Relief Organizations


By CHARLES P. TAFT, Acting Chairman, President's War Relief Control Board

Delivered before the Potomac Cooperative Federation, Washington, D. C., February 27, 1945

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. XI, pp. 371-374.

YOU of this Cooperative Federation, as well as the Cooperatives associated with your national organization, are deeply concerned with the situation of Cooperatives to the liberated areas, and you have launched a drive to give them advice and assistance. I propose tonight to describe how the governments, the public organizations and the private organizations function in the occupied and liberated areas, in order to show you the framework within which your assistance must be given. That requires me to describe first what the governments and UNRRA and the Americanand International Red Cross do in those areas, for the private agency function will normally be a supplementary and residual one.

There is the greatest confusion in this country with reference to the function of UNRRA, even among those whose experience or present duties should lead them* to understand. That makes it necessary to give a clear and authoritative explanation. I shall cover the Nazi-occupied areas first and then the liberated areas.

In the Nazi-occupied areas only certain church organizations, the International Red Cross and the World Council of the Y.M.C.A. may go, and even those agencies have their troubles in some places. They serve Prisoner of War Camps and civilian internees. The Red Cross has the administration of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which establishes the sanitary and nutritional standards of these camps. It handles the food packages and comfort kits which are sent through the blockade by the national Red Cross societies, like the American or British Red Cross, or by private relief agencies, like United Yugoslav Relief, or by national governments, or by U.S. Lend-Lease on behalf of national governments eligible for such aid. Some food packages have even been sent by direct mail.

The World Council of the Y.M.C.A., represented in the United States by War Prisoners Aid, furnishes (1) books, athletic goods and similar articles; (2) morale, athletic and organizational service in the camps.

The Greek Relief Scheme was a special project administered by the Swedish Red Cross and the International Red Cross to meet the special needs of the starving population of Greece, and has continued in part since liberation.

The War Refugee Board (Stettinius, Stimson, Morgenthau) leads and coordinates the efforts of the interested private groups to rescue the individuals who suffer from the special attentions of the Gestapo within Axis territory. Its emergency work for any individual ends as he reaches an area where other private or public agencies can begin to function in his service.

So much for the Nazi-occupied areas.

The first thing one must appreciate about the liberated areas is the state of the commercial economy when an area is liberated. Under the Germans there was a stringently regulated economy with rationing, price control, and reasonably adequate distribution. If the front area between the armies is stable for a while, the towns are devastated. Even if the front moves fast, the Germans take or destroy, or our airmen destroy, all transport and bridges. When our army civil affairs organization comes in, all business and all distribution is stopped and very likely completely upset. Yet strangely enough many people have money of some kind. What is needed therefore at once in all cases is primarily civilian supplies, and only secondarily relief. This was true in North Africa and it was true in France.

The U.S. "relief" organization in North Africa, the forerunner of UNRRA, arranged for supplies to come to the North African ports, took them over, arranged with the Army for transportation to other depots by rail or ship, secured trucks and took the supplies inland to the important towns, and had a one or two day sale in each town. The Mayor made up a list of his citizens and distributed tickets to them. For a few he indicated they could not pay. The people took the goods then needed, turned in the tickets, and paid for them, unless the ticket indicated otherwise. While the distribution organization had a net loss, it was nothing like what had been expected.

The process in France was different, but was built on that experience. The Greek process was the same except that the free distribution was relatively greater, the revolution upset things, and the inflation and currency situation complicated them further. So it may be said that the term relief is a good deal of a misnomer for what is done in the first emergency period after the military turns over. It is civilian supply, with only a proportion of free distribution. It is not a social welfare operation.

The second completely erroneous impression about the liberated areas held by most Americans, I find, is that UNRRA operates in all countries, France, Belgium or Germany, for instance. Even the Times of London erred in this regard in a recent editorial on French supply problems. Mr. Richard Law had to correct this idea in Parliament two weeks ago.

Who then does handle this problem of emergency civilian supply immediately after liberation? So far as the American side is concerned the President placed the major responsibility on the Army for the military period. That in turn has two phases. Close behind the fighting it is handled by G-5 of the Army, as seen in recent stories from the Philippines. But as soon as possible the Army turns it over either to the indigenous government, or to UNRRA, even though the Army still retains the overall responsibility. Thus in France or Belgium, although it is still the military period for supply purposes, the supplies are turned over to the government for distribution. In Greece it was the Army, using UNRRA -personnel and at Army expense until the revolution forced the civilian personnel out.

Well, you say, where does UNRRA come in at all? What does UNRRA do with all that money then?

When any one of the Allied Governments does not have foreign exchange with which to pay for the necessary supplies, it may request UNRRA to come in and provide the goods. The Greeks, for example, have made that request, and UNRRA will operate there.

At some cut off date, the Army withdraws entirely, and the government takes over. It gets its own shipping allocation, and takes over also the goods in the army pipe-line. So in Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Poland it will be UNRRA, which will then assume the responsibility for securing allocations for procurement, shipping, and major distribution. But even in supply matters, UNRRA is a supervisory service organization, not a glorified International Family Welfare Society.

France, Belgium, Holland and Norway have not as yet asked for UNRRA's help in normal civilian supply, and UNRRA does not operate there in supply matters. It will operate in Greece, Yugoslavia, Albania, Czechoslovakia and Poland, by request and agreement of the governments. But you must understand that in those countries it is doing a government job, parallel to that of the French or Norwegian Governments in their territory. It is not doing an individual case-work relief job. Like France or Belgium, it will get an allocation of ships for its areas. It is a part of the total governmental supply service, whose objective is to get goods into regular channels of distribution for civilian use. Its first assigned ship is soon leaving for the Black Sea, with goods for Poland and Czechoslovakia.

I should note that at the suggestion of the European Council of UNRRA, proposals have now been approved for the extension of UNRRA's functions in relief into the paying countries. This would be an emergency type of assistance, worked out on a mutually satisfactory basis, and deserves thorough investigation.

UNRRA, however, does have a unique major responsibility in connection with supply. It is required to review all the governmental supply programs, including its own, and to insure that the standards of supply in each Allied country are as nearly equal to each other as circumstances will permit,especially in those essential items like clothing, textiles, or fats and oils, which are desperately short. It is the equalization board, so to speak.

Does UNRRA operate in the ex-enemy territories? Only if the UNRRA Council specifically approves, and it may be said that the democratically organized UNRRA Council is not enthusiastic about doing it. In the case of Italy the Council finally voted fifty million dollars for special foods for mothers and children in Italy and for Italian refugees in Italy who had been driven out of their home towns, as well as for some of its general health work.

UNRRA has another major responsibility which does take it into ex-enemy territory. It is the helper and expediter in connection with displaced persons of Allied nationality. The Allied nations send liaison officers into Germany or Italy to screen and repatriate their nationals, but UNRRA helps SHAEF, which makes the general plans and has to take care of the many for whom no government will take responsibility. UNRRA is managing a number of refugee camps in North Africa, and in cooperation with the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees is planning for the vanguard of stateless persons who will be the most tragic backwash of this war.

Apart from supply, UNRRA may be requested to provide advisory services of many kinds, in the fields of health, welfare and agricultural and other rehabilitation. Many governments have already made such requests, and no question of ability to pay is involved.

The major UNRRA responsibility among these is in the field of health, already mentioned in Italy. It is, in cooperation with the armies and the governments, giving leadership in preventing disease and epidemics in all areas. There has been less said about this, although in many ways it is the most important of its functions. The top medical officer of UNRRA is Dr. Wilbur Sawyer, formerly of the Rockefeller Foundation.

I have spoken about the immediate emergency supply problem after liberation. But that, too, gives a most incomplete picture. Neither the armies nor UNRRA nor the paying governments can go on indefinitely in the wholesale distribution business. Besides, the armies as they move forward take the truck along. They fix the main bridges, but not the back roads. They bring some seed and fish nets and agricultural machinery, but not much. They are faced with the restoration of a working economy, and one does not realize what a complicated system feeds and clothes and pays us all, until one has to build it from the ground up.

In that rebuilding process one finds at once that trucks and factories need spare parts, or complete rebuilding of machinery. Then they need fuel and raw materials. Even if the raw materials and fuel are within the country, there is no adequate way to transport them. When the first coal barges came down the canals and the Seine to Paris, the populace turned out with music and flags to greet them, like a victorious fleet of battleships. Gradually the old channels of traffic were smoothed out and restored, and the ports partially opened up and then came global shortages of material, steel or textiles or many others, and shortages of ships to bring any of them. As one is faced with competing demands, for ammunition or tents or uniforms or food for the troops on the two great world battle grounds, who is to choose whether MacArthur shall move into Manila, or Eisenhower toward Berlin—or Frenchmen or Greeks shall be given work to do, useful, necessary work in necessary plants, that may prevent unrest and even revolution?

One first effort obviously must be to see whether it is better to ship raw materials to France or Belgium to be fabricated, instead of shipping the fabricated goods across the ocean. Then the utilization of shipping must be studied to make sure every ship has the optimum use. That is being done. And it may well be hoped that the choice will never have to be made between progress on both fronts at once, and chaos in the liberated countries. Nevertheless, in the last analysis no one of the Allied Nations can afford to allow chaos to exist, comparable in any way to the cruel domination of the Nazis, even for a few months. The Government of the United States cannot permit that to happen. We are fighting for liberty, not chaos, and there is no short cut.

In this major supply of the raw materials of a reviving economy in a liberated area, UNRRA has only a limited responsibility. Its terms of reference in the field of rehabilitation are specifically limited to those activities which are necessary to relief. "The Administration cannot be called upon to help restore continuous employment in the world," is the language of Resolution 12 at the Atlantic City meeting of the UNRRA Council. Its functions cannot go very much beyond the same scope as Army supply in the military period before UNRRA or the governments take over.

One more operation needs to be described, the relief work of the Red Cross, before I come to the private agencies.

It should be noted first that the American Red Cross does not usually operate abroad itself except in the service of the American soldier and sailor. In foreign countries its operations are through the national Red Cross societies or the International Red Cross. Its responsibilities for prisoners of war and internees have already been described. The great bulk of its funds, raised from the American public, go for the recreation service of the Armed Forces abroad, including the Red Cross Clubs and Hotels, for the services to individual soldiers and sailors in connection with their families and dependents, and for the recreation and other lay services and supplies in hospitals.

But the Red Cross does have civilian relief responsibilities in addition to peace- or war-time disaster relief. It spends for this about $5,000,000 a year of its own funds, and it has now spent nearly all of the $85,000,000 appropriated by Congress to the President during five years since early 1940, for the purchase and transportation of relief supplies, to be procured exclusively in the United States, for distribution abroad, "through the American Red Cross or such governmental or other agencies as he may designate."

None of these government funds as a matter of Red Cross and Congressional policy has been spent in Axis-occupied territory. They have gone principally for medical supplies of all kinds, and textiles which the chapters make up into garments.

The Red Cross has, of course, made in its chapters large amounts of bandages, and new garments, which have been stockpiled and shipped out to the countries in greatest need. The Red Cross has been the principal shipping agency for its own goods and those of private agencies to Europe and elsewhere.

Everything I have said to this point has been a matter of public record, but it is extraordinary how many intelligent supporters, and even officers of private relief, are firmly convinced that only through American Relief for Graustark or Ruritania will Graustarkians or Ruritanians be fed or clothed.

Consider the cost of feeding 40,000,000 Italians 2,000 calories a day, or even the cost of that part of the 2,000 calories diet that must come from overseas. No private agency could do even a fraction of it, to say nothing of fuel and clothing and medicine and shelter. That is not the job of the private agency. It is a basic, public, governmental responsibility.

The major problem today is not supply, but transportation, and only a government can compete with military demands

today and get ships allocated. A private agency can only ship filler cargo, which is most helpful, but only a filler.

Finally, the bulk of the supplies sent are for distribution through regular civilian channels, not for "give away." The head of one recently liberated state has insisted on this, as he said, to preserve the morale of his people, and called for the chance to work, not gifts; supplies through which jobs can be provided, not handouts.

Well, you may ask, what can the private agency do? It can do a lot, but it must have a full understanding of the problem, and knowledge of how to fit its supplementary gifts and services into these other basic and established programs. Enthusiasm and promotional ability are fine in a private agency staff, but what a mess these qualities can make in the absence of sound administrative experience in the welfare field!

Here are what the private agencies can do and are doing effectively:

They can provide special food and services for specialized groups, like mothers, children, or students.

They can make or collect garments, new or used.

They can give leadership in recreational and morale work.

They can care for refugees, who for one reason or another are not cared for by any government. This is one of the largest single fields of service.

Obviously their appeals for funds and costs of administration need to be regulated, and their use of the funds supervised. That is the job of the President's War Relief Control Board.

We have reduced the foreign relief agencies to a limited number of international agencies, like the American Friends Service Committee, or the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and to one or two agencies for each country to be served. Having started from over sixty agencies for Britain alone, for example, we think that is not a bad job.

To simplify the appeals, we organized the National War Fund, which includes 60 per cent of the money, and many of the agencies. The Times of all appeals are adjusted to avoid interferences. The War Fund Budget Committee reviews all requests of its agencies and fixes totals subject to approval of the War Relief Control Board. The others are reviewed by the Board itself.

But the great problem remains of coordination of efforts in the field. The Board first helped to establish firmly the Council of Voluntary Agencies which brings together, not for money raising, but for coordination of programs, all agencies, in or out of the War Fund. This is related to the War Fund policies under the leadership of President Henry Wriston of Brown. This Council has committees for each country where all agencies contributing to that country are brought together.

The Board is now taking one more step. We called together last week the first of a series of conferences, one on each country, at which we have presented the Army program, the program of that country's government, the UNRRA program, the Red Cross' program, and the private agency programs. That gives an essential overall picture of the need and how it may be met in each place.

The next step is coordination in the foreign country. In the military period it is obviously up to the Army, and under its control. In France or Belgium, for example, the government thereafter takes over through some agency of government, and exercises general supervision. In the UNRRA countries, UNRRA by the Agreement has that control. Proposals have recently been discussed, suggesting that such control should be extended to the paying countries but this government has not concurred. As I have said UNRRA must see to it that what goes to liberated areas goes on an equal basis to all countries, but supervision of the private agencies is clearly the job of the government when it is in charge of civilian supply and relief distribution.

But in addition to government supervision over them the agencies themselves need to work together. No less than thirty-two agencies want to send something to France. American Relief for France covers half the amount, and the Friends and Joint Distribution Committee thirty per cent more. But the others should have their chance, too, and the need is great. An excellent pattern has been worked out in Italy. Mr. Myron Taylor has organized a coordinating and distributing organization over there. He is the head of American voluntary relief, and his director is a former Red Cross director. He works through an Italian Committee including representatives of the Italian Government, Italian Red Cross, the Church, and Italian labor organizations. His main contact in the United States is with American Relief for Italy, the largest single organization for Italy on this side of the water, and all must work through these two. We have already set out to secure similar results in the Philippines, and after that will come France.

So in each country as the situation develops, the War Relief Control Board expects to lend its assistance to see to it (1) that there is a single main "country" organization in the United States; (2) that all organizations interested in that country work with the "country" organization in planning; (3) that there is an integrated operation of American relief activities in the foreign country itself, under American leadership.

I understand that your Freedom Friend proposals have nothing to do with money relief, but it might well be that you would wish to relate your advice and assistance to this operation in the foreign country.

Thus, we hope that to match basic governmental provisions for civilian supply, there will be developed an adequate machinery to express freely, not the divisions of foreign politics, or of domestic either, but the generous humanitarian impulses of the whole American people for victims of war and aggression.