Gratitude from Silesian Heifer Project recipients

During this Thanksgiving weekend, it is fitting to share expressions of gratitude from early recipients of heifers delivered by the seagoing cowboys. This post takes us to war-devastated Czechoslovakian Silesia in 1946 and comes from a bundle of thank you letters sent to the Brethren Service Committee and the Heifer Project.

A December 23, 1946, letter from the Czech Child Welfare Foundation Vojtechov in Brno gives us an overview:
“The cows donated by the Church of the Brethren are rendering excellent service and are helping by their precious product to restore great numbers of our citizens who contracted tuberculosis and other diseases during the war, either in concentration camps, prisons or through deprivations and malnutrition. Your assistance shall never be forgotten. Thousands and thousands of people are helped by your gifts and are sincerely grateful to you.”

Frank Vojkuvka: “I didn’t have any milk for the children and the entire family suffered from under nourishment. Heartiest thanks for the donated cow.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From the Evangelical Parish orphanage in Trinec near Tesinsko, June 19, 1946:
“Toward the end of the war our orphanage invaded by the German armada was completely damaged. They left us merely empty iron beds and even those were damaged. Many orphans whose parents were killed in Concentration camps of Germany came to us. . . . We had a big holiday when we brought the cow home. No one could believe that it was given to us free.”

Kosarova Frantiska: Your fine cow means for us and especially for our 2 girls 5-1/2 and 1-1/2 y. so much easing our food supply. Since we have enough milk again we are all healthier.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Elizabeth Moravcova, Bolatice, June 20, 1046:
“My house was so damaged by bombing that it couldn’t be lived in. It was shot at by artillery from three sides. And you can imagine the crumbling and shattering caused by explosions in town. The furniture which I bought just before the war with money I painstakingly gathered was all gone. Our clothes and shoes were confiscated by the occupying army. And that was the way with kitchen equipment and other things in the home. So, after the war we are starting anew. I am beginning alone because until now my husband has not been reported. I am alone with two children – a 5 year old and a three year old boy, also an elderly mother. So I must work hard all week and have the children help me.
“If you can imagine the situation you will know how grateful I am for this gift. It means for me the greatest means of livelihood. It has become a member of our family. I thank you once again dear friends most heartily for this precious gift and believe me that we will think of you the rest of our lives and be grateful. May you live there over the sea happily and may God bless you.”

Kosarova Frantiska: “The wounds of warfare are healing gradually for us, especially as we are so fortunate to have such generous friends.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

From Anna Dostalova in Stepankovice, April 14, 1946:
“The war was bad and brought much evil to us. It razed our buildings, killed livestock and nothing was left except our ravaged home and six hungry children. The youngest became ill and died. He was longing for milk at that time to which the children have been accustomed. So when the cow arrived there was much happiness. Five eager children jumped about me and the cow. When I brought the first milk they stood around with their little pots each one eager to taste the milk from America. It has a wonderful flavor. The cow is now well settled and feeds well. For your goodness, I thank you again!

A note from Family Kysuconova: “Grandmother, parents and 3 children are thanking most heartily for the generous gift of a fine cow given to them. This cow is their saviour from starvation.” Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

And lastly, from Frantisek Martinik of Poruba, undated:
“The help given me by this gift [of a cow] is immense. . . . The friendly and sacrificial attitude of the selfless Americans in help to the Silesian people is proving that there are still good people in the World despite of the hatred in Warfare and that Love didn’t die and never will in human hearts.
“This truth and by deeds proved Love is warming and strengthening our spirit and gives us courage to rebuild our homes and reconstruct our beloved but war torn country of Silesia.
“The Lords providence may reward your magnificent deeds, we shall never forget what you have done for us.”

Heifer International continues this great work. Giving Tuesday is coming up! Consider a gift to Heifer in gratitude for all we have been given.

Advertisements

Good Will and Gratitude

In this year’s political climate, it’s easy to be overcome with the vitriol that’s been spewing all around us. Thanksgiving is a great time to stop and take stock of how a little good will can go a long way in healing wounds and generating gratitude. On September 19, 1957, Rosa Welti received a heifer sent to her in Germany by the Trinity Evangelical & Reformed Church of Allentown, Pennsylvania, through the Heifer Project. I share some excerpts from her letter of thanks sent to the congregation, translated by John R. Lovell.

To my dear, honored benefactor:

Today I want to thank you most sincerely for the great joy you gave me. For thirteen long years I could only wish that I might own my own cow. Today this wish was fulfilled. The children can again drink as much milk as they wish. God has not forgotten the homeless, for there are people who still recognize Christian charity. . . .

I want to give you a brief report about myself. It is not pleasant. Thirteen years ago the Russians dragged my husband away and he died of starvation in the coal pits of Tchistakova. I had to leave our home with three children and was sent to a Refugee Camp. We did not know what it was to have enough to eat for a long, long time, we hungered and starved. It was work day and night, and troubles were always present. Now after long, hard years God has helped us. I have been able to create a home in our new surrounding by hard work and many privations. I myself have built the house that you see in the photograph. And now I have received once more my own cow. I again thank you sincerely for it and I pray that God shall reward you for it.

With heart-felt greetings, I remain,
Thankfully yours
Mrs. Rosa Welti and children
Altshausen, Germany

Rosa Welti and her beloved heifer. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

Rosa Welti and her beloved heifer. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

I give my gratitude to blog reader Joanna Hall, daughter of the Trinity E&R Church pastor, Clarence Moatz, for her good will in sharing this letter and photos with me after reading a previous post about shipments to Germany. The Trinity congregation donated several heifers to the Heifer Project. Pastor Moatz also served as a seagoing cowboy to Germany in 1955 and later served as Vice Chairman of the Heifer Project Board of Directors.

What good will can you spread today?

Seagoing cowboys Nicholas Rahn, Clarence Moatz, Harry Colver, and Lloyd Sandt with a heifer for their ship, the S. S. American Importer, September 29, 1955. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

Seagoing cowboys Elder Nicholas Rahn, Rev. Clarence Moatz, Rev. Harry Colver, and Rev. Lloyd Sandt with a heifer for their ship, the S. S. American Importer, September 29, 1955. Photo courtesy of Joanna Hall.

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.

Thank you, Seagoing Cowboys!

At this time of Thanksgiving, I have much to be thankful for as relates to my work:

First of all, I’m thankful for a supportive husband and family who give me the space and the grace to follow my passion of telling the seagoing cowboy story.

I’m grateful for the tremendous team at Brethren Press who have been hard at work with me to create our upcoming picture book The Seagoing Cowboy to be released in March. Illustrations by Claire Ewart bring the story to life in a “beautifully vivid” way, to quote my publisher, Wendy McFadden. Watch for the “cover reveal” soon.

I’m thankful for and excited about the increasing interest overseas in the seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project stories. I’m working with the Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum in Ratingen, Germany, on an upcoming exhibit that will include a display of the seagoing cowboys and Heifer Project shipments to Silesia after World War II. I’ll share more about that at a later date. And I’m working with Jouko Moisala from Finland on a display related to a famous shipwreck in December 1947 off the coast there involving one of the livestock ships, the SS Park Victory, after it ceased to be used for animals. There will be a 70th anniversary commemoration of this shipwreck in 2017 in which the history of this ship will be displayed. So many good things happening!

And most of all, I’m especially thankful for the many seagoing cowboys who have so graciously shared their stories, their photos, their diaries, and other materials with me. Their stories have been compelling enough to keep me busy for nearly fourteen years now. And what they have given to me enables me to share this fascinating history with the world. They carry a great legacy which is summed up in these lines from a 1946 ad in the Ephrata Review:

Men of good moral and ethical ideals who will conduct themselves in a manner which will be a tribute to their country and the program of which they are a part will be welcomed and respected by the people of Europe. It is felt that by learning to know these people and understanding their problems that the “cowboys” will become more valuable citizens to the country and the world.

And so they have.

The Heifer Foundation has set up a Cowboy Endowment that will help to support the work of Heifer International and honor the seagoing cowboys in the process. I invite you to join me in giving thanks for the service of these men by making today a day of “Thanks” and “Giving.” Learn more here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Two More Seagoing Cowboy Thanksgiving Stories

November 28, 1946, was a memorable Thanksgiving day for two seagoing cowboy crews.

Story #1:

In November 1946, three weeks into what would turn out to be a five-month trip, the SS Carroll Victory had unloaded its cargo of horses in Kavalla, Greece. Expecting to head home, the cowboys were surprised to be sent on to South Africa to pick up another load of horses. On its way, the ship docked in Haifa, Palestine, the day before Thanksgiving. Harold Jennings tells us in his diary,

We hired a truck for $4.00 round trip to Jerusalem – 27 fellows took the trip in spite of warnings from British soldiers of terrorists and the curfew, besides the roads being mined. Fortunately we were stopped only once by police and our coffee stop besides all rest stops. We arrived in Jerusalem about 5:00 a.m. [Thanksgiving Day].

 

Touring Palestine

SS Carroll Victory crew climb aboard their rented truck to tour Palestine. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

The crew spent the day touring Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, driving past Bedouin tent settlements and a Jewish kibbutz.

Jesus birthplace

Altar in Bethlehem built in the place where the manger in which Jesus was born was believed to have been. The star on the floor marks the spot. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

Jerusalem gate

New gate to Old Jerusalem. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Nazareth

Road into Nazareth. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

Bedouins

Bedouin settlement. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

Girls at work at Kibbutz

Girls working at Yagur Kibbutz near Haifa. Photo courtesy Charles Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charlie Lord summed up the day in a letter to his wife that evening: “Today was a page from a fairy book.”

Story #2:

While the SS Carroll Victory was sailing contentedly across the Atlantic that early November for its first stop in Greece, another ship met a different fate. The SS Occidental Victory carried a split cargo, with 193 horses on the top deck and 6,000 tons of sugar and 2500 tons of beef below. A mere eight seagoing cowboys and one veterinarian were required for this shipment. After unloading the horses in Poland, the men enjoyed the opportunity to explore the ports of Turku and Helsinki, Finland, where the sugar and beef were unloaded.

Turku, FInland

Seagoing cowboys Norm Weber and Dick Jantzen on right with Finnish guide outside a Turku art museum. Photo courtesy Norman Weber.

At Tsar's summer home.

Vaino Aksanen and his sons take Norm Weber (right) and friends to the 1884 summer home of the Tsar of Russia near Kotka. Photo courtesy Norman Weber.

After more days in Kotka, Finland, to pick up paper pulp for ballast, the ship finally headed home. Cowboy Norman Weber recorded in his journal on Nov. 7,

This morning, good and early, we pulled out of Kotka….We’re beginning to hope to get home by the beginning of December.

About 1:30 P.M. we were sailing along smoothly, when suddenly our ship struck a rock. She jumped and hit again. It was a strange feeling, our great ship jumping like that….

Immediately the deck crew were busy opening the hatches and looking for water coming in. The great ship started listing, and there was much oil on the surface of the water.

The Occidental Victory was soon dubbed the Accidental Victory by the cowboys. She had hit a hidden rock and ripped open the bottom of the ship in two holds, puncturing the oil tanks. Weber explains,

The Victory ships have a double bottom, and in between are the oil tanks. Had this been a Liberty she would likely have sunk, but the second bottom seems to hold her afloat.

The ship slowly made its way back into Helsinki where it was inspected and deemed seaworthy enough to head on to Stockholm for repairs.

On November 28, Cowboy John Wesley Clay wrote in a daily account that he printed up and gave his fellow cowboys at the end of their voyage,

This is Thanksgiving day, and to the eight cowboys it has been the most significant Thanksgiving day we have ever spent. We limped into Stockholm [Monday], eighteen days after striking the rocks in the Gulf of Finland, and it was glorious to set foot on land again.

Our food supply had been almost completely exhausted, and we were approaching a desperate situation, but in Stockholm we found another American ship who divided supplies with us, so today we had a real American Thanksgiving, with plenty of turkey and all the fixings. We were thankful to the depths of our hearts.

***

Next post: Christmas for the Occidental Victory crew

Thanksgiving at Sea: Two Cowboys, Two Outcomes

Seagoing Cowboys eat well on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner for the SS William S. Halsted crew. Source: Ray Zook album.

 

Nov. 28, 1946

Thanksgiving day at sea. Time changed again. Saw the most beautiful sunrise I ever saw….We hoist more hay for foredeck and then the dinner. Too much turkey, trimmings, 4 kinds of pie, ice cream & all. Didn’t eat any supper, had my orange, apple & nuts left from dinner & ate a candy bar….

Willard Sellers’ diary entry, SS William S. Halsted on the Atlantic Ocean en route to Poland

 

Nov. 28, 1946

This is Thanksgiving day. Sure feel bad. Can’t eat. Forced myself to eat and then vomited. Feel a little better. Went to bed early. Slept fairly well.”

Ernest Hoover’s diary entry, SS. Beloit Victory, one day out of Newport News en route to Poland

 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! May your dinner sit well with you.

Tomorrow: Two more Cowboy Thanksgiving stories