The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part II

The next leg of the Park Victory‘s journey began to expose the seagoing cowboys to the realities of war. The ship left Downs, England, at noon January 7 (1946) for the Kiel Canal, “twenty hours away thru the minefields,” notes the ship’s radioman, Will Keller. Early the next morning, “in thick fog we missed a buoy,” he writes. “EMERGENCY STOP! Reversed engine, drug anchor.”

When the fog lifted around noon, the ship proceeded past the German town of Cuxhaven and took on an Elbe River pilot to guide the ship through the canal. “Nice shore line,” assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman says in his diary. “Buildings look like any American town.” Soon the locks of the canal came into sight.

Interacting with Germans in the Kiel Canal lock. Photo courtesy of Harold Hoffman.

“Saw masts of several sunken vessels,” Hoffman notes. Entering the lock “was exciting. No one worked, even ship’s crew. Except to tie up ship. Gate closed. There probably 1 hr. or longer. Most men typical German. Some weather beaten. Some English around.” Then the interactions began. Cowboys and crewmen threw gum and candy to the children. “Bartering was fun,” says Hoffman. “Had ships made in a bottle for 5 pks. cigarettes. I got a pin for 2 pks.”

“Soon we moved on. Light fading,” Hoffman says . “Moved slowly through gates and into canal. Did not use motors, let the current carry us for some distance.” Then it was back to work, with the unpleasant task of raising a dead mare to the top deck from which she would be buried at sea when the ship reached open waters.

Not all animals survived the trip. Removing them from the ship was not an easy task. Photo credit: Will Keller.

The next morning, “At arising found ourselves anchored in Kiel harbor,” says Hoffman, where the ship would stay all day. That night, seagoing cowboy Fred Ramseyer notes a contrast in his diary. “See sunken ships all around in the bay. It’s a nice eve out. The moon is shining on the bay, the stars etc. on the ripples.”

The Park Victory had to wait until 7 a.m. the next morning to leave, “because [through] the next twelve hours’ run the water is filled with 137 sunken ships,” notes Hoffman, “so we must have day light to dodge them.” Not to mention the mines that still littered the Baltic Sea.

Sunken ships were still evident the following summer. Photo credit: Charles Shenk, July 1946.

“Departed Kiel with pilot thru maze of sunken vessels,” notes Keller, “big ones and little ones. Some with masts sticking out of water; others resting on the bottom with superstructures above water. Water sloshing in and out of open doorways and portholes. Six knife-edged minesweepers at work.”

After a cold, damp, and windy but safe passage through the Baltic Sea, on Friday afternoon, January 11, the Park Victory slowly moved towards the harbor at Danzig (Gdansk), Poland. Radioman Keller says, “Pilot sends word suggesting lock up all radio equipment and ‘disappear’ as we approach docking area, otherwise I might be impressed to serve as port’s radio station by local ‘authorities.’ As suggested, I locked up – and disappeared.

“As we proceeded up the channel into New Port (serving Danzig),” says Keller, “we saw ruins, and more ruins. And we heard gunfire, and more gunfire.” Hoffman elaborates in his diary: “Ships on banks taken out of harbor. German plane, large warehouse, steel structures damaged. All buildings of brick, some completely flat. Others just walls, others down in parts. Some with roofs out. Some looked as if hit directly. Railroads & tracks, cars, trucks crumbled & twisted. Passed Samuel Ingram [Liberty ship] docked with load of K rations. Plenty guards with rifles, machine guns & pistols. All seemed most curious. So was the boat personnel.”

A sample of the ruins that greeted the seagoing cowboys in Poland. Photo credit: Charles Shenk, July 1946.

Once docked, Hoffman notes, “Guys hanging all over ship. First on board Military and Customs. Can’t tell who is who or what. Poles, Germans or Russians. Notice posted to stay away from American Bar, as the day before one American seaman died, three critical as result of Vodka…. Time taken to make trip: 14 days, 3 hrs., 31 min.”

Everett Byer, in “A Cowboy Goes Abroad,” his unpublished report of this trip which he shared with his fellow cowboys, gives an account of the gravity of the situation the seagoing cowboys to Poland faced. He writes, “And so next morning we are permitted to go ashore, with final words of warning from our supervisor, handed down from the Captain:

This is a wide open city, without law. No permits or passes are needed but if you get in jail, you will probably stay here. We have no Counsul yet and cannot do much for you. Do not go ashore alone and the larger the group the better. Be sure to make it known that you are Americans, because a splendid feeling of good will is given toward Americans due to the tremendous aid in food and clothing that we have sent. Especially you ‘guys’ who talk a little German, be sure they know you are Americans, and don’t talk politics: they (Russians) have secret police and it may be just too bad.

“So, fifteen timid American farmers go ashore in a body,” writes Byer, ” to explore for the first time in a foreign land and in a town as wide open as any western town in our country’s early days.”

To be continued. . .

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The S. S. Park Victory: Livestock trip #2, Poland, December 1945 – Part I

The seagoing cowboys on the second livestock trip of the S. S. Park Victory faced a much bleaker experience than those who went to Trieste. It was a rougher ride in wintry weather, for one thing. And the destination more devastated.

S. S. Park Victory awaits departure in Baltimore, December 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Seagoing cowboy Daniel Hertzler says in an article for The Mennonite, “We were a diverse group of cattlemen…. Ten states and two Canadian provinces were represented. There were 16 Mennonites, 10 Brethren, one Methodist, one Baptist and one Presbyterian.” Of these men, the ship’s radio operator Will Keller notes, “Some younger, some older, some conscientious objectors to war, some adventurers, all well-behaved without exception.”

Seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

More seagoing cowboys of the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

Cowboys started arriving December 18 and had plenty of time to get to know each other before the work began, as a snow storm and sickness of horses held 13 train car loads up in Kentucky. Keller notes that cattle were then substituted for the horses. Finally, on December 24, with all the cargo loaded, tug boats began pulling the Park Victory from the pier in Baltimore and moving down the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo credit: Harold Hoffman.

“Everyone was excited,” notes assistant cowboy supervisor Harold Hoffman in his diary. That is, until the ship anchored off Norfolk, Virginia, where it sat for three days waiting for a full ship’s crew. Radioman Keller explains, “Anchored midstream away from any access to land so as to not lose crew members or cowboys over Christmas holiday.”

On Christmas Eve, Hoffman notes the finding of a dead mare. “Some start,” he says. But “What a Christmas dinner,” he writes the next day. “Stewards dept. really put themselves in good with the cowboys.”

Christmas menu. From the papers of Harold Hoffman, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

However, it wasn’t such a good Christmas Day up top. “Had messy time feeding top deck in rain tonight getting the canvas back on the feed that a hard wind blew off,” Hoffman says. An omen of the chilly, cloudy, rainy weather and choppy seas that plagued the ship all the way across the Atlantic.

The ship set sail December 27, and two days later Hoffman writes, “This morning we began to get a real touch of sea life. Two of the boys went to the rail after breakfast. Most every one was affected some.” Later, I was “standing in line at slop chest [ship’s store] when it seemed the ship went on her side. Passageway doors opened and six inches of water came in. Soon the fire alarm. A rush for life jackets. Everyone wondered if it was drill or real. The crew was serious. Another alarm, some thought it was to abandon ship…. I rushed for my life jacket. The First Mate came through, said the last alarm was the dismissal.”

Photo credit: Fred Ramseyer.

Radioman Keller notes, “Not all animal manure developed on board will be discarded overboard. Odor becomes overwhelming in some places. Horrible below deck.” Pity the poor cowboys who were assigned to those holds!

The distribution of heifers and horses on the S. S. Park Victory to Poland, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

Arrangement of the livestock in the Park Victory holds, Dec. 1945. Drawing by Harold Hoffman.

On New Year’s Day, 1946, part way across the Atlantic, Keller notes, “wartime radio silence at sea no longer required. Radio airwaves congested with commercial traffic.”

Finally, on January 6, “Sighted land of Scilly Islands,” says Hoffman. “Much excitement about it.” The ship made its way up through the English Channel to the White Cliffs of Dover, where it anchored for the night. Of the cliffs, Hoffman says, “They are a chalky-Limestone rock. White indeed…. This trip is really swell. It is like a dream, such a thrill.”

If the White Cliffs of Dover were thrilling, the next leg of the Park Victory trip was chilling, in more ways than the weather.

to be continued . . .

Delivering Hope to the Next Generation

I’m late with this post, as I was absorbed last week in the Church of the Brethren National Older Adult Conference where I was a keynote speaker. I invite you to listen to the live streaming of my illustrated presentation that gives the back story of how I became the documenter of the seagoing cowboy history, the legacy of the seagoing cowboys and the Heifer Project, and the importance of continuing to deliver hope to the next generation. The speech, which you can find here: https://livestream.com/livingstreamcob/NOAC2017/videos/162425620 begins at 13 minutes into the session and lasts for 70 minutes. I know — that’s a long speech! But that’s what I was contracted for and that’s what I gave. If you wish to jump to the seagoing cowboy part, you can start at 25:30 minutes (including the reading of my picture book The Seagoing Cowboy) or start at 35 minutes to skip the picture book reading and stop wherever you wish. Enjoy!

Next post will pick up Part II of the pre-WWII seagoing cowboys.

Was there confiscation of UNRRA and Heifer Project livestock?

Rumors abounded among seagoing cowboys who went to Poland that UNRRA horses were being stolen by the Russians and shipped off to Russia. I’ve found assurances in archival materials that this was not the case. The following letter dated October 28, 1946, was sent to the Brethren Service Committee by Brig. C. M. Drury, Chief of the UNRRA Mission to Poland in Warsaw:

Subject: Livestock imported to Poland

Although we have received rumors from various sources that some livestock brought to Poland by U.N.R.R.A. has been taken by other countries, particularly Russia, our investigations have repeatedly proven all such rumors to be without foundation.

I can say without hesitation that to date as far as I know not one U.N.R.R.A. animal has been stolen from the Polish people by the Russians.

On the other hand, the Polish Government Repatriation Office informs us that the Russian government has permitted repatriated persons returning to Poland from Russia to bring with them up to the end of the first quarter of 1946: 52,536 horses, 121,347 cows, 36,775 hogs and 55,329 sheep and goats.

Signed: C. M. DRURY, Chief of Mission

An identical letter was signed by Dr. A. G. Wilder, Chief Veterinarian.

Polish farmers receiving their new work horses at a collection station, 1946. Photo credit: James Brunk.

This assessment was confirmed by Gaither P. Warfield of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief and Methodist representative to the Heifer Project Committee who visited Poland in early 1947. Minutes of the March 29, 1947, HPC meeting state: “Warfield said he had not seen any confiscation by the Russians in Poland since they came into the country in the last six or eight months.” Ralph Delk, at the same meeting, reported that “Dr. Wilder has traced down rumors of confiscation but not in any single instance have they found Russian confiscation of American gifts.”

So the seagoing cowboys can rest assured that their animals most likely got to where they were meant to go.

There were two instances, however, where animals sent by the Heifer Project were diverted within Poland. Thurl Metzger, later to become Executive Director of the Heifer Project, spent mid-October 1946 to mid-April 1947 in Poland working for both UNRRA and the Brethren Service Committee. He reported these happenings to the Heifer Project Committee on his return to the United States.

In March 1946, 228 HPC heifers were shipped to Poland on the S. S. Woodstock Victory. Apparently by mistake, these heifers were sold by the Polish government as regular UNRRA supplies. Metzger discovered the mistake, backed up his claim with evidence, and approached Polish officials about the missing animals. “Armed with only my youthful indignation,” Metzger reported years later, “I was able to secure a settlement.”

Based on the average the Polish government received for the sale of UNRRA heifers to Polish farmers, a total of 4,104,000 zloties was deposited by the government in the Naradowy Bank Polskie in Warsaw. This posed a problem for Metzger: What to do with $41,040-worth of zloties that outside of Poland were worthless? He reported to the Heifer Project Committee that the answer “came like a revelation.” The money was used that July to pay the passage for ten Polish students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw to the United States to spend a year in the homes of American farm families. This planted a seed, which lay dormant for a decade due to the Cold War. Then in 1957, the Church of the Brethren began the Polish Agricultural Exchange Program, which lasted for nearly 40 years.

Students from the College of Agriculture of the University of Warsaw, Poland, gather with officials in the United States in 1947. Thurl Metzger, top left. Photo: Peggy Reiff Miller collection, courtesy of Thurl Metzger family.

The second diversion of cattle happened in December 1946 when a private company contracted by the Polish government to handle all imported livestock substituted some poor quality cows for Heifer Project’s best heifers through a slight of hand. They would have gotten away with it were it not for a brave peasant impressed by Heifer’s humanitarian efforts who came forward several days later and reported the incident to Metzger’s office. An investigation ensued, and five Heifer Project animals were identified in the firm’s herd by their ear tags. “Again the government acted in good faith,” reported Metzger, “and ordered the firm to turn over the five identified cows which were additions to the substitutions that had already been made.” Metzger concluded, “[I]t is significant that the Polish government reputed to be Communist was concerned enough about their relations to a small church group that they made an unusual effort to keep the records straight.”

UNRRA expresses gratitude for Heifer Project

The work of the Heifer Project following World War II did not go unnoticed by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. A letter to the Heifer Project Committee from UNRRA’s Director General was published 70 years ago this week in the January 11, 1947, Gospel Messenger of the Church of the Brethren:

UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND REHABILITATION ADMINISTRATION
1344 CONNECTICUT AVENUE
WASHINGTON 25, D. C.

November 26, 1946

Heifer Project Committee
New Windsor, Md.
Dear Mr. Bushong:
I am informed that your organization, the heifer-project committee of the Brethren Service Committee, has assembled a boatload of heifers which you will contribute to UNRRA for shipment from New Orleans to China in December. This will be the first boat of cattle to go to China, and is one of the most important gifts that UNRRA has received. Thousands of the cattle you have donated are now in Czechoslovakia, Greece, Italy and Poland helping the farmers there to restore their war-torn lands and feed the populations—rural and urban—of these countries which lost 50% of their livestock in the war. The artificial insemination program in Greece, set up by UNRRA with your assistance, has materially helped to improve the depleted breeding stock of that suffering country.
The fine spirit of practical Christianity and the faith that your group has shown are examples to us all in these days when, without faith, we cannot progress. Your movement, beginning modestly as it did, has spread its spirit and its work. Transcending barriers of nationality and religious conviction, it has drawn to itself members of many denominations, and illustrated what can be accomplished when conviction and efficient enterprise and fine Christian generosity are combined.
I understand that your organization has decided to continue its work for two years after UNRRA ceases. This is further exemplification of its validity. May I congratulate and thank you in the name of those we have all been trying to help and wish you every success in the future.
Sincerely yours,
F. H. La Guardia
Director General

Yet further exemplification of the Heifer Project’s validity is that it continues today as Heifer International. The organization was set in motion 75 years ago this week, as recorded in the January 10, 1942, minutes of the Church of the Brethren Northern Indiana Men’s Work Cabinet: “The Cabinet decided to support Dan West’s Calf Project. Dan West is to give more information at our April meeting.”

The shipment to China to which Mr. La Guardia refers left New Orleans November 19, 1946, on the S. S. Lindenwood Victory carrying 723 Heifer Project cattle and 32 seagoing cowboys. Watch for stories from this memorable trip in upcoming posts.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

Photo courtesy of George Weybright family.

“Hope” the Heifer: A Christmas Story

Hope the Heifer at the Villa Skaut orphanage in Konstancin, Poland, Christmas Eve, 1946. Attended left to right by Harvey Stump, Lee Cory, John Miller, and L. W. Shultz.

Hope the Heifer at the Villa Skaut orphanage in Konstancin, Poland, Christmas Day, 1946. Attended left to right by Harvey Stump, Lee Cory, John Miller, and L. W. Shultz. Photo from the Ray Zook album, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

The heifer named “Hope” in my children’s picture book The Seagoing Cowboy is based on a real heifer named “Hope” that was sent to Poland in late 1946 on the S. S. William S. Halsted. Here is an edited version of the real Hope’s story as told by L. W. Shultz in his article “Poland Has Hope”:

“Hope” is a beautiful Holstein cow. She was born (1944) on a Pennsylvania farm in the United States of America. While quite young she was chosen to bring relief to hungry, thirsty children in Europe. She was reared on the farm of Rudolph Kulp near Pottstown, Pennsylvania, in the Coventry Church of the Brethren, the second oldest congregation of the Church of the Brethren in America.

The month of October 1946 found Hope on the Roger Roop farm near New Windsor, Maryland, waiting to be shipped to Poland. Finally on November 1, 1946, with 332 other beautiful Holsteins, Guernseys, Jerseys, and Brown Swiss, she was loaded on the William S. Halsted. Hope had a very narrow escape when the ship collided with the Esso Camden gasoline tanker only three hours out from port Baltimore in the Chesapeake Bay. However, the explosion, fire, and damage did not cause any fatalities among either man or beast.

Damage to William S. Halsted.

Seagoing cowboys survey the damage to their ship, the William S. Halsted, November 1946. Photo from the album of Ray Zook, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

But it meant seventeen days of waiting while the ship was in dock for repair. Hope was cared for in the Union Stock Yards in Baltimore. On November 19, she was reloaded on the ship and started again for Danzig (Gdansk), where she landed on December 9, 1946. After some delay, she went on a railroad train to Warsaw and then on to the village of Konstancin where she found her new home, with another cow from the ship, in the orphanage of Villa Skaut.

The Jesakov family. Photo courtesy of Ray Zook.

The Jesakow family. Photo from the album of Ray Zook, Peggy Reiff Miller collection.

Here 130 orphans are being cared for by Leonid and Augusta Jesakow and their staff of workers, including their daughters, Irene, Lily, and Mary, all born in America.

What a welcome the children gave these cows! Hope also had a sturdy heifer calf to care for and to present to the orphans. This addition to the animal population at Villa Skaut was quite an event. Hope was giving ten liters of milk each day and will give more when spring comes.

On Christmas Day, 1946, after a morning service, pictures were taken of some of the orphans and Hope, while she was being milked. Present from America to bring these gifts to the children were Brethren Service workers Bruce and Clara Wood, and seagoing cowboys Lee R. Cory, John Miller, Harvey Stump, and Lawrence Shultz. These men received the thanks of the children and the orphanage management for the cows, candy, pencils, combs, toothbrushes, note books, etc., which were given as Christmas gifts. It was a never-to-be-forgotten Christmas time. Christmas Eve, presenting gifts with St. Mikolaj (St. Nicholas). Christmas services on December 25 in the morning, and the singing of Polish and English carols and songs in the evening until late at night. Thanks to Jadwiga, the teacher, and Francisek, the soloist.

Hope is really a life line for these children, Halia, Marta, Alicia, Wanda, Maria and all the rest. To all American Christians who have remembered them with food, clothing, and now Hope, they say “Dziekuje” (thank you).

***

And to all my readers, I wish a Blessed Christmas and a fruitful New Year ahead!

A seagoing cowboy encounters Russian soldiers

 

The F. J. Luckenbach docked in Nowyport, Poland, end of March 1946.

The F. J. Luckenbach docked in Nowyport, Poland, end of March 1946. Photo courtesy of Daniel Miller.

A year after Russian soldiers had “liberated” Gdansk from the Germans in March 1945, CPS Reserve member James M. Martin found himself in Poland by way of the livestock ship F. J. Luckenbach. The ship docked in Nowyport, which Jim recalls as “a small port town of obviously old and dilapidated houses that had mostly escaped destruction from the war.” The first afternoon, groups of cowboys strolled into town, finding few people on the streets and occasional Soviet soldiers. Jim writes:

Jim Martin talks with a Polish woman near the port. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin.

Jim Martin talks with a Polish woman near the port. Photo courtesy of Jim Martin.

To our surprise we found at the door of one of the houses a middle-aged man who spoke to us in English and invited us into his house. It developed that he had grown up in the U.S. and had somehow come to live in Poland as a young man. He had a Polish wife and two or three children. They were obviously incredibly poor and rather reluctantly admitted that they’d be glad for anything we didn’t need that we could give them. The man had a rather dejected manner and spoke freely but not joyfully.

Late in the afternoon of either the first or second day of our stay in Nowyport, we decided to take some of our cast-off clothing to the family we had met. We were leisurely strolling with the clothing in our arms when we were suddenly accosted by three Soviet soldiers (armed, of course). We couldn’t understand each other but it became apparent that we were to follow them.

They took us a short distance to an old wooden barn, completely empty except upstairs — I’d call it the hayloft — where there was a desk and several chairs and an unshaded light bulb suspended over the desk. At the desk sat another soldier who was obviously in command. There were also several other soldiers standing or sitting there.
The officer spoke toward us in Russian. We said we’re Americans. We couldn’t understand each other, except he probably understood ‘American.’

For a minute or two there was an awkward stalemate. Then it occurred to me to ask whether anyone speaks German. One soldier said he did a little. Well, ‘a little’ was the same for me.

So there began a cumbersome conversation. “Where were we going and why?” “To visit the family we had met and give them our cast-off clothes.” “This is not permissible for you to sell anything to anyone here.” “Oh, no, these are not for sale. Sie sint geschenke fur unserer Freunde. These are gifts for our friends.” “No, that’s not permitted. Nehmen sie zurick und gieben sie zum Rote Kreuz. Take them back and give them to the Red Cross.” That turned out to be the gist of our limited conversation, but we went around several times, I insisting that they are gifts and the officer insisting that we can’t do that and we should take them back home to the Red Cross. Eventually the same soldiers who had brought us there took us back to the ship.

Thinking of it afterwards I realized when we were first accosted it was dusk, and by the time we were taken back to the ship it was dark, so we probably were taking a greater risk than it seemed to me. Surely the area was under martial law and a curfew must have been in effect. Years afterward, one of the fellows in our group insisted that ‘you saved our lives.’ I don’t think it would have come to that, but I’m content to let him think so!!

I must add that the morning after we had been taken to the barn and questioned, we donned the extra clothing, several layers of it, strolled down to the home of the impoverished family, disrobed everything surplus, and left it there!

 

F. J. Luckenbach cowboys on a tour through Gdansk, early April 1946. Photo courtesy of Arnold Dietzel family.

F. J. Luckenbach cowboys on a tour through Gdansk, early April 1946. Photo courtesy of Arnold Dietzel family.

Of a tour through Gdansk that followed Jim recalls “block after block of skeletons of bombed-out buildings or piles of rubble that had once been buildings. Nothing in the newspapers back home could have brought to us the realities of war like this visit to Danzig. What must have been the terror in the hearts of the people who once called this home!”

Jim and his friends could leave Poland knowing they had at least helped the plight of one family, as well as the farmers who received the horses their ship delivered.

Find James M. Martin’s full account of his trip on the Cowboy Stories page of my website.