Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hugh Gibson’s diaries documenting Herbert Hoover’s 1946–47 food mission are now available online

With the tragic earthquakes in Haiti and Chile earlier this year, and the recent floods in Pakistan, we are reminded once again of the primacy of food in relief operations for people in distress, whether suffering from natural or man-made catastrophes.

Herbert Hoover spent a great deal of his life organizing such relief, feeding millions of people during and after World War I in more than twenty countries. Then again, after World War II, he coordinated a worldwide effort to fight the famine that was threatening close to a billion people. No wonder his legacy is that of a great humanitarian and master of efficiency.

Hugh Gibson, a U.S. diplomat whose papers are housed in the Hoover Archives, was a friend of Hoover’s and his right-hand man on that postwar food mission. He kept a daily journal, covering both the whirlwind tour of nearly forty countries in the spring of 1946 and a subsequent return trip to Europe in February 1947. These diaries (mentioned in my blog of October 6, 2009) have now been digitized and are available online. Beyond the focus on food, these fascinating and lively diaries cover a wide range of political and social issues. In the words of his son, Michael Gibson, “The result is a dizzying cross-section of the world just one year after the war ended.”

Gibson often relates Hoover’s state of mind and some of his conversations with various heads of state and did, on occasion, paste newspaper clippings into his diary, such as the account of Hoover’s address at the luncheon in Lima hosted by the president of Peru on June 2, 1946. In Hoover’s stirring words:

“This world crisis appeared last March. At that time, President Truman did me the honor to ask for my collaboration in the great crisis that faced mankind. As my first duty, I have journeyed over the world to evaluate the minimum needs of the great famine areas and to discover such additional food resources as possible. I have also endeavored to coordinate and bring about as great a solidarity as possible of the nations to meet this crisis. I was more than glad to undertake this effort, in order to contribute what experience I had gained as the head of the organization which fought the great famine after the first World War. But more than all that, especially did I desire that in this tremendous crisis of human life, there should be a demonstration to my countrymen that, no matter what our other differences in views might be in our opposite political parties, there could be no division of effort in the problem which revolved around the saving of human life, and of civilization itself….

“Hunger today hangs over the homes of more than 800,000,000 people—over one-third of the people of the world.

“…we are not alone faced with hunger, but we are faced with the problem of mass starvation. And by that term I mean whole villages—whole cities—and even whole nations—might be condemned to death did we not make our every effort. So far, we have prevented mass starvation….

“And may I repeat a statement which I have made elsewhere: ‘The saving of these human lives is far more than an economic necessity to the recovery of the world. It is more than the only path to order, to stability and to peace. Such action marks the return of the lamp of compassion to the world. And that is a part of the moral and spiritual reconstruction of the world.’”

For more speeches given by Hoover during the food mission, see his memoirs, An American Epic (volume IV) and his Addresses upon the American Road, 1945–1948 (both available in the Hoover Library and Archives reading rooms), as well as his papers in the Hoover Archives and at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa.

And we have several other collections with material relating to this amazing food mission. Contact us or come to the Archives reading room and ask our friendly staff for assistance!

Hugh Gibson in the devastated Warsaw Ghetto, March 29, 1946. (Courtesy of Michael Gibson)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Preserving History: The Strange Case of the Lakoba Papers

Hoover research fellow Paul Gregory, a specialist in Soviet economics, finds compelling the human aspects of life under the Soviet regime. Gregory, director of the annual Hoover Sino-Soviet Archives Workshop, is a seasoned researcher. In his book Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin's Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), he tells their tragic story. In this guest blog, he relates the story of a family's fearless actions to save a legacy that was subsequently entrusted to the Hoover Archives.

The N. A. Lakoba papers, one of the most fascinating collections at the Hoover Institution Archives, contain the personal papers of one of Stalin’s closest friends, Nestor Lakoba, the party boss of Abkhazia (now part of Russian-occupied Georgia) and Stalin’s host on his frequent visits to the Black Sea resort of Sukhumi. The crown jewel of the collection is Lakoba’s personal photo album, filled with candid pictures of Stalin and his retinue hunting and fishing; it also contains Lakoba’s personal papers, including his official health certificate, which indicates that he was almost completely deaf. Most documents are in Lakoba’s own hand, including his personal notebook containing his candid musings. Secret correspondence with and reports from his informers reveal his concern about encroachments on his authority by political rivals, including Georgian boss Lavrenty Beria [Lavrentii Beriia].

Shortly before Christmas 1936, Beria poisoned Lakoba during a dinner in Beria’s home. Lakoba’s body was returned from Tbilisi to Sukhumi by special train; he was buried with full honors in the Sukhumi botanical garden. Beria was among the mourners, somberly carrying a funeral banner in honor of his old friend. In the aftermath of the murder, Lakoba’s extended family was either executed or imprisoned, and those associated with him were accused of being part of his plots to kill Stalin and other Soviet leaders. Before their arrest, the family, having learned of Beria’s plan to burn the body to destroy evidence of the poisoning, secretly reburied his body in an undisclosed location, presumably near his home village. Despite torture, Lakoba’s wife took the secret to her grave.

In reading the autobiography of Lakoba’s sister-in-law (more than a quarter-century his junior), I came across the following account of how the Lakoba family saved his archives from Beria’s grasp and certain destruction:

“In this difficult time, Saria [Lakoba’s wife] and Musto [her younger brother] succeeded in saving Nestor’s archive. In the presence of witnesses, they burned in the courtyard letters from Trotsky and other dangerous letters. Other documents they placed in a box, which they packed in thick paper and then hid in a hiding place under the floor of their house. When Musto [one of the few to survive] returned from prison and exile in 1955, he found that their house had been turned into a dormitory of a technical institute. The package was not in the secret hiding place. Workers, who remodeled the floors, had found the box. Musto began a personal investigation of its whereabouts. He learned that it was in the possession of local authorities (who did not understand what it was), and to his astonishment the box was returned to him. To his surprise, the archives was remarkably well preserved. After Musto’s death, the archives went to his son.”

Lakoba’s sister-in-law thus provides us with one link in the chain of events that eventually brought the Lakoba archive to Hoover and tells us that the family burned documents that it felt would be incriminating, such as the correspondence with Trotsky. The candid photos of the vacationing Stalin have been widely reproduced in many books on Stalin. The collection is also a valuable source on the history of Abkhazia, which, even in Lakoba’s time, had separatist tendencies. Abkhazia and its capital city, Sukhumi, today have a government appointed by Putin and are occupied by Russian troops.

When I read through the Lakoba archive in July, it was in the hands of the capable Hoover Archives preservation staff, who were applying preventive care to the eighty-year-old photographs. It is fortunate that the Lakoba archive ended up at Hoover. In a poorly funded Russian state archive, there is no telling what its condition would be today (or if it would even be accessible).

Paul Gregory's blog

Guide to the N. A. Lakoba papers

Nestor Lakoba, circa 1930s. N. A. Lakoba papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Joseph Stalin (right) and Lavrentii Beriia on vacation in Abkhazia, circa 1930s. N. A. Lakoba papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Joseph Stalin (center) and Kliment Voroshilov (right), people's commissar for military and navy and people's commissar of defense, on vacation in Abkhazia, circa 1930s. N. A. Lakoba papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Don’t Mess with Cupid: A Remembrance

The intrigues of international politics are dominated by ambitious and dedicated individuals who relish power and influence. How often, however, do we hear about someone who gave up fame and a promising career for love?

Stefan Olszowski was twice the foreign minister of communist Poland and a Politburo member with a strong pro-Soviet record. His career seemed to be on an upward trajectory until he was suddenly ousted from the Communist Party leadership in 1985, in part because of his affair with a Polish journalist whom he married after leaving his first wife. A man known for actively supporting the suppression of the fledgling Solidarity movement and once a rising star in the world politics, Olszowski left for New York in 1986, when his new wife accepted a staff position at the United Nations. Disregarding his colleagues’ admonitions that it was bad publicity for such a high-profile Communist to be living in enemy territory, Olszowski settled with his wife and their son in a Long Island community near the Hamptons. Could Olszowski have had a sense of the dramatic changes to come in Poland? Or had he recognized that a relatively anonymous life with his son and the woman he loved were far superior to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune behind the Iron Curtain.

Stefan Olszowski’s privacy was recently “invaded” by our Curator for Eastern Europe and the papers and photographs with which he left communist Poland are now in the Hoover Archives. Several examples of these photographs appear below.

Stefan Olszowski (right) with General Wojciech Jaruzelski, prime minister and last Communist leader of Poland, 1983. Stefan Olszowski papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Stefan Olszowski (left) with Andrei Gromyko, Soviet foreign minister, during his visit to Warsaw, 1983. Stefan Olszowski papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives

Stefan Olszowski and wife Zofia in America. Stefan Olszowski papers, box 3, Hoover Institution Archives