The Ambassador to the Netherlands Government in Exile (Hornbeck) to President Roosevelt 6

Dear Mr. President:


In my contacts thus far with officials of the Netherlands Government I have encountered several who seem weary, perplexed, apprehensive, burdened with a psychosis of frustration and—in greater or less degree—suspicioning resentment. Regarding some of them, there come to me reports that in their dealings with opposite numbers in [Page 6] the allied governments they are importunate to a degree which creates irritation and impatience. There are among them, however, more than a few who seem calm, cheerful, optimistic, and who are in their contacts effectively urbane.

The long and the short of the matter is that these officials are representing and are working on behalf of a country which is small, is being weakened, and is—with warrant—terribly concerned about its future; and they are dealing constantly with officials of three countries (in particular) which are large, are powerful, and are preoccupied with the problem of defeating common enemies and laying foundations for relationships of peace and security in the postwar world.

Some of the problems with which these Netherlands officials are confronted are of vital importance to them and are of a nature which can be given more sympathetic consideration by the Government and the people of the United States than by those of any other country. The greatest and most immediately pressing of those problems is that of survival—first of their people, second of their country. There is a very real question today whether many of their people—especially those who live in western Holland and those who have been taken by the Germans for slave labor—may not in the course of the next six months die of starvation, neglect or abuse; a question whether still more of them will not have become so worn down that they can never fully (i.e., both physically and psychologically) recover; a question how far the stamina of the nation is being permanently impaired; a question what will be the political structure of the metropolitan area and of the empire when conditions of peace have taken the place of conditions of war; and, finally, a question what will be the standing, the contribution and the influence of the Netherlands in international relations in the postwar world.

These officials and their people are looking to the Government and the people of the United States for a kind and a degree of consideration and helpfulness greater than they hope or expect to receive from the governments and peoples of any other countries. They are not asking for charity. They do plead for opportunity. They want to be able to buy—at the earliest possible moment. They cling to a concept of independence which makes them resentful of the fact that in reality they are dependent upon and have to accept the dictates of their greater and more powerful allies.

Nowhere is there greater call, it seems to me, in the field of our relations with other countries, for patience, tolerance, forbearance, giving of material assistance and the whole content of the course of good neighborliness, on the part of the United States, than in our [Page 7] relations with these hard-pressed Netherlander; nowhere a greater call—not even in our relations with the Chinese.


One of the things that these officials most crave is that in matters of special concern to their country they be consulted, that in matters of common concern they be taken into the confidence of their allies, that as a government they be given full opportunity to express their views, advance their claims, and make their country’s commitments on an “in council” basis. The more it may be found possible for the people and the governments of the greater powers to accord them and their views and their representations sympathetic consideration, the easier it will be to reconcile them to decisions which run counter to their desires and to elicit from them the fullest cooperation of which they are capable.


Most important, however, today, of all the problems that confront them and that relate to them, is the problem of getting food to their people. At this moment starvation stares the population of western Holland, including The Hague, squarely in the face. Unless food can be sent into that area not only soon but more than soon, there can be no telling how many innocent and worth while people may be lost to Holland and to the world—a development which, were it to occur, would lay the major powers open to a variety of charges by hostile critics in days to come.

It is not for me to attempt to assess what may be the conditions of need in France and in Belgium; but on the basis of such information as I have, it does not appear that the people of either of those countries are critically short of food, and it does appear that neither of them has suffered as have the Dutch or has in prospect such further sufferings as have the Dutch. What may be the situations in Italy and in Norway are matters for consideration in some other context. Whatever may be the needs elsewhere, in western Holland the Dutch are now confronted with conditions of desperate need.


There are, I well know and understand, considerations of policy, considerations of military strategy, problems of relative advantages in allocation of short supplies and in use of shipping space, etc., etc. Against the background of these considerations, it is easily possible to believe and to affirm that delivery of food to the population of un-liberated Holland at the present time or in the near future is “impossible”. That conclusion, however, can only derive from premises expressive [Page 8] of man-made decisions. There is food, there are ships, there are airplanes, there are armed forces. There is one possible procedure at least—and there are perhaps others—by which food could be gotten into Holland. Over and over during the recent years of war there has been achieved not only the possible but also the “impossible”. In regard to each and to both of these there have had to be made at highest levels choices as between competing claims and objectives. The situation is changing constantly and decisions made at given moments come in for review from time to time as changes occur. It would be inappropriate for me to attempt to suggest at what point or in what manner a review should be made of decisions of strategy, whether military or political or both. It is my function to bring to your attention facts and to inform you regarding what seem to me to be possibilities. These two things I have attempted to do in this letter.



There would seem to be special need at this time for the maximum of considerateness on the part of the personnel of the allied governments in their contacts with and their handling of the Dutch; Holland is in danger of being submerged (in more ways than one); the Dutch nation, small in numbers at best, is in danger of being decimated; that situation poses a problem and presents a challenge to the good will, the capacity and the ingenuity of the whole community of the United Nations.

Yours respectfully,

Stanley K. Hornbeck
  1. A copy of this letter was sent by Mr. Hornbeck to the Secretary of State with the notation that the message related to matters which fell within the purview of the Secretary as well as that of the President.