The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part III

One of the fascinating realities about the seagoing cowboy trips that has kept me so engrossed for the past sixteen years is that every cowboy’s experience is uniquely his. Thus, for every group of 25 cowboys, there are 25 stories! Today, I share seagoing cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman’s experience exploring the port area of Poland.

Seagoing cowboys from the S. S. Park Victory explore Gdansk, Poland, January 1946. Photo courtesy of Velma Hoffman.

As soon as the Park Victory docked the afternoon of January 11, interaction began with the guards and officials who came on board. For Hoffman, and most cowboys, the conversations painted a picture of postwar reality. One Polish guard bought cigarettes, Hoffman notes in his diary, which were the favored black market currency. Another “told of Russians coming to his house. Took his valuables. Wanted his wife. He couldn’t understand them. He told them she had T.B. They took 14 yr. old girl, kept her 5 days. Raped her 51 times. Brought her back, said she was drunk, is still sick, has syllphis [sic].”

Even though docked in port, there was still work to do feeding and watering the animals until unloading began the next morning. “Would unload at night,” Hoffman notes, “but [there is] fear of high jacking at night on way to stock yards.”

Unloading a horse in the “flying stall” at Nowy Port, Poland. January 1946. Photo credit: Will Keller.

Livestock received the UNRRA brand to protect from theft. Photo credit: Will Keller.

“Many [cowboys and crew] went from ship in evening to Bars. 4 crew had anti machine guns pulled on them by Russians. Very frequently hear shots. Open season on Poles as well as Russians.”

“A German dock worker lived in N.Y. 9 yrs.,” Hoffman notes. “Came to see mother. All clothes he owned (he) had on. Sold overcoat for food.”

One of the locations UNRRA livestock were gathered. Photo courtesy of Velma Hoffman.

The fourth day in port, as they did for many of the livestock crews, UNRRA took a group of the Park Victory men on a tour of the area. “Went to a camp where the Germans built stables and barracks,” Hoffman says. “Had a lot of UNRRA stock there. Saw a lot of our mares and heifers.” Later they were taken “to a little settlement of several families. Had horses, cows, hogs, rabbits. They were so appreciative of their stock.”

The UNRRA tours usually ended with a generous thank you dinner for the cowboys at a restaurant in the nearby resort town of Sopot which bore little damage from the war. “Courses were first 4 kinds of cold meats & bread,” Hoffman says. “Then vodka. Soup served in cups & saucers. Throughout meal brought vodka. After soup, stine [sic] of beer. Dinner of stake [sic], french fries, peas & carrots, cake of wet dough and delicious frosting.” Many a cowboy felt conflicted being served such a lavish meal while the people they’d been meeting were going hungry.

Banquet provided by UNRRA and the Polish Department of Agriculture for the seagoing cowboys. Photo credit: Ben Kaneda, July 1946.

On the day of departure, Hoffman records an incident that lowered his opinion of the ship’s Captain. As the Park Victory was pulling away, a Polish man on dock shouted “American comrade,” pointing down the channel. “Soon someone thought they saw the third engineer on the dock,” Hoffman notes. “I quickly spotted him through glasses as I had visited with him several times. Had taken a great interest in him because of his parents living in Poland. He was waving and calling to us. I saw the Master on top side walk to port side rail, look at him a moment, then turn away, walk back to center and light a cigarette. My heart sank for fear of (the engineer’s) welfare in such a country. Also my heart filled with rage at the Master for being so unjust to a fellow even tho he is much lower in position. Then I wondered how the 3rd Engineer must have felt. Later that night Don said he came aboard with the [channel] pilot and told some of his experiences. He had to go 400 miles. Part way by car, 2 days by train. His parents didn’t recognize him. His father is in very bad health and in clothes of shreds. He could provide (his father) some clothes. His mother told him he must sleep in the hay loft because his former friends and school mates would probably try to kill him for his possessions and identification papers in hopes that they might get to the states.” Fortunately, they didn’t come.

Next post: Ship’s radioman Will Keller’s experience in Poland.

Special Crew #3: Interracial crew works and studies together — Part II

What an amazing undertaking the interracial seagoing cowboy crew of July 4, 1946, was, at a time when Jim Crow laws ruled across the southern United States.

       It came about when applications of many Negro fellows were refused by UNRRA or they were shunted into an all-Negro crew. After successive protests from men both white and Negro and southern, UNNRA said if a southern organization, preferably a religious one, would recruit one interracial crew and that if they had good experiences, they would not segregate successive crews.Kaneda, Ben 025
       The Fellowship accepted responsibility and recruited 34 men from 21 different southern schools, six nationalities, and with the three major faiths represented. One Negro and one white skilled veterinarian worked with the crew. One Negro and one white minister went along to conduct the religious and educational program planned by the Fellowship for the trip.
       The practice of segregation stopped immediately in UNRRA.¹

So states an undated report of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen regarding use of a $1200 grant from the Hazen Foundation for this and other projects during 1946.

In September 1945, when Martin Luther King, Jr., was a student at Morehouse College, his mentor, Morehouse President Benjamin E. Mays, was applying for the FSC’s Hazen Foundation grant. In the application, Dr. Mays wrote:

Kaneda, Ben 046       One of the three things the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen is interested in doing is to extend the area of Christian Fellowship across racial lines.
       . . . . There should be exchange of students in Negro and white colleges and visits from Negro colleges to white colleges and vica [sic] versa. Negro and white college students living in the same city or state of the south are further apart than are the students of Europe and Asia. They know practically nothing about each other. This gap should be bridged and a program can be worked out to this end.²

The Fellowship seagoing cowboy crew was a part of that program, as was a series of interracial work camps held in the South.

Rev. William G. Klein, Director of the Rural Project of Union Church in Berea, Kentucky, coordinated the recreation and group activities for the cowboy crew. In a letter reporting to FSC’s Secretary, Nelle Morton, following the trip, he wrote:

Kaneda, Ben 111       Personally the whole experience just from the inter-racial and inter-cultural viewpoints alone was a most valuable experience. Our ship crew was also inter-racial (CIO-BNMU) so that we found a most congenial atmosphere for complete fellowship, and then I think that the work experience together was one of the most if not the most valuable means of achieving a unity of spirit and purpose. The discussions, somewhat curtailed because of the rough weather on the way back, would not have had the value they had, if we had not had the Kaneda, Ben 077previous work experience together….Luther Neal, a Methodist minister-student from Augusta, Georgia…felt that this fellowship trip removed almost entirely a consciousness of race, and because of this he deprecated tendencies among Minority groups, including his own, to retaliate against discrimination with a reverse kind of ‘Jim Crow’ and exclusiveness. The group, in sympathy with this viewpoint, were highly in favor of mixed faculties at Negro as well as at non-Negro institutions.³

Kaneda, Ben 125Reflecting on this interracial crew experience of 1946 and the current racial and cultural tensions in our country makes me wish for more interracial, intercultural, and interfaith opportunities like this livestock trip for our citizens, young and old alike, where people can work side by side to lessen the gap that continues to divide us.

All photos are from the scrapbook of Ben Kaneda, the “token” Oriental on the trip, as he says, recruited from the only northern college represented, Temple University in Philadelphia. Through the help of a Quaker, he enrolled at Temple straight out of a Japanese-American internment camp where he and his family were forced to sit out the war in rural Arkansas.

1,2,3 — All quotes are from materials found at the Wilson Special Collections Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Collection #03479: Fellowship of Southern Churchmen Records, 1937-1986.