Heifer Project helps Italian families recover from World War II

The need for heifers for war-battered Italy came onto Heifer Project founder Dan West’s radar in August 1944 from an unexpected source – Angelo P. Lucia. Lucia was serving in the U. S. Army in Naples, Italy, at the time, assigned to the Monuments Men program  of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies. He had read the article “A Down-to-Earth Project” about Heifer Project’s inaugural shipment to Puerto Rico in the July 24, 1944, Time Magazine. Lucia wrote:

…I was very much interested in your very commendable project of raising and sending heifers to Post-War Europe.

I am writing this letter with a hope that I may be of some help to you in establishing contact with the Commissioner of the Confederation of Agriculture in Italy….He was most happy to hear of your project….

One of the most pressing problems here as you surmised is the shortage of milk for the little children and the lack of meat and fats of any kind, for what domestic animals were not killed in the fighting were taken away by the enemy. Your plan brings a bright ray of hope on a very dark horizon.

West responded with a list of questions for the Commissioner, starting a process of exploration by many people on both sides of the ocean as to how to achieve their goal. Nearly two years later, the first of eight shipments of dairy cattle for Italy crossed the Atlantic on the UNRRA ship S. S. Cyrus W. Field, arriving in Naples July 1, 1946. The cattle were offloaded into National Committee for the Distribution of Relief in Italy (ENDSI) trucks and taken about 50 kilometers to a large farm where the animals could rest and acclimate.

ENDSI trucks lined up to load cattle from a later shipment to take them to the holding farm. Naples, Italy, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

“Cheers greeted the animals at the dock, and along the busy streets of Naples as they passed by truck on their way to the rest farm where they are temporarily quartered,” says an UNRRA press release. 

Seagoing cowboy Aaron Haldeman and Italian truck driver await loading to go to holding farm, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

An unnamed source reporting on the Italian program several years later says,

It was my privilege to have assisted in the distribution of these cows in Italy, and to have visited more than a hundred of them in their new homes.

Approximately eighty-five percent of the heifers have been given to small farmers who had one or two milk cows before the war. The provinces into which the animals are sent are determined by the Ministry of Agriculture, based upon the percentage of the livestock which was lost due to the war. Within the province a committee composed of government officials and farmers selects from the applications those people who will receive the cows designated for that province.

The remaining fifteen percent are given to institutions, chiefly orphanages and homes for the aged. A small number now is given to the owners of the distribution farm at which all the cows are kept for the first four to eight weeks after arrival in Naples. The dairy herd of this farm was also taken by the occupying armies.

Unloading the heifers at the Societa Ciria, the holding farm where they would rest before distribution, March 1947. Photo courtesy of Aaron Haldeman.

Heifer Project’s signature “passing on the gift” requirement was in place for these shipments, as noted in an Italian news article: “To ensure continuity, the farmer who receives a heifer has to undertake to present to ENDSI’s provincial committee, the first born female calf when it is six months old, and this calf in turn is assigned to another farmer on similar conditions.”

Through 1948, 1,531 heifers and 30 bulls were distributed by the Heifer Project in Italy. Their value is summed up in a thank you letter from recipient Luigi di Giorgio of Pignataro Interamna to his donor:

I would never in my life have expected such a thing in this region so destroyed by the war – such a wonderful gift – and I assure you that I and all my family will always hold a kind memory of you and will always keep you present in our prayers. With the devastation of the war I have become poor, but now that I possess this fine cow I feel myself restored again because the plentiful milk which this cow gives me is real ‘balm’ to my family.

 

Heifer Project worker John Eberly visits an Italian recipient family. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

Heifer Project worker John Eberly looks on while a recipient milks her cow. Photo courtesy of Brethren Historical Library and Archives.

3 thoughts on “Heifer Project helps Italian families recover from World War II

  1. So glad to read this additional account of Seagoing Cowboys! We first learned of the early Heifer Project by reading The Gospel Messenger as youngsters in the Church of the Brethren, knowing that the generosity and kindness made a difference toward peace and justice in countries so torn up in the war. Thank you, Peggy Reiff Miller, for posting the photos and stories we long to hear!

    G. Luanne Steiner

    Liked by 2 people

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