The Upper Silesian Museum and the Heifer Project

Last week, my desire to visit a museum exhibition in Germany to which I had contributed came to fruition. And what a wonderful visit it was!

The Upper Silesian State Museum in Ratingen, Germany. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

The Upper Silesian State Museum in Ratingen, Germany. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Off the beaten tourist path, in the northwestern German state of North Rhine-Westfalia (NRW), is a lovely museum that lifts up the history of the Upper Silesian people, a people with a strong tie to this region. When King Frederick the Great took control of Silesia in the 1700s, an area that includes a piece of northern Czech Republic and southern Poland, he invited coal miners from the NRW area to come and help develop the rich resources of Silesia. Much cross fertilization took place between these two areas. So when Silesians of German heritage were forced from their homes following World War II, it was to the NRW that many of them fled. Some thirty years later, many of these Upper Silesians began to pool together documents and artifacts of their history, and the Oberschlesiches Landesmuseum, now run by the NRW state, is the result.

Panels showing the assistance of UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys, and the Heifer Project to Silesia following World War II. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Panels showing the assistance of UNRRA, the seagoing cowboys, and the Heifer Project to Silesia following World War II. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Since December 6, 2015, the museum has been featuring an exhibition titled “For Body and Soul: the Culture of Food and Drink.” The museum ends with a display focusing on “Food in Times of Crisis,” and it is to this portion of the exhibition that I have contributed materials. When the exhibit was extended to February 19 of this year, I grabbed the opportunity to travel to Germany and see it for myself.

Curator Melanie Mehring describes the difficulties of food in times of flooding and war. Photo: Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka

Curator Melanie Mehring describes the difficulties of food in times of flooding and war. Photo: Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka

As with most of Europe, Upper Silesia bore the impact of World War II. With the loss of farm animals and crops, feeding the populace became a challenge. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration came to the aid of Czechoslovakia and Poland, delivering not only livestock, but staple goods, as well. Two of the UNRRA shipments to Czechoslovakia included Heifer Project animals to be given to the neediest of farmers, and some of these animals were placed in Silesia. When the museum curator did an internet search on “UNRRA,” she found my website and contacted me to see if I might have materials to share with them. I pulled together what I had, and Heifer International gave permission for the use of some of their materials, as well. What a joy to see the beautifully assembled display in person!

Michael Ullrich reads the letter of thank from the Gallus family of Silesia for their heifer from the Heifer Project. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Michael Ullrich reads the letter of thanks from the Gallus family of Silesia for their heifer from the Heifer Project. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

The exhibit features the loading of the animals in the United States, the care of the animals by the seagoing cowboys on the journey across the Atlantic, and the arrival of the seagoing cowboys in the devastated port cities of Nowy Port, Poland, and Bremen, Germany. From Bremen, the animals were shipped overland to Czechoslovakia and distributed to farmers selected by local committees. A thank you letter from a Silesian family who lost all their buildings and animals highlights the significance of these gifts of heifers. The letter ends:

Courtesy of Heifer International.

Courtesy of Heifer International.

Dear friends from America, we thank you for all you have done and still want to do for us in our war-torn Silesia. Especially, my family and I thank you for the rich gift of my only heifer, which brings us great joy. You have done a good deed that not only we, but also our children, will long hold in our memory.

Accompanying me to the museum was Michael Ullrich of Bremen, Germany, whom Heifer International has contracted to write a booklet about the shipments of the Heifer Project to Germany in the 1950s. The heifers were given mainly to people of farm background who had been expelled from Eastern European countries after the war. Mr. Ullrich is interviewing as many of them as he can find, and I’m looking forward to his book! Many resettled Silesians were among the Heifer Project recipients, some of whom I met and interviewed in 2013. This museum visit brought the story full circle for me – “food for body and soul” for me, as well.

Melanie Mehring and Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka gave me a delightful tour around Düsseldorf on my arrival. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Melanie Mehring and Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka gave me a delightful tour around Düsseldorf, capital of NRW, on my arrival. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller

Immense thanks to the two lovely young women who facilitated our visit: museum education director Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka and museum curator Melanie Mehring! Your passion for your work shines through! May we meet again!

UNRRA expresses gratitude for Heifer Project

The work of the Heifer Project following World War II did not go unnoticed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. A letter to the Heifer Project Committee from UNRRA’s Director General was published 70 years ago this week in the January 11, 1947, Gospel Messenger of the Church of the Brethren:

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND REHABILITATION ADMINISTRATION
1344 CONNECTICUT AVENUE
WASHINGTON 25, D. C.

November 26, 1946

Heifer Project Committee
New Windsor, Md.
Dear Mr. Bushong:
I am informed that your organization, the heifer-project committee of the Brethren Service Committee, has assembled a boatload of heifers which you will contribute to UNRRA for shipment from New Orleans to China in December. This will be the first boat of cattle to go to China, and is one of the most important gifts that UNRRA has received. Thousands of the cattle you have donated are now in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy and Poland helping the farmers there to restore their war-torn lands and feed the populations—rural and urban—of these countries which lost 50% of their livestock in the war. The artificial insemination program in Greece, set up by UNRRA with your assistance, has materially helped to improve the depleted breeding stock of that suffering country.
The fine spirit of practical Christianity and the faith that your group has shown are examples to us all in these days when, without faith, we cannot progress. Your movement, beginning modestly as it did, has spread its spirit and its work. Transcending barriers of nationality and religious conviction, it has drawn to itself members of many denominations, and illustrated what can be accomplished when conviction and efficient enterprise and fine Christian generosity are combined.
I understand that your organization has decided to continue its work for two years after UNRRA ceases. This is further exemplification of its validity. May I congratulate and thank you in the name of those we have all been trying to help and wish you every success in the future.
Sincerely yours,
F. H. La Guardia
Director General

Yet further exemplification of the Heifer Project’s validity is that it continues today as Heifer International. The organization was set in motion 75 years ago this week, as recorded in the January 10, 1942, minutes of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana Men’s Work Cabinet: “The Cabinet decided to support Dan West’s Calf Project. Dan West is to give more information at our April meeting.”

The shipment to China to which Mr. La Guardia refers left New Orleans November 19, 1946, on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory carrying 723 Heifer Project cattle and 32 seagoing cowboys. Watch for stories from this memorable trip in upcoming posts.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Meeting Heifer Recipients in Poland, Part I–Suchy Dab, 1945

This post begins a series of three stories about meeting Heifer Project and UNRRA recipients in Poland. Our first story takes us all the way back to November 1945 and the UNRRA and Heifer Project trip of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias, just seven months after fighting ceased in Europe. This was the third shipment to Poland made by UNRRA and the first by the Heifer Project .

The S. S. Santiago Iglesias awaits loading in Baltimore, MD, November 1945

The S. S. Santiago Iglesias awaits loading in Baltimore, MD, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Clifton Crouse family.

The ship left Baltimore Nov 19, 1945, with 150 Heifer Project animals on board and another 225 UNRRA heifers. The S. S. Santiago Iglesias docked in Nowy Port, Poland, outside of Gdansk. The sights that met the seagoing cowboys when they arrived were ones of utter devastation. The war had left Gdansk and the surrounding area in ruins. And the cowboys, their work being finished, were free to explore.

The village of Suchy Dab gave a warm welcome to the seagoing cowboys they thought had delivered their animals. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

The village of Suchy Dab gave a warm welcome to the seagoing cowboys they thought had delivered their animals. Photo courtesy of Heifer International. (An UNRRA photo, I believe.)

The Heifer Project animals were unloaded and distributed in the village of Suchy Dab, some 20 miles outside the city, to pre-selected farmers who had no cow. The village put on a celebration to thank the cowboys for bringing them these heifers.

One of the cowboy leaders for this trip of the S. S. Santiago Iglesias was L. W. Shultz, who was the administrator of Camp Alexander Mack (IN) and first chairman of the Brethren Service Committee. Church of the Brethren pastor Ross Noffsinger was a cowboy crew leader on another ship carrying only UNRRA animals, the S. S. Mexican, which left Baltimore for Poland three days before the Santiago Iglesias. So these two ships were both docked in Nowy Port at the same time.

L. W. Shultz with his guide in Warsaw, where he delivered a check from the city of Warsaw, Indiana, to the mayor of Warsaw, Poland. Photo courtesy of the family of L. W. Shultz.

L. W. Shultz with his guide in Warsaw, where he delivered a check from the city of Warsaw, Indiana, to the mayor of Warsaw, Poland. Photo courtesy of the family of L. W. Shultz.

When the truck came to pick up the cowboy crew from the Santiago Iglesias to take them to Suchy Dab for this celebration, L. W. Shultz was away from the ship tending to business in Warsaw; and somehow it happened that the crew of the S.S. Mexican, which had not delivered any Heifer Project animals, got picked up instead of L.W.’s crew. This mistake led to a memorable event for S. S. Mexican cowboy Al Guyer, who was the very first seagoing cowboy that I interviewed, in February 2002. He recalls:

It was over Thanksgiving time, and it was starting to get pretty cold, but they took all the cattlemen out to the country where the cows were given to the farmers, and the farmers had us all together in a great big community building, I guess it was, where they had a banquet for us. And the banquet consisted of some dry fish and little round cakes of some kind, and some brown bread, I think they had, and some vodka. And then they had the children there, and they sang to us. And, oh, how they expressed their real joy in receiving the animals! And then they had kind of a service of friendship where they used salt and bread, and they gave speeches, and there was an interpreter, and our leader, Ross Noffsinger, responded. Of course, it was all done in Polish, and I don’t remember the words to it, except I knew it was an expression of their friendship and thanks for the animals.

The crew of the S. S. Mexican, November 1945.

The crew of the S. S. Mexican, November 1945. Photo courtesy of Clarence Reeser.

And so it was that this crew of the S. S. Mexican received the ceremony of bread and salt, the Polish traditional expression of hospitality, that was intended for the Santiago Iglesias crew. You can imagine L. W. Shultz’s response when he returned to his ship and found out his crew had not been the one taken for the celebration! He quickly arranged for a second celebration for his crew.

Knowing all this history, this town was on my list of places I wanted to find when I traveled to Poland in 2013. More about that in Part II.

Germany now paying forward assistance received after WWII

Beginning in 1949, the destination of many seagoing cowboys was West Germany. That year, the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) began shipments to Germany that would continue until 1961. Unlike the UNRRA cowboys who preceded them, the cowboys serving the Heifer Project, which continued on after UNRRA disbanded, were able to be present for the distribution of their heifers.

A farmer draws his number from a hat during a 1952 distribution ceremony. Photo courtesy of David Brightbill.

A farmer draws his number from a hat during a 1952 distribution ceremony. Photo courtesy of David Brightbill.

For cowboys like O. J. Warford, this was the highlight of their trip. He wrote:

We were very fortunate to be at Friedland Germany when a train load of 500 Refugees from Poland or Hungary came in and marched into the camp. All their possessions were in their hand. Then to follow up with our distribution services was the climax.

Those receiving the number from the hat would rush out and find the heifer with the same number and hug and kiss her and say this is mine. Then they would try their best to express their appreciation to America.

At the end of World War II, people of German heritage living in Eastern European countries were sent back to Germany, no matter how many generations they had been living in those countries. West Germany had to absorb some ten to twelve million of these refugees – a tall order for any country, let alone one whose major cities were crumbled by bombs. By Jan 1955, over ten million (21.8%) of Germany’s population of 49,526,300 were refugees, with 48,930 of them being resettled farmers. It was to these destitute farmers, who arrived with little more than they could carry, that the Heifer Project focused their gifts of heifers.

This German refugee family proudly poses with their heifer. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

This German refugee family proudly pose with their heifer. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

Here’s one refugee’s story from a translated letter to the donor of his heifer dated September 24, 1952, that I found in the Heifer archives. He had lived in Pomerania before the war:

I personally had to join the war as a soldier. I was fighting at the Eastern front. By cause of the after effects of the war my family had to leave home and land in 1945. Our farm had a size of 70 Morgen. My wife and children, as well as my parents and parents-in-law were able to take refuge from the Russians in 1945 and crossed the Oder River near Pasewald. From this place they had to escape again. However, in April of 1945 my family was caught up by the eastern front near Rostock. They fell into the hands of the Russians. And then my wife together with my three children, aged 5, 3½, and 1 as well as my mother and my mother-in-law were killed after preceding violations. Only the ashes was left. My father and father-in-law who could escape again were witnesses of these cruel acts. I myself was in prisoner of warship. When I was released and seeked after my family I only found my father and father-in-law – all other family members were not living any more. I was deeply shocked and needed a long time to regain new strength in order to begin with the daily struggle for existence.

I had the great will to rebuild after all this grief. So in June of 1951 I succeeded to receive this farm with 8 Morgen of land which meant a new start for me.

In this beginning I had to found a family again and married a war-widow with a 12-year-old daughter. Both of us are hard-proven people. In April of 1952 we got another little daughter named Rosemarie. She is our sunshine. She is so very fond of the milk from our heifer and often I take her into the stable and then with her little hands she caresses the dear animal that gives her the milk.

Today, Germany, a country with a corporate memory of their own refugee status after World War II, has opened its doors to the Syrian refugees pouring into Europe, paying forward the assistance Germany herself received from such organizations as the Heifer Project and the Marshall Plan. Eastern Mennonite Missions is seeking relief funds for these refugees. You can read about it and donate here.