.”  In a footnote to this sentence, Hoover added: “In 1938, I visited Warsaw on relief matters.  An eyewitness told me the Germans had blown off the head of the statue with a hand grenade.  In any event, I found I was headless at that time—and no doubt continue so under the Communist regime.”

In the February 18, 1962 issue of This Week, Hoover described the matter this way: “There were President Wilson Streets, Highways and Parks in Prague, Warsaw, and other cities, but they were sternly eliminated by Hitler or Stalin.”  He continued: “Even I, at one time, had streets in Prague, Warsaw and some other spots.  In Warsaw, I had a statue for a time.  But on a visit to that city after the Second World War, I found that a German Mills bomb had blown my head off.  Even though beheaded, I was still there for a while.”

Monument of Gratitude, Hoover Square, Warsaw, October 29, 1922.

Monument of Gratitude, Hoover Square, Warsaw, October 29, 1922

One would assume that the statue to which Hoover refers was his own likeness.  In fact, the statue was the work of sculptor Xawery Dunilkowski dedicated on October 29, 1922 entitled “Monument of Gratitude to America.”  The sculpture, erected in Hoover Square, depicted a mother with children on either shoulder (no statue of Hoover). The symbolism is an acknowledgment of Hoover’s American Relief Administration efforts following the war to keep Polish children properly nourished during times of severe food shortages.

The sculpture was surrounded by a water fountain.  Because the artist used sandstone, the porous stone lacked the durability to handle the cold winters and warm summers.  By 1930, the statue began to crumble, so much so that it was removed leaving only the fountain and pedestal base.  A 1946 photograph shows Hoover inspecting what remained of these elements.

It is unclear how Hoover came to believe that the statue was destroyed by either Nazi or Soviet shelling.  Undoubtedly, he received the information from mistaken sources who were either embarrassed by the truth or sought to explain everything by the violence of the Nazi and Soviet repressive regimes.

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