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Povl Westphall Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Povl Westphall

Journalist, Denmark.

Copenhagen, Denmark
May 1964
By Randall S. Jessee

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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Oral History Interview with
Povl Westphall


Copenhagen, Denmark
May 1964
By Randall S. Jessee



Mr. Westphall is one of the leading journalists in Denmark. He was quite active in the Resistance Movement during the war and is still a very active and well known person. He was, at the time of the interview, the leading reporter of the Berlingske Tidende, a conservative newspaper, with a circulation of 172,000. Mr. Westphall is of interest both because he knew a great deal about the Marshall Plan, and because he attended a press conference of President Truman's and at another time heard him speak.

I met Mr. Westphall while I was in Denmark but could not arrange the interview before I left. It was therefore conducted by Mr. Randall S. Jessee, formerly of Kansas City, who was then press officer of the United States Information Service in Copenhagen.

Philip C. Brooks


MR. RANDALL JESSEE: Mr. Westphall, we're interested in your experiences of attending Presidential press conferences. Would you tell us when and where these took place? What other persons of special interest were present, if you remember, and what were your impressions?

MR. POVL WESTPHALL: Well, in September of 1945, shortly after the liberation, the United States Government invited a group of eight Danes, newspapermen, mostly from the underground movement, and we started for the United States


in early October 1945. We came down to Washington after a week's briefing in New York, and we attended a press conference with President Harry S. Truman.

You must understand that we in the occupied countries did not know much about the President at that time. We had only read about him and heard about him on radios, which we were listening into illegally. There was a lot of confusion about his person and what he really stood for.

The group who came to Washington was, among others, our present Ambassador to Thailand, His Excellency, Ebbe Munck and the former editor-in-chief of the daily Politiken, in Copenhagen, Sven Tillge Rasmussen, Borge Houmann Abildtrup, and two late colleagues of mine, Hans Hansen and Gunnar Nielsen. After the press conference, we presented the Danish Freedom Fighters armband to the President. It took place in the President's


private office, after the press conference.

The press conference, itself, is still a very, very clear memory to me, although it is nearly twenty years ago that it happened. Because for the first time, I realized what a strong personality, President Truman was. He was remarkably sharp, and fast in his answers to all the questions, which were shot at him at this enormous press conference. The knowledge behind the answer was an obvious thing. It created immediately very, very great respect for the man's ability and personality.

JESSEE: Well, what impression did you have of President Truman, personally, as a President? You can be very frank, because this is for the Library files.

WESTPHALL: Personally, I must say it was a very, very warm hearted person we met, when we talked


about Denmark during the five years. We spent, let us say, twenty minutes in his room alone with him, and saw several other things which he had got as memorials from the wartime from other nations. We talked about his cooperation with our late Ambassador Henrik Kaufman, and the special conditions of our little country. You could feel his deep interest, and that he had really been briefed on Denmark before we had arrived, because he could ask questions, which surprised us.

It was later that we got the impression of the great American leader. Of course, when you only have a first impression of a man, you just get a dim picture. But, I had the opportunity, just three years later, to meet the President again.

JESSEE: That was during the 1948 campaign?


WESTPHALL: Yes, I happened to be on the first round-the-world flight a Dane took part in and I stopped off in Minneapolis and St. Paul. That was at the time when President Truman was speaking and Governor Dewey was soon coming in.

It was said to me in all the important circles of the town that nobody could expect a reelection of President Truman and that it would be a landslide for Governor Dewey. I was listening in to one of the speeches President Truman gave. I could feel he was a very relaxed and convinced person, convinced of his own right attitude towards internal policy and toward the rather complicated international situation.

But, even with that impression, I left the United States late October 1948, with a feeling that there would be a change in the


government. But out in the Far East, I got a message about what really happened, and everybody was as surprised as I was. Where I happened to be was in Shanghai.

JESSEE: Now, as to the Marshall Plan, Paul. There are several questions that have been used, and I think that the journalist's opinion would be quite valuable in analyzing the Marshall Plan. Were you or were the people of Denmark surprised that the United States would take such a vigorous stand as in General Marshall's speech at Harvard on June 5, 1947? Had there been so much preliminary discussion that something like this was expected?

WESTPHALL: No, definitely not. You see, this country – Denmark -- was in a very shabby condition. The Germans had been rather hard to us during the five years and we needed something to give us


strength back again, because we were in a transitional period, where an agricultural country turned into being an industrial country, and that process was stopped by the war.

When the Marshall Plan came up, we listened with a little bit of, I won't say suspicion, but with some doubts, whether it would be a reality or not. But that day, when it became a reality, we could see in perspective the work done by the great nation, the United States.

JESSEE: You were amazed at the rapidity with which the plan was put into operation in the preparatory committee meetings in Paris in 1947, then?

WESTPHALL: Yes, that's true. But then, you see in that period, Denmark was in a situation where we had a lot of difficulties. We still had rationing of many, many products. We still had


unemployment and many difficulties. The political effects of the Marshall Plan did not have the great echo. It was the reality when it came into work. When Mr. Marshall was sent over here to represent the Marshall Plan, we realized that something was going to happen. You can see for yourself today, if you go into some of the big Danish industrial installations, what really has been put to work in this country by the citizens of the United States, by the taxpayer of the United States -- new machinery, new ideas, new production tempo, and an inspiration. This gave us a push which was the background, let us say, for the whole development of the new industrial epoch in this country which later gave us a possibility for increasing the export not only to European countries but also to the United States -- where, when the Marshall aid started, we only had an export a


year of around $70 million -- and then last year it was, so far as I remember, nearly a billion Danish kroner. In that perspective, you can see what really was put down from the United States. But, I must say something, the doubtful people in this country -- there were a few of them -- they still say it and I think they meant it -- that this is not done by the United States for our "blue eyes" sake, there must be something behind it. That was an attitude that you could meet in many circles. But it was later on, of course, forgotten and if today you looked backwards over the history, you have again to pay respect to what the United States has done.

JESSEE: Well, now, did the Danes feel that they were fairly represented at Paris in the CEEC meeting there?

WESTPHALL: I think so.


JESSEE: And, they felt that the great powers understood their problems?

WESTPHALL: Oh yes. I'm absolutely convinced about that.

JESSEE: The Marshall speech called for close cooperation among the European nations.

WESTPHALL: But that was too early.

JESSEE: Yes. Did you feel that this was possible so soon after the war? In other words, that the Marshall Plan would work.

WESTPHALL: No, at that time it sounded more like a Utopia.

JESSEE: It was just too much to hope for.

WESTPHALL: Too much to hope for, because there were too many ruins, too many difficulties, too many


complicated political situations, too many barriers between the European nations. It took more, really more than ten years after the Marshall Plan started, before the ideas of a closed European cooperation economically and in other ways really became a reality. But I must say, I think that the Marshall aid, as such, was a foundation for the whole thing.

JESSEE: In other words, it was of first inter