Beginning in 1949, the destination of many seagoing cowboys was West Germany. That year, the Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) began shipments to Germany that would continue until 1961. Unlike the UNRRA cowboys who preceded them, the cowboys serving the Heifer Project, which continued on after UNRRA disbanded, were able to be present for the distribution of their heifers.
A farmer draws his number from a hat during a 1952 distribution ceremony. Photo courtesy of David Brightbill.
For cowboys like O. J. Warford, this was the highlight of their trip. He wrote:
We were very fortunate to be at Friedland Germany when a train load of 500 Refugees from Poland or Hungary came in and marched into the camp. All their possessions were in their hand. Then to follow up with our distribution services was the climax.
Those receiving the number from the hat would rush out and find the heifer with the same number and hug and kiss her and say this is mine. Then they would try their best to express their appreciation to America.
At the end of World War II, people of German heritage living in Eastern European countries were sent back to Germany, no matter how many generations they had been living in those countries. West Germany had to absorb some ten to twelve million of these refugees – a tall order for any country, let alone one whose major cities were crumbled by bombs. By Jan 1955, over ten million (21.8%) of Germany’s population of 49,526,300 were refugees, with 48,930 of them being resettled farmers. It was to these destitute farmers, who arrived with little more than they could carry, that the Heifer Project focused their gifts of heifers.
This German refugee family proudly pose with their heifer. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.
Here’s one refugee’s story from a translated letter to the donor of his heifer dated September 24, 1952, that I found in the Heifer archives. He had lived in Pomerania before the war:
I personally had to join the war as a soldier. I was fighting at the Eastern front. By cause of the after effects of the war my family had to leave home and land in 1945. Our farm had a size of 70 Morgen. My wife and children, as well as my parents and parents-in-law were able to take refuge from the Russians in 1945 and crossed the Oder River near Pasewald. From this place they had to escape again. However, in April of 1945 my family was caught up by the eastern front near Rostock. They fell into the hands of the Russians. And then my wife together with my three children, aged 5, 3½, and 1 as well as my mother and my mother-in-law were killed after preceding violations. Only the ashes was left. My father and father-in-law who could escape again were witnesses of these cruel acts. I myself was in prisoner of warship. When I was released and seeked after my family I only found my father and father-in-law – all other family members were not living any more. I was deeply shocked and needed a long time to regain new strength in order to begin with the daily struggle for existence.
I had the great will to rebuild after all this grief. So in June of 1951 I succeeded to receive this farm with 8 Morgen of land which meant a new start for me.
In this beginning I had to found a family again and married a war-widow with a 12-year-old daughter. Both of us are hard-proven people. In April of 1952 we got another little daughter named Rosemarie. She is our sunshine. She is so very fond of the milk from our heifer and often I take her into the stable and then with her little hands she caresses the dear animal that gives her the milk.
Today, Germany, a country with a corporate memory of their own refugee status after World War II, has opened its doors to the Syrian refugees pouring into Europe, paying forward the assistance Germany herself received from such organizations as the Heifer Project and the Marshall Plan. Eastern Mennonite Missions is seeking relief funds for these refugees. You can read about it and donate here.