Etienne Hirsch Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Etienne Hirsch

French civil engineer and administrator. President of the French Supply Council, London, and French representative on the temporary Economic Committee for Europe, 1945; Head, Technical Division, Commissariat-General au Plan, 194649; Deputy Commissioner, 1949-52; Commissioner General, 1952-59; participated in negotiations setting up European Coal and Steel Community, 1950-52; and member NATO Committee of Wise Men, 1951-52

Paris, France
June 30, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson

[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. [45]) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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Oral History Interview with
Etienne Hirsch


Paris, France
June 30, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson


WILSON: Perhaps I could begin by asking you about your service with the French Supply Committee in London. Was this a comparable organization to that of Jean Monnet in Washington?

HIRSCH: Yes, it was. I was responsible for purchasing what we could not get from the United States.

WILSON: Did you deal with lend-lease arrangements which came through England?

HIRSCH: That was during the war. What Monnet did and what I did in the Supply Council was afterward, not on lend-lease.


WILSON: I see. Were you in London at the time?

HIRSCH: I was in London between '40 and '43, and there I dealt with lend-lease for Army supplies and supplies for the regiments which were with General [Charles] de Gaulle.

WILSON: I see.

HIRSCH: I had a representative at that time to Washington, who on my direction or instructions dealt with American supply under lend-lease.

WILSON: I see. That's right. I mixed things up a bit. You were then in...

HIRSCH: I was then in the Armaments Division of the Free French Forces, and I dealt both with military supplies and civilian supplies.

WILSON: And then in 1945 you were on this temporary economic committee, the French representative?



WILSON: How temporary was it viewed as being?

HIRSCH: Well, that was just before the liberation of continental Europe, and so we tried to prepare solutions to the problems which were at hand on the transportation of supplies and things like that.

WILSON: Some of the arrangements were, if I am correct, continued, particularly those on inland transport?

HIRSCH: Yes. On transport, that was continued.

WILSON: And it merged later with the Economic Commission for Europe in ’47?


WILSON: What was the view at the time, when you were preparing for the period after liberation and the end of the war? Was it recognized that Europe was going to be in extremely serious difficulties?

HIRSCH: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

WILSON: Were there American observers?


HIRSCH: I don't think so. I am not sure, but I don't think there were. There were British members and continental members, but I don't think there were any Americans at that time.

WILSON: What was seen as being the most serious problem -- an inclusion of supplies, of raw materials, or...

HIRSCH: Yes. And transport equipment, because of the destruction, you know, from bombing of the highways. Also of concern was equipment for power stations; to get power as quickly as possible.

WILSON: Was it thought that this could be done, at that time, in '45, '46...

HIRSCH: Well, that was not in '45 or '46; that was in 1944. That was '44, before the liberation, see.

WILSON: So, you were really doing the planning even before?


HIRSCH: Yes, we were doing the planning before. And apart from this committee, which was the Emergency Committee for Europe, I went to Washington, in February of '44, in order to make arrangements for civilian supplies at the time of the landing. There, I spent three months making arrangements, discussing what kind of supplies, what amount, and what means of transportation were needed in order to distribute them, and so on. That continued. Then I went to London before the landing, in order to make arrangements on the spot there.

WILSON: I see. So you carried through.

HIRSCH: Yes. And there I was in constant liaison with both the Americans and the British, and that continued in Paris. At that time, we sent out an emergency request for supplies, which came to be called the "80,000 ton supply program." The military at that time said, "Well, it is a question of landing facilities." As you know, some of the harbors were destroyed, and some were still occupied.


So they said, "Well, we can supply 80,000 tons. You have to make your choice, your shopping list, within the 80,000 tons." So I just got together with the various departments or ministries and we devised the shopping list, and that was what was supplied.

WILSON: How difficult was it to get this sort of information in order to decide which items to ,

HIRSCH: Well, I would say that we decided that really beforehand, because you know there were some stupid problems. For instance, when we discussed this with the ministry of public works, they said, "What we require is 500,000 tons of bitumen for the roads."

Well, we told them, "How can we, inside our 80,000 tons, give you 500,000 tons of bitumen?"

They said, "Well, we need it."

We said, "Well, we're sorry we can't do it." There were some kinds of discussions like that.


WILSON: Did it continue to be necessary, for the next two or three years, to choose a shopping list, and then cut down these things on the spot?

HIRSCH: We had to decide on priorities.

WILSON: Did you have any relations at all with the UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration] people?

HIRSCH: No. UNRRA had to do only with Germany and Italy, if I am correct.

WILSON: There were some proposals for programs in the liberated countries, but they didn't work out?

HIRSCH: No, no, no, we had no dealings with UNRRA.

WILSON: Then you went from there to work with Jean Monnet, is that correct?

HIRSCH: Well, I worked with Jean Monnet since the middle of '43, when we discussed these emergency programs before the landing.


WILSON: He had very close relations I gather, particularly in the United States, because of...

HIRSCH: Oh, yes. Well, he had been in the United States since 1940.

WILSON: Yes, and was very highly respected at all levels.

HIRSCH: And he had very close relations with -- I don't remember the name of his counsel who was a close intimate to Roosevelt.

WILSON: Benjamin Cohen perhaps?


WILSON: Corcoran?

HIRSCH: No. He published a book.

WILSON: Not Dean Acheson?

HIRSCH: It was before Dean Acheson came into the picture.


WILSON: In the administration? As one of the Cabinet officers?

HIRSCH: Well, he was a Presidential advisor.

WILSON: Oh, Harry Hopkins perhaps.

HIRSCH: Yes, Harry Hopkins. Well, he was in constant connection with Harry Hopkins. In fact, it is Monnet who made the suggestion for the victory program, you know, of 50,000 tanks, 50,000 planes, and 50,000 ships. It was Monnet who put that on a sheet of paper and gave it to Harry Hopkins, who took it.

WILSON: Yes. This is perhaps a question you may not wish to answer, but did you have the impression that in regard to the personal relations between Jean Monnet and President Roosevelt, that there was any difficulty because of President Roosevelt's views about the Free French and particularly General de Gaulle, and supplying him.

HIRSCH: There were political problems. You see, Monnet


was asked by de Gaulle to try and get Roosevelt to consider de Gaulle as the leader of France, which Roosevelt refused. So in this respect, there was a roadblock. But that didn’t prevent technical matters to be discussed and resolved. But de Gaulle was sensitive to the fact that Roosevelt would not agree to recognize his leadership in France.

WILSON: Yes, that's right. There's some question in the United States that President Roosevelt, until very late in the war, was determined to strip France, or to have France abandon its colonial possessions after the war. Was that demonstrated in a personal...

HIRSCH: No, no, the fact was that Roosevelt had a personal antipathy to de Gaulle. There was this meeting in the Anfa Hotel, in Casablanca, where Roosevelt tried to educate de Gaulle. They had different characters; it was quite obvious that they could not understand one another.


WILSON: President Roosevelt could be very imperious. He had an imperial mind or mentality at times and...

HIRSCH: And de Gaulle also.

WILSON: Yes. Yes.

I wonder if you might describe the circumstances, particularly your part, in the setting up of what we call the Monnet plan.

This, of course, is perhaps the major example of national effort of reconstruction. I'd be interested in any comments you may have on how this came about.

HIRSCH: Well, it started first with this planning of what would be the requirements at the time of the liberation. Then, as the industrial life, economic life, of Prance was to be reconstructed, Monnet had the idea that in order to decide on priorities and what should be done, it was useful to have a plan. And so he got two or three people, among which was myself, and we prepared a document by the


end of 1945, which was presented to General de Gaulle. He approved it without changing a word. Incidentally, this document is published in the third volume of his memoirs as an annex. So it was decided that a plan should be made in a period of six months; well, it took practically one year. First, we had to assess what the real situation was, which took about three months. It showed what we probably knew beforehand, that we should have to discuss with the United States the problems of financing a large investment program. Leon Blum was the head of the mission but Monnet had to do the job of negotiating. A financial agreement was arrived at with the United States. This was before the Marshall plan, and it was purely on a normal financial basis.

WILSON: A loan?

HIRSCH: A loan, with interest and with repayment; a loan by the United States Treasury and also a loan by the International Bank. In the meantime


we pursued with the plan.

WILSON: There had been just after the war some nationalization of certain industries in France.


WILSON: And some talk about the possibility of further nationalization. Did you discover that Americans were opposed to this as a principle? Did this influence...

HIRSCH: No, they didn't interfere whatsoever.

WILSON: In some ways, later, there came to be an identification between nationalization and socialism in the American view, but this had no effect at that time?

HIRSCH: Oh, no. There was no interference by the Americans.

WILSON: The planning, if I'm correct, stressed investment, particularly in heavy industry.


HIRSCH: Well, the plan gave priority to energy, steel, transport, cement, and agricultural implements.

WILSON: Was there any thinking, at the time the plan was being devised, about the possibility or desirability of expanding this program into certain areas of the international sphere? Any talk at all about doing something similar to what occurred with the Schuman plan?

HIRSCH: No, not at that time. When the Marshall plan was proposed, various European countries got together. Another idea then was the OEEC. I was concerned with it at the beginning, not when the organization was set up, but before it was set up. We had talks with other countries; especially, I had talks with the British. The British representative was later an ambassador to your country.

WILSON: [Oliver] Franks?

HIRSCH: Franks, yes. Well, I had a few meetings to discuss and see what could be set up. Especially,


we were concerned with power supply. But it didn't mature. I think one of the reasons was that although the .Americans were pressing the Europeans to work together, they decided that allocations under the Marshall plan should be set up country by country.

WILSON: Why was that decided; do you know?

HIRSCH: It was decided on the American side.


HIRSCH: They wanted to make a case for each country and present each case to Congress. So, really there was no joint plan; it was the United States dealing with individual countries.

WILSON: Would it be fair to suggest that there was awareness on the British side that they would always be well treated?

HIRSCH: Oh, I don't think the British had anything to do with that kind of situation. It was on the


American side. The decision was made that there should be allocations country by country. There were discussions inside the OEEC, but really that had no impact on this.

WILSON: What I was trying to suggest was that, as you indicated, you had some talks about cooperation with the British, and...

HIRSCH: But in my talks with Franks, they were quite willing to do something. But the decision was with the Americans. Although they had insisted that the Europeans should work together, they made the decision that the allocation of funds should be made country by country.

WILSON: I see.

HIRSCH: I would say that there were two mistakes on the American side, if I may say so. First, there was the one just mentioned. The second one was the decision that allocations should be made year by year.


WILSON: That I know something about, because of the role of Congress.