Hate begets war begets hate

A popular Advent theme is “Peace.” In these times of hateful vitriol, I pondered that theme as I read the account of seagoing cowboy Gordon Shull of his time in Gdansk, Poland, in May 1946. And I wonder, how does one defuse hate to keep it from breeding war? And after a war, how does one pacify the hate that lingers?

The destruction World War II survivors had to cope with in Gdansk, Poland, May 1946. Photo credit: Marvin Snell, shipmate of Gordon Shull.

Shull experienced that hate in post-World War II Gdansk. Gdansk had been the German free city of Danzig before the war, repopulated by the Poles at war’s end when most surviving German citizens were expelled in accord with the Potsdam Agreement. Life was rough for the small number of Germans who stayed, as detailed in Shull’s letter from that time:

“[T]he immigrating Poles have brought with them a blind, deep-seated hatred of all Germans . . . [and they] are taking their sweet revenge.

“Put yourself in the shoes of Mary K–, with whom I talked for several hours. Imagine yourself standing helpless by as an invading Russian soldier loots your home, opening trunks, overturning tables, adding your wristwatch to the half-dozen others that already adorn his arm . . . disguising yourself as an old woman in order to evade the sex-hungry soldiers, but sometimes failing because some 80-year-old women were raped, while others who had the misfortune of being young and beautiful were raped as much as 30 times.

“Then, after the Russians have settled down, and after your friends and relatives have left Danzig for uncertain fates in Russia or Germany, imagine yourself at the mercy of people whose moral principles, already reduced by war and its familiar accompaniments, have reached a new low in a boom-town atmosphere. You are now the scapegoat of a people who have suffered at the hands of Germans and Russians. Imagine yourself chased out of your home at the point of a gun by a Pole who allows you to take only that which you can lay your hands on as you leave (no . . . you must leave your camera, your watch, your bicycle, your jewelry) . . . finding a greenhouse or a clubroom or a not-too-badly-ruined dwelling in which to live . . . dragged out of bed at 6:00 AM, every once in a while, by Polish police, and forced to work all day in their headquarters for absolutely nothing . . . getting up at 5:00 each morning so that you can hide from the Poles, and thus go to your job – which, incidentally, pays about half as much as a Pole would get . . . thrown off of streetcars as soon as your identity is discovered . . . having no law whatever to protect you . . . living in perpetual fear, so that when someone knocks on your door, you hold your breath . . . .  All of this and more happened to middle-aged Mary K–. . . .

“Before the war, Mary was a Physics Instructor. A graduate of the University of Danzig, she had done work on the electronics microscope. Now she wields a sledge hammer. Her wage consists of one or two meals, and ten cents a day. That’s about enough to buy two or three loaves of bread on the market. . . .

With so many men killed in the war, women did most of the clean up work. Gdansk, summer 1946. Photo credit: Richard Musselman.

“Mary told us that she and many of her friends had opposed the Nazis so much that the Nazis had boycotted their businesses. ‘Because of our opposition,’ she said in pretty good English, ‘we didn’t dream that any harm would come to us after the war. But no . . . you can’t imagine!’ Several times in the course of our conversation she repeated that phrase, covering her head in her hands as if to suppress memories that were too bitter to describe, or even to hold in her mind. Then, with a determined [shake] of her head and a quick clenching of her fist, she would snap out of it.

“. . . Because we knew that she was not begging, and would share with other needy Germans anything we might give her, we made our contribution all the larger, when we left.”

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The real Cowboy John from THE SEAGOING COWBOY picture book

John Nunemaker shares a photo with me of his horse Queen as a colt. March 2016.

John Nunemaker shares a photo with me of his horse Queen as a colt. March 2016.

I have always been captivated by John Nunemaker’s story of finding his family’s work horse Queen on his ship when he reported to the S.S. Queen’s Victory in September 1946. John’s father had sold Queen that January, and there she was, on her way to Poland just like John. His story found its way into my picture book, The Seagoing Cowboy, that was released the end of March.

Queen as a colt on the Carl Nunemaker farm, Goshen, Indiana. Photo courtesy of John Nunemaker.

Queen as a colt on the Carl Nunemaker farm, Goshen, Indiana. Photo courtesy of John Nunemaker.

 

 

The real Queen (Queenie in the book) was a four-year-old bay when she was sold at the Goshen (IN) Community Sale to an Eastern horse buyer. John recognized Queen because her right shoulder had been injured while clearing ground, resulting in permanent loss in the right shoulder muscle. “No doubt about it,” he says, “Queen knew John N. and John Nunemaker knew Queen.” He was able to take care of her all the way to Poland.

John identified with the story in the book and sent me a delightful letter of comments and additions to his story. He traveled to port from Elkhart, Indiana, by train with a friend, Robert Stichter, and recalls the excitement and adventure he felt at age 18 as he carried his duffel up the gang plank. He notes the four shots he got before going on board were his first shots ever.

John Nunemaker's Merchant Marine card making him an official cattle tender for UNRRA. Photo courtesy John Nunemaker.

John Nunemaker’s Merchant Marine card making him an official cattle tender for UNRRA. Photo courtesy of John Nunemaker.

John was one of the cowboys who succumbed to seasickness, “puking my last meal over the rail,” he says, “with the wind from bow of ship blowing the puke back into my face.” He recalls riding out a storm in the three-tier bunks in the cowboys’ quarters at the back of the ship. “The propeller, right below us, came out of the water over a wave, and the whole ship shuddered and vibrated until the propeller got in the water again.”

John says he went barefoot on the ship across the Atlantic. One afternoon, he was sleeping in his middle bunk thirty inches off the floor with his feet over the edge of the bunk. “Other cowboys wanted to see me wake up,” he says. “They had book matches they lit and put flame on my calloused sole.” They went through two books of matches, one at a time, and didn’t wake him until they laughed loudly. John says, “I could walk through a Canada thistle patch barefooted on our farm and not flinch.”

“We sure got excited when we saw Lands End in England from the ship,” John says. In Poland, he watched the unloading of the horses and says while they were still in the “flying stall” on dock they were branded by the left front leg with the name “UNRRA.”

Instead of children following them, John recalls the “adults begging us to help them out of Poland.” He notes, “The destruction (from bombs) we saw was terrible. We saw very few men (all killed), with women with wheelbarrows cleaning up the debris.”

“Queen and 20-plus horses were driven, untied, through the city streets of Danzig from the port to the farms and barns of Poland. We told our horses ‘Woha’ to stop. The Poles said ‘Grrrrer’ to stop. Of course, the horses of the ship did not know what ‘Grrrrer’ meant.”

Of his trip, John says, like the cowboy in the book, he would never forget the people of Poland and the terrible things war can do. “I was looking out for adventure (which I had) but wound up serving my fellow man and God, upholding my conviction and telling people that war is wrong.”

John Nunemaker adds his autograph to The Seagoing Cowboy at Better World Books, April 1, 2016.

John Nunemaker adds his autograph to The Seagoing Cowboy at Better World Books, April 1, 2016. Photo credit: Abbie Miller.

Seagoing cowboy conversations with returning World War II soldiers

Here is the report from “Relief for Greece” in which Donald Lefever writes about his interchanges with the soldiers on the S. S. Virginian:

Our Contacts with Soldiers on the Return Trip

At Naples 140 soldiers came aboard the Virginian for transportation home. The great majority of these men had been in the service for three or more years and all of them had enough points to be discharged when they arrived in the States. Practically all had seen action in the most severe fighting in Italy and Africa. We had many opportunities to talk with these soldiers since neither they nor our group had any work to do.

When conversing with a soldier any length of time I frequently asked him some or all of the following questions: Do you favor peacetime conscription? What is your attitude toward the race question? What was our nation fighting for?

The answer to the first question was almost unanimous. Of the men I talked to five out of six were against peacetime conscription. They believed that the higher officers and officials of the army would favor the step in order to insure themselves a well paying position in peacetime. Most of the soldiers felt that conscription in peacetime would be a violation of our democracy.

The answer to the race question presented mor [sic] varied opinions. First, let me state that perhaps one-fourth of the soldiers on board were Negroes who, incidently, seemed to get along quite well with the rest of the soldiers. The soldiers all had their living and eating quarters together which is not the way things are usually done in the U. S. Army. We found that the army had done very little to rid the white soldiers of their ideas of white supremacy. Some admitted that the Negro should be treated better but most thought the Negro was in some way inferior to the average white man. The attitude of the Negro soldiers toward the problem seemed to be more rational. One young man from New York said, “We expect no gifts, all we want is equal rights; the right to compete on an equal basis.” Another married man from Ohio said it was his opinion that a Christian nation should accept all races as equal, whatever their color or heritage. “It is pretty disgusting and it lowers your self-respect to be excluded from a theatre or a concert hall just because your skin happens to be brown,” were the words of a young man from Arizona. These Negroes felt that if they were good enough to risk their lives for the country the least the government could do for them was to insure them of equal rights and opportunities.

When asked what the nation was fighting for most of the soldiers would reply that it was fighting for the survival of democracy. When asked what they themselves were fighting for they weren’t so sure. Many said they fought because they were made to fight. Others fought because it was either their skins or the other fellows; they preferred that it be the other fellows. Very few fellows said they fought because they hated the Germans. In fact some said they had nothing against the Germans. Many admitted that the German atrocities did not far surpass the American atrocities. One fellow said, “There were good and bad on both sides and our side did plenty that the people will never hear about back in the States. Another young man from the South remarked that it was funny that, “if we didn’t fight they would put us in prison or shoot us and the same thing would happen to the Germans if they didn’t fight. We both are fighting someone else’s war and we both are fighting for the same ideal of freedom.” One of the soldiers told a member of our group that he didn’t think a real Christian could fight. Another young married fellow with a child he had never seen said to a small group of us, “We fight, we obey commands and we aren’t supposed to think. In twenty years my little boy will be fighting the next war and he won’t know why.”

What a closing statement! I wonder if his little boy ended up fighting in Vietnam.