Cattle for Israel – Part III

The Levinson livestock trips were known by the Israel Cattle Breeder’s Association as “Operation Cattle and Draught Animals for Israel.” Living near the Mennonite community in Denbigh, Virginia, and being acquainted with the service of Mennonite seagoing cowboys for UNRRA, it was to the Mennonites the Levinson brothers appealed to find their cattle tenders for this operation.

Mennonite seagoing cowboys to Israel, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

A February 1959 letter from the Israel Cattle Breeder’s Association to Melvin Gingerich of the Mennonite Research Foundation praises the work of these young Mennonites:

As you may know, altogether some 15 ships with 12,000 cows, heifers, and calves and some 5,000 horses and mules have been bought and shipped to Israel in the years 1950/1953.

Having been in charge together with Mr. Ben Levinson of Williamsburg, Virginia, I must say that the help, eagerness and devotion of these boys was so high; that I’m sure was a big factor in the success of my mission.

I take this occasion to express on behalf of the Members of this Association our thanks to all that took part in the Operation.

I’m sorry that I can’t give you a list of the participants, but Mr. Ben Levinson might have those lists in his files, all I can say is that at least 100 boys of your church have taken part in this Operation, and they are all very fine cowmen.

May I add that the Operation as a whole has been very successful, the milk production in Israel since has gone up from 180 million pounds to 440 million, and the average per cow yearly production went up from 8,000 pounds to 11,000.

Yours very truly,
L.E. Shmaragd, Secretary

As to the value of these trips, Fred Gingerich called it “a wonderful broadening experience.” Bob Eshleman notes, “It increased my self confidence and self worth.” For Jim Rhodes, it was his first exposure to hunger. “I saw children in Turkey chasing each other and fighting over cast aside apple cores and other food scraps,” he says. And for Kenton Brubaker, it was an “introduction to the situation in Palestine. I witnessed the destruction of Arab homes in Haifa, the tension in Jerusalem. It gave me a base of contrast for two more recent visits to Israel and Bethlehem.” And several of these cowboys cited seeing the Holy Lands and the opportunity to walk where Jesus had walked.

Virgil Stoltzfus caring for heifers en route to Israel, June 1951. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

War ruins in Haifa. Photo courtesy of Virgil Stoltzfus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Israel Cattle Breeder’s Letter from Melvin Gingerich files, Mennonite Church USA Archives. Edited.

Cattle for Israel – Part II

The S. S. Columbia Heights was one of two main ships used for the Israel program. Photo credit: Virgil Stoltzfus.

For Israel cowboys Jim Rhodes and Bob Eshleman, a first stop in Iskenderun, Turkey, in September 1952 resulted in a near military arrest. The pair rented bicycles to tour the countryside while some of their ship’s cargo was unloaded. A couple of miles outside the city, while passing what looked like a phone booth, a Turkish armed guard stepped out. The guard motioned with his gun for the pair to dismount and follow him.

“He didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Turkish,” says Rhodes. “We were taken over a hill to a Quonset hut type of building. He escorted us inside and with his rifle motioned for us to sit down.”

“It was scary!” says Eshleman.

Some time later, an official came out of an office. “He asked us in perfect English who we were, where we were from, and what we were doing,” says Rhodes. “After that, his questions continued – about baseball! He finally said he believed us, since only American boys would know that much about the National League and the pennant races.” Their interrogator kindly informed them they were trespassing in a military zone, in an area being prepared for a NATO air base. The boys were treated to a tour of the site and a good meal in the mess hall before being transported back into the city.

Their host told the boys the base was hiring civilian help and offered them jobs operating earth moving equipment. “American boys who grew up around tractors could learn to run the equipment,” he told them.

“The pay would have been quite good,” Rhodes says, “but we declined. Instead of facing a firing squad, we were treated quite well.”

After the 1,070 sheep and 256 goats on board were unloaded, the S. S. Columbia Heights took the boys on to Haifa where 317 mules, 20 cows, and 20 bulls were delivered and where they had the opportunity to tour the Holy Lands.

“Our worst detail was unloading the manure and bedding from our hold,” says Eshleman. “In the lower holds, the ammonia nearly overcame us.”

“All the manure was to be dumped overboard in the Mediterranean before heading out into the Atlantic,” Rhodes says. “We were told it enhanced the nutrients in the water which benefited the fishing industry.”

J. Harold Buckwalter’s crew on the S. S. Pass Christian Victory was given a different explanation. “The cleaning was done by hand, with pitch forks and shovel. It was loaded into canvas slings and hoisted by boom and dumped over the side of the vessel. The job must be completed before we entered the Atlantic so the booms could be secured and hatches covered. We were only several days into the Atlantic when we understood why everything had to be secured.” Buckwalter also recalls, “We were given putty knives and steel brushes to clean every corner and square inch of the area.”

On another trip of the S. S. Columbia Heights, cowboy Theron Schlabach notes that for his crew, “once the manure was out we would take up the heavy planks that served as the floorboards of the pens, lean them up against the framework, and scrub every square inch of floorboard and superstructure thoroughly with steel brushes and lye-water. The lye burned our skin. But we worked diligently.”

That diligence did not go unnoticed, as we will see in the next post.

Cattle for Israel: An additional seagoing cowboy program – Part I

Key figures in the supply of livestock for UNRRA’s shipments to Europe after WWII were two Jewish brothers, Ben and Sol Levinson, owners of the Levinson Livestock Company. With an office in Newport News, Virginia, and a 4,000-acre farm along the C&O railroad near Williamsburg, they re-purposed a 600-head feed lot for handling animals for export. Two years after UNRRA’s work ceased, the Levinson brothers were exporting again – this time to Israel. The first shipment left Newport News November 16, 1949, setting a new seagoing cowboy program in motion.

The S. S. Pass Christian Victory loads cattle for Israel in Newport News, VA, Nov. 1949. Photo credit: John R. Martin.

The Palestine News of December 2, 1949, reported the shipment’s arrival:

HAIFA, Thursday [Dec. 1]. — More milk will flow in Israel after today’s arrival of 744 milch cows, 42 calves and two bulls of Friesian stock, on the s.s. Pass Christian Victory, a ship of the U.S. Maritime Commission. This is the first consignment of cattle ordered by the Jewish Agency Agricultural Department, for building up livestock in new settlements.

Seagoing cowboy J. Harold Buckwalter notes in his diary on November 16:

They loaded no. 5 hatch first with the milk cows. We started milking first thing. Our beginning number was about 40. (We loaded 900 bred registered Holstien [sic] heifers, which were scheduled to give birth to their first calves after arrival in Israel!, but because the ship was delayed in New Orleans, before coming to Newport News, the calves began to arrive before sailing and we milked our way across the atlantic!)

First crew of seagoing cowboys for Israel livestock program, Nov. 1949. Photo credit: John R. Martin.

“We were supposed to have milking machines on board,” says Lewis Burkholder. “I went as a milker and the pay was $175.00. Some men went as feeders and their pay was $150.00.”

The extra pay hardly made up for the rigors of the job. “By the time we got to Israel we were milking eight hours a day,” Burkholder says. “Four in the morning and four in the evening.”

The crossing was a rough one. “Imagine milking cows by hand with the ship rolling from side to side and most of the cows were first lactation heifers and many of us were seasick. Our hands got very, very sore from milking so many hours. One man had brought a large bottle of liniment along, so in the evening we would rub it on our hands and then hold our hands over the light bulb at each bed.”

What did they do with so much milk? one wonders. “We were supposed to pull the milk up to the deck and dump it over the side,” Burkholder says. “We learned that some cows would drink the milk so we recycled some of it. Some cows would drink as much as ten gallons.”

Camels walking through Nazareth, Dec. 1949. Photo credit: J. Harold Buckwalter.

On arrival in Haifa, J. Harold Buckwalter recalls receiving a “Royal Welcome.” Their hard work was rewarded when the cowboys were given a two-day, all-expense-paid tour of the Holy Lands by the Israeli government. Buckwalter notes seeing “flocks of sheep along the hills,” seeing “Arabs along the roads, riding donkeys,” driving past “citrus groves and olive trees, palms and banana trees,” seeing “immigration settlements, living in tents.” They visited a Kibbutz and Holy sites in Nazareth, Jerusalem, and Mount Zion. On their own after the tour, they explored the Sea of Galilee and Tel Aviv and went up Mount Carmel for a view of Haifa at night.

John R. Martin notes, “The trip turned out to be an experience of a life time.”

(to be continued)

In Memorium

It’s time for our Fifth Friday post honoring seagoing cowboys who have recently passed from this world.

Emmel, Rev. Vernon Donald, May 5, 2017. S. S. Robert W. Hart to Poland, June 29, 1946.

Ensz, Albert, April 10, 2017. S. S. Morgantown Victory to Poland, December 11, 1945.

Yoder, John David, May 4, 2017. S. S. Woodstock Victory to Poland, June 7, 1946.

Many thanks to Leland Miller for his gift to my Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project in honor of his father Norman S. Miller, S. S. John J. Crittenden to Poland, March 6, 1946.

Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”

Leisure time on a livestock ship as seagoing cowboys return home

The pictures will tell the tale in today’s post. Once a livestock ship arrived at its destination, the seagoing cowboy’s work was finished. Unless he had an unscrupulous captain who put the cowboys to work painting or scrubbing the ship (without extra pay), a cowboy’s time was his own on the return trip. His activity was limited only by his and his crewmates’ imaginations.

Captain wants it ship shape! Photo by Dwight Farringer.

Hanging out with the laundry. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

Rumble tumble! Photo by Elmer Bowers.

Time to relax. Photo by Elmer Bowers.

Dukes up! Photo by Elmer Bowers.

Ping Pong? Are you kidding? Photo courtesy of Elmer Beachy. 

Your bid. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

Check mate? Photo by Dwight Farringer.

Catching some rays. Photo courtesy of Wayne Zook.

Keep the ball in the court! Photo courtesy of John Lohrenz.

Cooling off in a transformed gun tub. Photo courtesy of Roger Ingold.

 

Nap time.
Photo courtesy of Richard Musselman family.

Good for a Laugh

I am just finishing a three-month sequester at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to work on a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project. Today, I’ll share with you three gems I found as I was sorting through my research files that I brought with me.

1. The following is a clipping from an unidentified newspaper I found in one of Dan West’s files passed on to me by his children:

 

2. A letter included in the agenda materials for a Heifer Project Committee meeting follows:

WHAT WILL WE BE OFFERED NEXT ? ? ?

October 31, 1946

Church of the Brethren
Brethren Service Center
New Windsor, Maryland

Dear Mr. Metzler:

At the suggestion of Mr. Victor Tuda, of the N. Y. Polish Consulate’s office, I am writing to inquire if you can use a mother cat and four kittens.

I learned of an apparent need for cats in Poland and offer this fine family, hoping they may be useful.

If this offer is of interest and you can forward information as to where I may deliver them in this area, I will be obliged.

Yours very truly,

F. H. J.
604 Grove St.,
Upper Montclair, N. J.

3. And a request from the same Heifer Project Committee meeting agenda:

I just read your “Heifers for Relief” article in the July 17, 1946 Pathfinder. Who is this Dan West fellow? I wish I knew that man. I’d like to talk to him or know his address.

And about those heifers — it says $150.00. Does that mean you there will buy and get it ready to go for that money? I don’t live on a ranch or even on a farm and I don’t own a darn thing but I can get that much money if I want it. Only if I buy one of these will you let me be one of the cowboys and take it across myself? I don’t care what kind of a boat or who else goes, that’s all O.K. if you just let me go. I won’t be much trouble and can feed and take care of it. I did as a child on a farm. I’d like to take a pony too for some little boy but I realize its the cow that gives the milk.

. . . .

I can go almost at the drop of a hat, course I will pack the little red bag and make the necessary arrangements. Only strings on me. (I’m the Mother of 3 boys) but they are very nearly able to take care of themselves, and they’ll let me go. That “Ambassadors for Peace” is right down my alley. I know a lot about Peace and I’d like to see first-hand some children overthere.

Don’t say it can’t be done. I may be seasick, but honest I’ve always been able to row my own boat even when the waves are high. I’m not much — just a human being who wants to help.

I’ll send the $150.00, if I have to rob a bank if you just let me go.

Answer Please,

Marie
(Dad’s Girl)