Oral History Interview with
Director of Political Affairs, Belgium, 1945-53.
Baron Herve De Gruben
May 26, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened June 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Baron Herve De Gruben
May 26, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks
DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: What I would like to do, sir, is to ask you some
questions and to have you simply talk, informally, beginning with the
comment I made that we regard the Marshall Plan as a high point of the
Truman administration, and many people in Europe have told me that it
was the turning point in the economic history of Europe. And I would like,
if you will, to hear your general comment on your evaluation of the Marshall
Plan. Do you think it was a turning point in the economic history of Europe?
BARON NERVE DE GRUBEN: It certainly was. You first have to remember the
chaotic state of European economy after the war. Some nations, and Belgium
was among them, recovered a little more quickly than others, but still
a small country like ours is very dependent on the general economic health
of other countries. So by ourselves, we made too little progress. That's
why considerable assistance coming from outside, particularly in the form
that it came from the United States, which is a highly industrialized
country with a great variety of products, raw materials as well as finished
products was particularly useful. You have in the United States an expression
which characterizes what the situation was: "priming the pump,"
to set the whole economic cycle in motion.
BROOKS: You said that Belgium had recovered a little
bit more than some other countries. Would you give any particular reason
DE GRUBEN: Well, this is a subject which is much discussed. Immediately
after the war, our Government reestablished practically the complete freedom
of international payments. Maybe we had a little more gold than other
countries on which we could base our credits, but anyway it was sort of
a challenge for the future, you see. We were not sure that it would succeed.
Well, incidentally, that's what the present Chancellor Erhard in Germany
thought in 1948. They established freedom of internal payments. Well,
to this fact, you see, our recovery was attributed. We were in shape to
import a great quantity of raw materials. You know that our economy is
a transforming economy. We have no raw materials. We order raw materials,
labor transforms it into finished products that we re-export. So that's
the way, just by importing raw materials, that's the way that we began
to work again.
Our industrial equipment, however antiquated, had not been destroyed
by the war.
BROOKS: Do you remember your immediate reaction to General Marshall's
proposal, or the reaction of the Belgian people?
DE GRUBEN: Well, yes, there were two sorts of reactions. There was one
sentimental reaction, which is the gratitude of the persons in need who
get a magnificent gift. And the other attitude, the more political attitude,
was to appreciate an act of enlightened policy on the side of the United
States; besides, it was considered as a sound basis of policy that would
be approved by the Congress in the United States.
BROOKS: Do you think that most of the European leaders were prepared for
this statement, that Mr. Bevin and Mr. Bidault acted so fast that I wondered
if they had expected something like that?
DE GRUBEN: It's possible that our great neighbors were informed but we
BROOKS: I don't think they were officially informed.
DE GRUBEN: We were not. It came as a complete surprise to us, you see,
to us at least.
BROOKS: But Belgium indicated immediately that it would cooperate?
DE GRUBEN: Yes, it was accepted without discussion. Of course, there
were conditions; but those conditions were considered as sound and maybe
as a way of helping us out of inertia.
BROOKS: You're referring to conditions...
DE GRUBEN: That we had to cooperate among ourselves.
BROOKS: This is apparently thought of, generally, as the unique contribution
of the Marshall Plan, the emphasis on having the countries contribute
themselves to the program, and that they cooperate. Did you believe then,
Mr. de Gruben, that the degree of cooperation was possible that General
Marshall called for? Did you people think this would really work?
DE GRUBEN: We were prepared and willing to make it work. We wanted to
help ourselves out of this stagnation and there was a way offered to us,
a sensible, generous way, so we felt that we have to answer positively.
The will to cooperate always existed with us, without restrictions.
BROOKS: Would you say that the experience of the Benelux Customs Union
was pretty significant in giving you experience at international cooperation?
DE GRUBEN: The Benelux Union? No, I wouldn't say that. First the Benelux
Union started in London during the war by a very general agreement, and
it was only in the years '48 to begin with, that it took shape.
BROOKS: And by that time, the Marshall Plan had already taken shape?
DE GRUBEN: Exactly, requiring that we elaborate a common economic system.
The reason that Benelux came only later was that the Dutch were in a much
worse state of economy than we were. We had to help them. The beginnings
of the Benelux meant only that we were opening credits from
which the Dutch would profit. In other words, we sold our goods to the
Dutch on credit. In this way we made with the Dutch a sort of Marshall
Plan. But Benelux, as a system of economic and customs integration, began
only later. The Benelux Treaty, the real treaty, was only signed in '48.
BROOKS: But there was some reference at the time of the Marshall Plan
to the experience of the Benelux Customs Union? You were still trying
to work it up?
DE GRUBEN: It was the same spirit, you see. Economic integration would
not work between two small countries. It could only work on a larger sound
economic frame, because we cannot restrict it to bilateral exchanges.
We have to have a triangular or multilateral exchange system to make it
BROOKS: Now, Mr. de Gruben, the Russians were invited to join the Marshall
Plan and they decided not to. Did you think it was a good idea to ask
DE GRUBEN: Well, it was certainly a very clever political move. It was
just a gesture of peaceful will of cooperation to which a normal mind,
as we consider it, could only answer positively. You would have had to
be in a state of mind that we consider abnormal to reject it. Well, it
proved something -- an unwillingness to work with us for ideological or
economic or political reasons.
BROOKS: This evidently -- it may not have been thought so at the time
-- but it evidently was a fairly important step in the breakdown in the
relations between the East and the West.
DE GRUBEN: Yes, at that time, it put them in a
very difficult position, not with their own people because they are too
imbued with their own system, but for their satellites, which were not
as much absorbed as they are now, and who considered that it would be
an open door or a link. That did materialize in the attitude of Poland
and of Czechoslovakia, which were very hesitant at that time. There were
circles there who were willing to join.
BROOKS: But generally speaking, the Belgians didn't expect the Russians
to join or didn't think it would work if they did join?
DE GRUBEN: No, we never had many illusions.
BROOKS: Tell me about the Belgian attitude toward Germany, Mr. de Gruben.
It seems to me that there's a dilemma there because there must have been
emotional bitterness, and at the same time
most people thought Germany had to recover.
DE GRUBEN: Well, certainly there was a lot of emotional bitterness. Really
not so much by reason of the military occupation. We are accustomed to
that in our country. But when they released their concentration camps
after the war, of which very few people knew, and when those people came
back, that created a very strong reaction. There is a difference from
the Dutch in that during the war we were under military administration,
not under the political administration of the Nazis. The Dutch were. That
makes a great difference. The Norwegians and the Dutch each had a Gauleiter.
We had an army general, of Falkenhausen, who was not so much Nazi himself.
So, we had a milder system of occupation than other countries. They didn't
try to make those practical reforms, as they did in the Grand Duchy of
There they wanted to introduce all their systems because they considered
the people there were Germans. In brief, there was certainly a resentment
here, which is natural, and that's a fact which is acknowledged in Germany
too, but we were the first Allied country who jumped over that hurdle,
BROOKS: There was considerable discussion at the time, Mr. de Gruben,
as you remember, about the level of industry to which the Germans would
be allowed to recover.
DE GRUBEN: Yes, I remember. That was the crucial question.
BROOKS: So the Belgians were not for reducing Germany to an agricultural
DE GRUBEN: No, no. Maybe our general opinion was not so radical as the
policy of some of your
people who were ruling over Germany at that time and who wanted an immediate
recovery to alleviate the burden of the American taxpayer, which is reasonable.
We were not so eager, but we have very close economic relations with Germany
and we know that our prosperity depends on a sound state of affairs in
our eastern neighbor.
I must say that after the Second World War, the situation was different
from what it was after the First one: then our relations to Germany were
not dictated by feelings.
BROOKS: You were in Germany after the First World War, were you not?
DE GRUBEN: Yes.
BROOKS: Well, a good many people in different countries, and including
the Germans, have said
that the lesson of World War I was remembered after World War II.
DE GRUBEN: I, myself, am in a strange situation. I began my career after
World War I, the defeat of Germany, the military occupation of Germany
and all the questions arising out of it through the reparations. I worked
with the Allied Commission in Koblenz after the First World War. After
the Second World War, I went back to Germany, as Ambassador after a World
War, the defeat of Germany, and military occupation. We had all the same
problems -- after forty years. But, the general attitude was completely
BROOKS: That's very interesting. Now, may I turn to another point, Mr.
de Gruben, and ask you about the Belgian representation at the Preparatory
Commission meeting in Paris in the summer of 1947. Did the Belgians feel
DE GRUBEN: I couldn't give you correct information. You see, that was
too far away from my scope of activities, but we never had the impre