Hearing Loss, Colds, and the Hoover Speisung [Feeding]: Hoover’s 1947 Trip to Germany

Students from the elementary school at Hamburg Volksdoft in Germany sent drawings like this to Herbert Hoover as a sign of appreciation for their “Hooverbreakfast” in a letter dated November 12, 1947.

On January 18, 1947, President Harry Truman reached out to Herbert Hoover with another request. Stating that “a serious situation in food still exists in certain areas, particularly those in Europe occupied by our forces and for which we therefor have a direct responsibility,” Truman asked that the 73-year-old Hoover investigate the food situation in Germany. Hoover noted, America and Britain were spending nearly $600 million annually to fight hunger in the British and American zones in Germany. Hoover requested his mission do more than address the immediate hunger needs, it should also address the requirements to solve Germany food and economic recovery. This allowed Hoover to voice his criticisms of the Morgenthau plan to deindustrialize Germany. He felt Germany industrial recovery was essential for maintaining fertilizer production and creating capital to pay for imports.

The War Department provided Hoover’s air transportation in a DC-4. It was during these flights in an unpressurized cabin that Hoover suffered hearing problems that required him to wear a hearing aid later in life. His arrival in Germany led to meetings with General Lucius Clay and other commanders with meetings in Frankfort, Berlin, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. Lacking coal, public buildings had no heat with external temperatures at freezing. Despite Hoover wearing a heavy coat and lap robes, he dealt with severe colds as well as hearing issues. The meetings proved to be productive and as Hoover notes:

“The American and British commands requested my major recommendations on food, without waiting for my report to the President. They were; (1) an increase of the ‘average’ ration to 1,550 calories from levels as low as 1,000 calories; (2) a supplementary ration for hard laborers, necessary to assure coal and other production; (3) a system of canteens serving a 500- to 600-calorie meal at midday, seven days a week, with special food for children, expectant mothers and the aged, to be conducted by devoted German women, mainly in schools (Germans called it the Hoover Speisung); (4) an allotment of food to German and Austrian relief organizations for other distress cases, and; (5) a food-import program to support these provisions.”

Hoover’s report helped boost food supplies to Germany at this crucial period. As testament to his efforts, German school children began sending letters of thanks such as the forty-three children from a school in Hamburg dated November 12, 1947:

Dear Mr. Hoover,

We are 43 children in the class 7c of the elementary school at Hamburg Volksdorf. We all are twelve years old. We wanted to write you a letter and to draw you some pictures. Every day we think of you when we get our Hooverbreakfast. It is so tasteful and so nourishing. The whole day we are happy when we think of the breakfast. We like very much to eat the cold breakfast, especially when we get chocolate. If we had not had your breakfast we should surely be ill very often. Because we do not know whether you understand German we write this letter in English. For we learn English already for one year and a half. Now we thank you very much for your friendliness toward us. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”

This letter and the drawings made all of Hoover’s hardships worthwhile. Hoover had a reputation in Germany as the one American who could be trusted to provide help. He was their chief advocate for providing food in the aftermath of WWI when the Allied leaders wanted to withhold assistance as punishment. Now with world opinion also seeking to punish Germany for another war, Germans once again turned to Hoover as their advocate to provide food for children, women, and everyday citizens. His dedication to the health and safety of children was always the top priority since Hoover believed that children were the future.

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