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Lot 101

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Herbert Hoover TLS to Polish Prime Minister Re: "Jewish incident at Pinsk"

An intriguing pair of documents relating to the Pinsk Massacre, including a typed letter signed by future 31st U.S. President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964).

The lot is comprised of two retained copies of a typed letter sent to Polish Prime Minister Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) from Hoover's headquarters in Paris, France on April 15, 1919. The typed letter on carbon paper is signed by Herbert Hoover as "Herbert Hoover" at right center, while the typed letter on laid watermarked paper is signed by him in print. The signed letter has some minor chipped edges, corner wrinkles, and paper clip impressions, else very good to near fine. A paper clip impression, rusted verso, appears along the top of the letter signed in print, else near fine. Both copies measure approximately 8.25" x 10.625."

Herbert Hoover was in Europe supervising postwar relief and food distribution under the auspices of the American Relief Association. (During World War I, Hoover had gained experience serving as the director of the U.S. Food Administration.) Ignacy Jan Paderewski, a former world-famous concert pianist, was a few months into his 11-month-long term as Prime Minister of Poland.

The topic of Hoover's letter was a disturbing incident which had occurred on April 5, 1919 at Pinsk, in modern day Belarus, when thirty-five Jewish residents of the city were executed by a Polish Army firing squad without trial. Though Prime Minister Paderewski downplayed the incident, it was almost immediately viewed by the world community as a Jewish pogrom and a war atrocity.

Hoover wrote in part:

"I am greatly obliged for your letter with regard to the Jewish incident at Pinsk. In view, however, of the fact that representatives of the American Jewish Committee were in Pinsk that day … believ[ing] an entirely different version of this matter from that which has been related to you, you will comprehend that it may develop into a serious embarrassment to all of us in connection with the relief of Poland.

… it would certainly be of utmost assistance to me … if the Polish Government would itself appoint a commission … to make a complete and vigorous investigation of the entire incident; and I have the feeling that the announcement that such a commission will be appointed … will go far toward establishing confidence in the United States that the Polish Government would deal with the utmost fairness with whole Jewish question …"

The executed men had been accused of being Bolshevik sympathizers of the Soviet Union, then a belligerent nation in the Polish-Soviet War (February 1919 - October 1920.) The war was precipitated by Poland's desire to extend its territorial borders into western Ukraine and modern day Belarus; while the Soviet Union wanted to relieve pressures exerted by Allied involvement in the Russian Civil War and also galvanize Communist movements in central Europe. Hoover's food aid was actually at the crux of the Pinsk Massacre, since the executed men were reportedly meeting to discuss how to distribute aid when they were rounded up as dissidents and shot.

Poland eventually bowed to international pressure. After the Pinsk Massacre became an embarrassing talking point at the Versailles Conference, the Polish Government requested that an impartial investigation be conducted by Jewish-American diplomat Henry Morgenthau, Sr. The eponymous report, released in October 1919, revealed that the Pinsk Massacre was just one of many instances of Polish persecution of its Jewish citizens.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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