Special Post: S. S. Woodstock Victory carries Heifer Project cattle to Poland 70 years ago today

seagoingcowboy-cover_FINAL-smallerMarch 3, 2016, marks the 70th anniversary of the first trip of the S. S. Woodstock Victory as a livestock carrier. The Woodstock Victory is the ship featured in my children’s picture book to be released March 31, so I wanted to celebrate this day with a special post about the ship.

On March 3, 1946, 762 bawling heifers, 8 bulls, and 89 mares left Newport News, Virginia, on the Woodstock Victory bound for Poland. Of those heifers, 230 were sent by the Heifer Project as gifts to the most needy of Poland’s farmers. The rest of the animals were sent by UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration). UNRRA’s recipients were required to pay in some form for their animals.

Seagoing cowboys get ready to pull up hay for their mules on the S. S. Woodstock Victory to Greece in January 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Seagoing cowboys get ready to pull up hay for their mules on the S. S. Woodstock Victory to Greece in January 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

“Floating barns” is what one Amish seagoing cowboy called the livestock ships. The seagoing cowboy supervisor for this trip, Don Bortner, reported, “We loaded 8485 bales of hay, 1831 bales of straw, 1595 bags of dairy feed and 100 bags of oats.” And, like the cycle of life in any barn on land, the “floating barns” had their ups and downs for the animals. Two of the gift heifers died on the way, one of toxema from a calf not being born and one of pneumonia. Another, “Heifer bsc 3131,” writes Bortner, “was admitted to the Hospital in Hatch four on the nite of Mar. 7, the roughest nite on the trip. After sticking her all over with needles and shaving her side she finally give in and lay on her left side. Dr. Quartrup and Dr. Freidman with the assistance of many cowboys performed a Ceasarian Operation. Had this not been done the heifer would have died. . . . I think the vets did a wonderful job under many handicaps.”

Amish cowboy Melvin R. Yoder was on this trip. His story was reported by Elmer S. Yoder in the October 2002 issue of Stark County Mennonite & Amish Historical Society’s Heritage newsletter:

Melvin and three others were assigned 100 heifers on the second deck down. The 100 heifers were in a large section or “pen” on the floor.

The trip to Poland took about two weeks. He remembers the excitement among the sailors when Bishop’s Rock was sighted on the south coast of England and at the head of the English Channel. They observed the white cliffs of Dover and headed into the North Sea, which Melvin said was described to them as the graveyard of the ocean.

The Woodstock Victory makes its way through the Kiel Canal on its third trip to Poland in June 1946. Photo courtesy of Wayne Zook.

The Woodstock Victory makes its way through the Kiel Canal on its third trip to Poland in June 1946. Photo courtesy of Wayne Zook.

They sailed through the Kiel Canal and into the Baltic. Due to the danger of mines, the ship anchored at night and sailed only during daylight hours, with two minesweepers preceding it.
. . . . After the heifers and horses were unloaded the cattlemen were free to do some sightseeing. But the main sights he remembers and has photographs of are the destruction and devastation of the war. The ship was not carrying any cargo on the return trip. . . .they had very few, if any, chores. . . .

Cowboys pass time playing cards on the Woodstock Victory's return from Greece, February 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Cowboys pass time playing cards on the Woodstock Victory‘s return from Greece, February 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

They used their non-sleeping time mainly to play cards. Melvin took with him a barbering outfit, even though he was a novice, and gave haircuts to cattlemen. He did not say how many or how much he charged.

Over the course of a year, the Woodstock Victory made a total of six livestock trips, five to Poland and the final trip in January 1947 to Greece. She transported a total of 2,447 mares, 1,583 heifers, and 15,000 chicks to Poland and 790 mules to Greece.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Woodstock Victory, June 1946. Photo courtesy of Wayne Zook.

The seagoing cowboy crew of the S. S. Woodstock Victory, June 1946. Photo courtesy of Wayne Zook.

Plaque inside the Woodstock Victory. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Plaque inside the Woodstock Victory. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Roy Auernheimer in Greece, January 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

Jasper Dunn in Greece, January 1947. Photo courtesy of Roy Auernheimer.

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Meeting heifer recipients in Germany, Part III–The Reichswald, 2013

The last post introduced us to the Queling family who, robbed of their home by World War II, found a new life in the Reichswald settlement in 1950. In September 2013, I had the good fortune to be able to meet two of the Queling children, Cornelius and Marianne, and ten other families who settled there. Hearing their stories of what the gift of a heifer meant to them was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life.

Representatives of 11 families who received heifers in 1950 gathered in the Nierswalde, Germany, Sports Hall, September 24, 2013.

Representatives of 11 families who received heifers in 1950 gathered in the Nierswalde, Germany, Sports Hall, September 24, 2013, to reminisce about their experience. Photo by Peggy Reiff Miller.

The Reichswald settlers came from countries as far away as Lithuania and Romania, but mostly from what today is Poland, Czechoslovakia, and eastern Germany. Although of German heritage, the settlers came to the Reichswald speaking many different dialects. In our meeting, I asked them if it had been hard to form a community with such a variety of backgrounds. They said, “No. Our need welded us together. We all had nothing.”

Tea with the Queling family

L to R: Marianne Queling Arts, Hannelore Erkins, Mrs. Queling, Cornelius Queling, Peggy Reiff Miller, Ingrid Marx. Photo by Mr. Arts.

 

The next day, over tea with the Queling family, Cornelius showed me a photo taken in front of the lovely large house in Silesia where they had lived.

The Queling Family in front of their Silesian home. Photo courtesy of Cornelius Queling.

The Queling Family in front of their Silesian home. Photo courtesy of Cornelius Queling.

Their father was mayor of their village. During the winter of 1944-45, when the Russians would come around, he would run off and hide to avoid capture. Marianne recalled one such time:

While father was hiding, we took everything in our wagon. Mama had the smallest child in her arms. The whole village was leaving. The Russians were attacking the whole trek and wanting to rape the women. We had a carriage with two doors. The Russians came in one door, and Mama ran out the other and into the forest to hide. Then we children were alone. The horse was rubbed raw across its breast. Somebody had to pull the carriage and we children had to push it and mommy was gone. In the meantime, mother and father went out every day looking, wondering, when will the children come home? After six weeks, we found our way home. We all stayed together, but we were so dirty. We had lice, everything. Don’t ask how we came home. We lived on potato peelings. . . .

When the family had to flee for good in 1945, Cornelius was 12 years old, and Marianne around 5. The family spent the next four years going from various camps, churches, or castles that could accommodate the refugees. They were accepted into the Reichswald in 1949 and settled on a 16 hectare (39-acre) plot, having to clear the land of the tree stumps. Marianne said they pulled out 32 wagon loads of stumps. At age 16, Cornelius became the man of the house when their father was killed clearing the forest.

Peggy with Cornelius Queling and photos he brought to the meeting, one of him as a young man and one of then heifer his family received. Photo by Mr. Arts.

Peggy with Cornelius Queling and photos he brought to the meeting, one of him as a young man and one of the heifer his family received. Photo by Mr. Arts.

When they received their heifer that June of 1950, Marianne said they wondered, “Who would give us such a large gift? Up to that point, everything had been taken away from us. Our heifer,” she said, “lifted us from the depths of despair and gave us hope.”

And that, my friends, is the legacy of the Heifer Project and the seagoing cowboys: lifting people from the depths of despair and giving them hope.

Nierswalde, Germany, Town Sqaure, September 24, 2013. Photo credit Peggy Reiff Miller.

Nierswalde, Germany, Town Sqaure, September 24, 2013. Photo by Peggy Reiff Miller.

The Queling’s heifer gave enough milk that they could sell some; and widow Queling rationed their own food from what they grew so they could sell sugar beets and potatoes, as well, to be able to buy what they needed.

Today, driving through the thriving towns of Nierswalde, Reichswalde, and Rodenwalde carved out of the destroyed Reichswald forest, one would have no idea of the hardships endured by their settlers.

Next post: Meeting recipients of heifers and horses in Poland

Seagoing Cowboys provide food for body and soul

A heifer comes on board the S,S, Charles W. Wooster in January 1946 to begin its journey to Czechoslovakia.

A heifer comes on board the S,S, Charles W. Wooster in January 1946 to begin its journey to Czechoslovakia. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

January 7, 1946, the S.S. Charles W. Wooster, left Baltimore, Maryland, with 325 heifers on board. The cattle were on their way to help families in Czechoslovakia recover from the trauma of World War II. 175 of the heifers were gifts of American Christians sent by the Heifer Project for the neediest farmers in Upper Silesia. The remainder were sent by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration which made numerous shipments of horses and heifers to Czechoslovakia and Poland in 1945 to 1947.

The S.S. Charles W. Wooster docked in Bremen, Germany, to offload heifers to be sent to Czechoslovakia in January 1946. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

The S.S. Charles W. Wooster docked in Bremen, Germany, to offload heifers to be sent to Czechoslovakia in January 1946. Photo credit: Christian Kennel.

This week, in Ratingen, Germany, the Upper Silesia Museum (Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum) has opened an exhibit, “For Body and Soul: from the culture of food and drink,” in which this history is remembered. One of the topics covered in the exhibition is strategies of providing nourishment in times of shortage and crisis, and it’s in that context that the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project are being introduced to museum goers. It has been my pleasure and privilege to provide the museum with the images to tell this piece of their history.

Seagoing cowboy display at the Upper Silesia Museum, Ratingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum.

Seagoing cowboy display at the Upper Silesia Museum, Ratingen, Germany. Photo courtesy of Oberschlesisches Landesmuseum.

Heifer Project brochures on display at the Upper Silesia Museum. Photo courtesy of Oberschesisches Landesmuseum.

Heifer Project brochures on display at the Upper Silesia Museum. Photo courtesy of Oberschesisches Landesmuseum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibit runs through October 15, 2016, so if you’re in Germany between now and then, stop in and take a look!

A recipient expresses thanks for their heifer. Photo courtesy of Heifer International.

A recipient expresses thanks for their heifer. Courtesy of Heifer International.

Thank you letter translation. Courtesy of Heifer International..

Thank you letter translation. Courtesy of Heifer International..