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!

The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project

My work of fifteen years now has a name: The Seagoing Cowboy Storytelling Project, with thanks to the family of seagoing cowboy Alvin Zook for coming up with this title. The start of a new year is always a good time to look back and ahead; I’m adding a first Friday post this month to do just that.

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and Peggy Reiff Miller

Seagoing Cowboy Al Guyer and I reunite, October 25, 2014. Photo credit: Rex Miller.

It was fifteen years ago this month that I made my first seagoing cowboy interview with a former pastor of mine, Albert Guyer. I knew he had gone to Poland with livestock, and I wanted to know what my Grandpa Abe’s trip might have been like. Al’s story hooked me in and got me started on a journey that culminated this past year with the publication of my first book, the children’s picture book The Seagoing CowboyThat event pretty well defined my professional year, first planning for its release the end of March and then promoting it throughout the remainder of the year.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to Church of the Brethren, Heifer Project, and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson's (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger's (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Anna and Baxter Mow.

A highlight of my year was a 3-day visit to the Maple Ridge Bruderhof community in Ulster Park, New York. Many older members have long ties to the Church of the Brethren and its Heifer Project and seagoing cowboy history. Vonnie Burleson’s (left) father and Marlys Blough Swinger’s (right) brother were seagoing cowboys. Martin Johnson (top right) was my delightful host. Photo by Reuben Mow (grandson of Brethren icons Anna and Baxter Mow).

 

A local book signing and release party was followed by speaking events and signings for all ages that have taken me from coast to coast, with stops in Indiana and Iowa, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, New York state, Maryland, Virginia, back to California, on to Arizona, and Texas, often connecting with seagoing cowboys. I’m grateful to my many readers for the warm and enthusiastic reception of my book and the seagoing cowboy story. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and I’m looking forward to a different pace and focus for 2017.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

Sharing the story with Maple Ridge Bruderhof upper elementary students. Photo by Reuben Mow.

I’m excited about the year to come. It will start with a trip next week to Germany, where I will be able to visit the seagoing cowboy exhibit at the Upper Silesian Museum in Ratingen. Then my focus turns to the writing of a book about the first decade of the Heifer Project, including the seagoing cowboy story as it relates to Heifer. I plan to sequester myself for six months during the year at the Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, to that end. Three months in the middle of that will be spent in “Oma and Opa time” assisting our daughter in Ohio with child care while she tests the waters of running a friend’s market garden for the summer.

If all works as planned, the year will end with another trip abroad — this time to Finland for the 70th anniversary commemoration of the S. S. Park Victory and the ten sailors who lost their lives in the sinking of the ship off the coast of Finland in December, 1947. The Park Victory had been one of UNRRA’s livestock ships, making six trips prior to its demise while shipping coal. It’s a famous ship wreck in Finland, but the livestock portion of the ship’s history was unknown there until one of the men working on the commemoration found my website.

I will only be taking a limited number of speaking engagements this year. I’m looking forward to being the speaker for a Heifer International event in Michigan April 8, in being the featured author to kick off the children’s summer reading program at the Goshen, Indiana, public library in June with the theme of “Build a Better World,” and in being a keynote speaker at the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference (NOAC) in North Carolina in September. Aside from that, my plan is to write, write, write!

Many wonderful pieces of seagoing cowboy and Heifer Project history happened in 1947, so look for lots of 70-year commemorations in my blog posts throughout the year. I’m looking forward to a great year, and I wish you one, as well!

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.

Seagoing Cowboy Supervisor Herb Pownall tells his story

I recently came across a delightful 20-minute interview with Herb Pownall by Caroline Ballard on the HumaNature podcast of Wyoming Public Media. Herb served as an UNRRA seagoing cowboy supervisor on the S. S. Edwin D. Howard to Germany that left Newport News, Virginia, April 29, 1946, with a load of 833 bred heifers for Czechoslovakia. Herb has some great photos that also appear on the HumaNature website. Click here for the podcast and photos. Enjoy!

Special Post: A heifer named Daisy still touches hearts

Here is a link to an article that appears in the current Messenger magazine of the Church of the Brethren about a heifer named Daisy and the connections she made between the Americans who sent her and the German family who received her. Enjoy!

Subject: Daisy
by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

German children experience THE SEAGOING COWBOY at Upper Silesian Museum

The Upper Silesian Museum (Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum) in Ratingen, Germany, has been displaying an exhibit on the seagoing cowboys since December 2015 as part of their “Food for Body and Soul” exhibit (see post of December 11). As a result, many people in Germany are learning about the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, including German children who participated in a special program this summer using my picture book, The Seagoing Cowboy. Eliska Hegenscheidt-Nozdrovicka, the museum’s education director, has sent me some delightful photos from their summer experience that I share with you here. I’m happy to say that the exhibit, originally scheduled to run through mid-October, has been extended into February next year.

upper-selesia-museum-002

 

My book The Seagoing Cowboy on display at the museum.

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-005

 

The children are introduced to the topic “Nourishment in times of crisis.”

 

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-006

 

Eliska tells the story of the seagoing cowboys with the help of my book.

 

 

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-007

 

Looking up the travelling route from Baltimore to Gdansk with the kids.

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-009

 

Reconstructing the story through historical photos.

 

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-010

 

The children make their own ships to transport their heifers.

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-013

 

 

The ships take off from Baltimore…

 

 

upper-selesia-museum-012

 

 

including a shipping mishap.

 

upper-selesia-museum-016

 

 

 

The ships dock in Gdansk.

 

upper-selesia-museum-015

 

 

 

And the heifers are offloaded. All is well.

 

 

 

 

What a delightful program. Wish I could have been there! Thanks Eliska for sharing this experience with me and allowing me to share it with my readers.

I’d be happy to know how others are using the book.

 

Special Crew #2: All-Mennonite crew of high school and college students come of age on a cattle boat

Half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory all-Mennonite crew.  Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory all-Mennonite crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

“Take a teenage Mennonite boy after World War II, put him on a cattle boat to Europe or China, stir him up with storms at sea, spice him with adventure and danger, bake him in the smoldering rubble of war, and what do you have? A recipe for the coming of age of a seagoing cowboy.” So begins my article “Coming of age on a cattle boat” for The Mennonite, January 10, 2006.

The other half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

The other half of the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory crew. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Seventy years ago this week, thirty-two of those Mennonites, mostly high school and college students, set sail on the S. S. Stephen R. Mallory for Poland under the watchful eye of Bethel College history professor Dr. Melvin Gingerich. The Mallory left Newport News, Virginia, June 20, 1946, with 834 horses and a pistol-packing captain who made it known that he was the law on the ship, leaving no uncertainty that he would use his gun if necessary.

The trip was fraught with difficulties from the get-go, beyond the usual storms at sea and horse bites. Two days out to sea, engine troubles caused a side trip to Boston, giving the cowboys a chance to explore historical sites. Don Zook recalls seeing his first major league baseball game that night, as the Boston Braves were in town. Robert Ramseyer’s group went to the movies. While sitting in the harbor at Boston for three days their work still had to be done. Hot, stuffy, ammonia-laden holds made the work less than appealing and started a string of deaths of horses. According to UNRRA records, sixty-eight were lost before arriving in Poland.

The mess hall on the Mallory was one hold down. Photo courtesy of Loren Zimmerman.

Life goes on. The mess hall on the Mallory was one hold down. Photo courtesy of Loren Zimmerman.

Shortly after departing Boston, a generator went out; but the ship sailed on. Before reaching Europe boiler trouble and trouble with the watering system developed. Another day, the captain noticed cat hairs in his water glass. Al Meyer noted in his diary, “Skeleton and hair of cat found in sieve from drinking water tank. All water passed thru decayed cat until now. [We] call water ‘cat-nip-tea’!”

As if all of that wasn’t enough, the refrigeration system went on the fritz. The cowboys enjoyed an ice cream binge that evening and ate large portions of meat as it thawed until the walk-in cooler was empty, necessitating a stop in Plymouth, England, to restock and take on ice and water. Walking around Plymouth gave these young men their first taste of war devastation, raising an awareness that was heightened when the captain refused taking on a German pilot at Kiel, Germany, to guide the ship through the Baltic Sea, subsequently getting lost in a mine field causing close encounters with spiky mines and anxious moments for the crew.

Remnants of the war around Gdansk could not be avoided. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer/Len Smucker.

Remnants of the war around Gdansk could not be avoided. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer/Len Smucker.

Len Smucker notes that seeing war-torn Poland is “etched in my mind.” He recalls being met at the ship by young boys offering their sisters and mothers for sex. The cowboys roamed over battlefields and stood on the spot in Westerplatte where World War II started. Some, including Al Meyer, went to see the destroyed Danzig Mennonite Church. The Polish Mennonites did not share the peace position of the Mennonite Church in the United States.

This plaque in the Danzig Mennonite Church served as a sobering reminder of Polish Mennonite participation in World War I. Photo courtesy of Richard Rush.

This plaque in the Danzig Mennonite Church served as a sobering reminder of Polish Mennonite participation in World War I. Photo courtesy of Richard Rush.

Meyer recalls, “The thing I remember most is a tablet on the wall in honor of the brave men who gave their lives for the German Fatherland in the First World War. It was sort of symbolic to see the wreckage of the Second World War, a bombed out Mennonite community of which there were no remaining people.”

On their way home, the Mallory cowboys enjoyed a week in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the ship stopped for repairs.

Tivoli Gardens gave the Mallory cowboys a diversion from the weight of what they had seen in England and Poland. Photo courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Tivoli Gardens provided a diversion from the weight of war aftermath. Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

This relatively undamaged city gave the group a chance to see Europe in its more pristine, classical sense, rounding out an experience they would never forget. They were also able to connect with Mennonites in Denmark.

These seagoing cowboys were boys when they left on the trip, but came home young men who went on to distinguish themselves in fields of medicine, higher education, and church and service work.

Even Captain Cronin was impressed:

Praise from the pistol-packing captain. Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Courtesy of Robert Ramseyer.

Next post: Special Crew #3: Interracial crew of Southern college students sponsored by the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen