In this and my next two regular posts, I’ll share more about the Heifer Project shipments to Germany in the 1950s – first through the eyes of a seagoing cowboy, then those of a Heifer Project representative in Germany, and then my own.
Rev. A. H. Elshoff and son Donnie, ready to travel
In August 1950, seagoing cowboy Rev. A. H. Elshoff, of Tillamook, Oregon, traded his suit for blue jeans and accompanied a train car load of 28 heifers across the U.S.A., ultimately to Pier 60 in New York City. His son Donnie joined up with him in Maryland for the trip across the Atlantic Ocean on the S. S. American Importer to West Germany for Heifer Project’s 10th German shipment.
Arriving in Bremerhaven on September 5, Rev. Elshoff recorded in his journal: “The impression of our first old world city is strange and unfavorable. The dimly lighted streets, the outmoded cars used for taxis, the dress of the crowds of window shoppers, the numberless bicycles for which a special path is maintained on one side of the street, the vacancies of bombed out areas, all combined to create a dismal feeling.”
The trip up the Weser River the next day provided a brief contrast. “All the world seemed at peace in the forty miles of pastoral scenes; we saw many fine herds of Holstein cows, fine horses, farmers digging their potatoes, a number of small villages with an occasional windmill, men trying their luck at fishing (mostly eels); a few pleasure boats and many utility boats, etc. But the grim reminders of war are everywhere in sight, chief among them an abandoned submarine base connected with the Weser by short canals. . . . The ruins approaching Bremen and the many square miles of ruins in the city are the most depressing sights yet. Great areas of apartment houses, a great hospital and a score of cathedral type churches are only skeletal remains. How anyone survived is a miracle.”
The next day Rev. Elshoff noted, “We started the day at 5 o’clock so the animals would be in readiness for unloading which began at 7:30. . . . Mr. And Mrs. Joe Dell, European representatives of Heifers for Relief, came aboard at mid-morning. We were very happy to meet them; for the next several days we were in their tender care.” Towards evening, “we went to the little farm at the end of Bismarksstrasse where our animals had been put in a little stone barn for their two weeks period of quarantine. They were as cozy as could be in the care of a farmer who loves animals. Their first meal in Germany was supplemented with rudebakers [sic]; they were a fine lot of contented heifers. I confess to a bit of sentimental grief at leaving my fine pets that had been in my charge for a 7000 mile journey but I was consoled in the knowledge that their destination was the fulfillment of a labor of love.”
Rev. Elshoff had the opportunity the following day to experience the distribution of 16 heifers from the 8th shipment that had arrived in June. The heifers went to Coesfeld, where the Red Earth project was underway, draining the moor and putting it into agricultural production. Refugees were being settled on small tracts of this reclaimed land. At the distribution, Rev. Elshoff watched as eligible recipients each drew a number and went to stand beside his heifer, tied under a large shed. “The joy and appreciation registered by the recipients is beyond description,” Elshoff wrote in his journal. “A little later, I heard their stories, briefly of course, but all of them filled with painful memories of suffering and persecution.”
“My only crime,” said one young man, “is that my great-grandfather was a German.”
“My father died in the war; my mother and I fled leaving all our possessions behind.”
“I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said a young mother. “Now my two little children will have milk to drink. My husband is not able to earn enough to buy milk.”
“We had 15 cows on my farm in Poland,” said a father, who with his wife and two grown daughters was trying to build life over, “but were forced to leave them behind.”
“So it went with all sixteen,” Elshoff says, “each a tale of atrocities, loss of relatives, loss of all earthly possessions. In contrast, now they received an animal that means life and health, a gift from people who have compassion, who are humanitarian, who give without asking in return. . . . ‘We can hardly believe this is true; it is too good’ they said, ‘we didn’t believe that such people exist’.”
A refugee family with their new heifer at the Coesfeld distribution, Sept. 8, 1950. Photo courtesy of Muriel Elshoff.
In a postscript to his journal, Rev. Elshoff wrote: “In my mind’s eye there will always be projected the scene of these peasant family groups, leading their precious animals to their homes across the moor. Tillamook is a place of abundance and peace; may “Rote Erde” by Coesfeld, reclaimed from the marsh, and treasuring the gift of Christian love brought through Heifers for Relief, become a place of abundance and peace also!”
I’m indebted to Donald Elshoff’s widow, Muriel, for sharing Rev. A. H. Elshoff’s account, “Diary of a 15,000 Mile Journey in the Interest of Heifers for Relief,” with me.
Fifth Friday post: “In Memorium”
Next regular post: Joe Dell tells the story of the recipients of the rest of the heifers of the 8th shipment.