Hate begets war begets hate

A popular Advent theme is “Peace.” In these times of hateful vitriol, I pondered that theme as I read the account of seagoing cowboy Gordon Shull of his time in Gdansk, Poland, in May 1946. And I wonder, how does one defuse hate to keep it from breeding war? And after a war, how does one pacify the hate that lingers?

The destruction World War II survivors had to cope with in Gdansk, Poland, May 1946. Photo credit: Marvin Snell, shipmate of Gordon Shull.

Shull experienced that hate in post-World War II Gdansk. Gdansk had been the German free city of Danzig before the war, repopulated by the Poles at war’s end when most surviving German citizens were expelled in accord with the Potsdam Agreement. Life was rough for the small number of Germans who stayed, as detailed in Shull’s letter from that time:

“[T]he immigrating Poles have brought with them a blind, deep-seated hatred of all Germans . . . [and they] are taking their sweet revenge.

“Put yourself in the shoes of Mary K–, with whom I talked for several hours. Imagine yourself standing helpless by as an invading Russian soldier loots your home, opening trunks, overturning tables, adding your wristwatch to the half-dozen others that already adorn his arm . . . disguising yourself as an old woman in order to evade the sex-hungry soldiers, but sometimes failing because some 80-year-old women were raped, while others who had the misfortune of being young and beautiful were raped as much as 30 times.

“Then, after the Russians have settled down, and after your friends and relatives have left Danzig for uncertain fates in Russia or Germany, imagine yourself at the mercy of people whose moral principles, already reduced by war and its familiar accompaniments, have reached a new low in a boom-town atmosphere. You are now the scapegoat of a people who have suffered at the hands of Germans and Russians. Imagine yourself chased out of your home at the point of a gun by a Pole who allows you to take only that which you can lay your hands on as you leave (no . . . you must leave your camera, your watch, your bicycle, your jewelry) . . . finding a greenhouse or a clubroom or a not-too-badly-ruined dwelling in which to live . . . dragged out of bed at 6:00 AM, every once in a while, by Polish police, and forced to work all day in their headquarters for absolutely nothing . . . getting up at 5:00 each morning so that you can hide from the Poles, and thus go to your job – which, incidentally, pays about half as much as a Pole would get . . . thrown off of streetcars as soon as your identity is discovered . . . having no law whatever to protect you . . . living in perpetual fear, so that when someone knocks on your door, you hold your breath . . . .  All of this and more happened to middle-aged Mary K–. . . .

“Before the war, Mary was a Physics Instructor. A graduate of the University of Danzig, she had done work on the electronics microscope. Now she wields a sledge hammer. Her wage consists of one or two meals, and ten cents a day. That’s about enough to buy two or three loaves of bread on the market. . . .

With so many men killed in the war, women did most of the clean up work. Gdansk, summer 1946. Photo credit: Richard Musselman.

“Mary told us that she and many of her friends had opposed the Nazis so much that the Nazis had boycotted their businesses. ‘Because of our opposition,’ she said in pretty good English, ‘we didn’t dream that any harm would come to us after the war. But no . . . you can’t imagine!’ Several times in the course of our conversation she repeated that phrase, covering her head in her hands as if to suppress memories that were too bitter to describe, or even to hold in her mind. Then, with a determined [shake] of her head and a quick clenching of her fist, she would snap out of it.

“. . . Because we knew that she was not begging, and would share with other needy Germans anything we might give her, we made our contribution all the larger, when we left.”

The Christmas Eve fate of the S. S. Park Victory: not to be forgotten

In Finland there is a national reading of the Christmas Peace at noon every Christmas Eve. On the island of Utö at the farthest edge of Finland’s southwest archipelago, this reading will be followed at 1:00 p.m. by the lighting of ten candles in the island’s chapel. These candles represent the ten seamen who lost their lives in the sinking of the S. S. Park Victory on Christmas Eve 70 years ago.

Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

The S. S. Park Victory delivers horses and heifers to Poland, December 1945. Photo by Will Keller, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

The Park Victory will be remembered by many seagoing cowboys for the six trips she made as an UNRRA livestock carrier, October 1945 through December 1946. She is remembered quite differently in Finland, however. In December 1947, she was delivering a load of coal to Finland, possibly for the Marshall Plan. She anchored in good weather near the lighthouse off the island of Utö  before dark on Christmas Eve, awaiting orders as to whether to proceed to Turku or Helsinki the next day. During the night, a wicked snow storm descended on the ship. The gale-force winds dislodged the anchor, and the ship fought for her life. The rocky coastline won, however, breaking into and flooding the engine room.

The distress signal was sent out and lifeboats lowered. At risk to their own lives, help was dispatched from the fishing community of Utö. A small military craft captained by Thorvald Sjöberg found a group of seamen huddled on a low reef. Between the winds and underwater rocks, there wasn’t a safe way to reach the men. Captain Sjöberg kept his craft nearby until daylight when they were able to get a rope to the men. One had died of hypothermia and the rest were in bad condition, some having survived the night in little more than their underwear. In all, thirty-eight of the seamen were found, rescued, and compassionately tended to by the brave Utö islanders.

Rescuing Captain Thorvald Sjoberg, the widow of Park Victory Captain Allen Zepp, and Hanna Kovanen, who was ten years old at the time of the sinking, reunite on Uto, summer 2017. Mrs. Kovanen will light the ten candles on Christmas Eve in commemoration of the seamen who lost their lives. Photo courtesy of Jouko Moisala.

In memory of those who perished:
Mose Andersson, F.W.T., 19
Augustine Bebrant, Messman, 50
Eric Cain, Assistant Electrician, 36
Herbert Deglow, Oiler, 23
Michael Duffy, Chief Electrician, 50
Henry Holste, Junior Third Mate, 65
Rex Jackson, Wiper, 40
Juan Lopez, Chief Cook, 50
Daris Mitchell, Junior Engineer, 51
La Verne Woods, Junior Engineer, 19

A Blessed Holiday Season to my readers.
~Peggy

Sources for this post: correspondence with Jouko Moisala, and the article “The Gloomy Christmas Eve at Sea” by Martin Latimeri.

This is a famous shipwreck in Finland and popular among divers. More on that in my next regular post in January.