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February 14, 2020

U.S. – Luxembourg Relations

In 1867, Luxembourg gained full independence from the Netherlands and was guaranteed perpetual neutrality by European powers. The United States established diplomatic relations with Luxembourg in 1903. Luxembourg was occupied by Germany in World War I and World War II, and was liberated by forces that included U.S. troops.

Luxembourg is a longstanding ally of the United States. The friendship between the two countries is strengthened by a shared commitment to advancing freedom and prosperity. Luxembourg has long been a prominent supporter of European political and economic integration. It is a charter member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and is one of the founding members of what became the European Union (EU).

The Residence of the U.S. Embassy

The history of the American Ambassador’s residence in Luxembourg City reflects the history of the Grand Duchy in the 20th century and the evolution of diplomatic relations with the United States.  This residence has been witness to the occupation, liberation, and – especially since 1944 – a strong and ever-growing partnership.

In 1922 Alfred Lefevre and his wife Albertine Reckinger purchased a parcel of land at 22 boulevard Emmanuel Servais where they built a Maison de maître – a grand family house designed by the Luxembourgian architect Gust Schopen.  The house and its style reflected the wealth and influence of Luxembourg’s steel industry, centered in Esch-Sur-Alzette.  The Lefevre family, however, never lived in their new estate; instead, in 1929, they sold it to the Government of Germany for use as its embassy.

At 4:35 on the morning of May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded neutral Luxembourg and within hours annexed the entire country.  Shortly thereafter, Adolf Hitler installed Gustaf Simon as gauleiter (governor).  Simon, a friend of SS commander Heinrich Himmler, became reviled by Luxembourgers for his zealous efforts to violently eradicate their nationhood, language, and culture.  During the German occupation, the residence played host to numerous Nazi officials.  The German composer Richard Strauss also stayed at the residence.

On September 10, 1944, the U.S. Army liberated Luxembourg City and used the residence to quarter soldiers.  These soldiers were not to get much of a respite.  On December 16, 1944, Nazi Germany launched a massive counteroffensive resulting in what Americans call the Battle of the Bulge and Luxembourgers La Bataille des Ardennes.  This battle, fought in Luxembourg and Belgium, resulting in a Nazi defeat in what was one of the last major battles of the war.

Only days after the Battle of the Bulge ended on January 25, 1945, the U.S. re-established its diplomatic presence in Luxembourg with the return of George Platt Waller, the American Chargé d’Affaires to Luxembourg who had been forced out by the Nazi invasion in 1940.

On June 24, 1948, Chargé Waller, shortly before he departed Luxembourg permanently, signed the documents sealing the purchase of the estate for the United States from the Government of Luxembourg for $155,000 ($1.3 million today).  Interestingly, the money used to buy the estate was provided by the Kingdom of Belgium as part of its repayment to the U.S. under the lend-lease program.  The Government of Luxembourg went on to use this money to repair houses damaged during the war.

The residence has been home to many prominent Americans, all privileged to serve as American envoys and ambassadors to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.  Among them was Perle Mesta, the illustrious socialite and the first American envoy to reside in the residence; Patricia Roberts Harris, the first African-American woman to be an American ambassador; and the native-born Luxembourger, John Dolibois.