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.

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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

Meeting heifer recipients in Germany, Part II–The Reichswald, 1950

Today’s post picks up the story of Heifer Project shipments to Germany in the 1950s through the eyes of Heifer Project Representative Joe Dell who was stationed there. In my previous post, Dell had taken seagoing cowboy Rev. A. H. Elshoff to the distribution of the 8th shipment in Coesfeld. The remainder of the heifers from that shipment had been distributed on June 29, 1950, to forty-two families in the Reichswald settlement. In his August 1950 report, “Reichswald Pioneers,” Joe Dell tells their story:

In a number of rather isolated rural areas in Germany today pioneers are clearing the timber land and breaking the soil in ventures reminiscent of days when pioneers in our own land forged westward in search of new lands and new homes.

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Clearing the land in the war-damaged part of the Reichswald, circa 1949. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

These are refugee families who have been forced by the ravages of war to find new homes and new places to earn their livelihood. In western Germany today there are an estimated 9 to 13 million of these people. . . . For the past five years they have been waiting out a dreary and often hopeless existence in refugee camps . . . Or have been living with friends or relatives and struggling to support themselves as best they could by obtaining work from day to day.

Slowly now, some of these people are able to leave camp and extablish [sic] new homes for themselves and herein lies the pioneering venture. . . . It is with such people, who are building new homes for themselves, that [Heifer Project Committee] heifers are being placed.

The makeshift school in a barrack until a new one can be constructed, 1950. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

The makeshift school in a barrack until a new one can be constructed, 1950. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

But let us look a little more closely in order that these people may become known to us. In the westernmost part of Germany, a few miles from the Holland border, lies the Reichswald or German forest. Here more than 1100 years ago Charlemagne and his knights ruled the Frankish kingdom, and here less than six years ago bitter fighting destroyed much of the beauty and worth of the forests. During the past year more than 2,000 acres of these woods have been cleared and homes built or started for five hundred families. Some will earn their living entirely from working the soil, others will work in the community village which is being built. Very soon a school will be completed and the children will no longer have to make the long trip into Kleve where the nearest school is now located.

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A home goes up in the Reichswald settlement, 1950. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

On one of the 35 acre farms in this community lives widow Queling with her eight children. Her husband met with an accident last year and was killed leaving the mother and children to carry on alone. Both she and her husband were born near the Reichswald area and migrated in 1928, after their marriage, to Silesia on the German-Polish border. In 1945 the war overtook them; they had to leave their farm and livestock and make their way as best they could into western Germany. Then followed years of hardship, when hunger and want stalked the land and the struggle for survival was fierce. The Quelings lived during that time with relatives in a village some miles from the Reichswald. Late in 1949 the news came to them of the opportunity to establish their own home and start a new life here. The German Government was helping families to clear the forests, to break the land and to have their own home for the first time in years. Soon thereafter the family joined in the work of clearing stumps and getting the ground in shape for the spring planting.

Their joy in building a new home was turned to sadness by the death of the father in December and the family had to carry on the struggle alone. Finally a part of the land was cleared and potatoes, oats and hay were planted. Last June brought happy news again to the Quelings and to Reichswald. Forty-two heifers, some already giving milk and others to freshen soon, had arrived in Bremen; sent to this new community by Christian friends in the United States. From Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and even as far away as Oregon, these heifers had been sent by people who wished to share their abundance that others might be helped to a better life.

On June 22, 1950, 42 heifers arrive for distribution in the Reichswald settlement. The makeshift school in a barrack until a new one can be constructed, 1950. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

On June 22, 1950, 42 heifers arrive for distribution in the Reichswald settlement. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

Forty-two of the neediest families in the Reichswald received one heifer each. The Quelings waited expectantly to see which theirs would be. Finally the cattle arrived from Bremen and the selections were made. The Quelings led their newest possession, a red and white heifer, to her new home. She had been given by Henry Kirk and had come from Halse, Oregon; more than 7,000 miles by railroad, by ship, and by truck. During the day the cow would be turned out to pasture in an adjoining field and brought home each evening by the children so that she could be milked.
. . . .
We could continue the story of hundreds and thousands of Quelings and Geils and Kirsches. Their stories are different, yet alike. All have known the bitterness of hunger and cold and hopelessness. Some know also the joy and hope inspired by a future wherein they can begin again and the knowledge that someone in America has cared enough to send them help — even from 7,000 miles away.

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June 22, 1950. Photo courtesy of Heimatvereins Reichswalde.

Next regular post: My visit to the Reichswald recipients