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The Long Reach of Persecution and Genocide

Co-facilitated by
University of Minnesota ’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies 

and TRACES Center for History and Culture


held at various locations


The Holocaust and the events surrounding it can seem far removed from the American Midwest, especially for young people born in a post-war world that—on the surface at least—scarcely resembles the world of the 1930s and ‘40s.


This three-part series is intended to “bring the Holocaust home,” to localize global events that took place more than half a century ago, and to make an abstraction literally tangible by familiarizing teachers (and thereby their students) with Midwest connections to Nazi Germany: individual case studies involving refugees, Midwest “rescuers,” the Frank sisters’ Iowa pen pals, Jewish Midwest POWs in the Third Reich, Jewish civilian internees in the U.S., and the experiences of Minnesota or other Midwest soldiers present at Nazi camps.


For information or to register for the limited spaces available for this unique series, contact programs@TRACES.org at 651.646.0400/fax 8070. To attend one session costs $50, two cost $75 and all three $115; fees include cost of 1 exhibit book and (while supplies last) 1 TPT documentary on DVD/VHS. CEU certificates will be provided for all seeking re-certification or re-licensure.

Day 1

[5-8.30pm Thursday]

First Hour

Course Introduction:

—Small-Group Survey of Prior Knowledge of Nazi Persecution and the Holocaust, as Experienced in the American Heartland

—General Overview of Series

—Opening Remarks by Vicky Knickerbocker, Outreach Worker, University of Minnesota ’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

Second Hour

Eugenics in America , a Model for the Nazis

Third Hour

Anti-Semitism in the Midwest

Minneapolis: Historical “Anti-Semitic Capital of the U.S.

—Henry Ford: Model Industrialist and Hate Monger

—Charles Lindbergh: “ America First” Isolationist and Critic of Jews

Day 2

[5-8.30pm Thursday]

First Hour

Midwest Pen Pals and Persecution of the Jews:

—Lucille Nelson’s Anti-Semite Pen Pal in Vienna , Maria Likar

—Anne and Margot Frank’s Iowa Pen Pals, Juanita and Betty Ann Wagner

Second Hour

Havens in the Heartland:

—Herman Stern’s Quiet Rescue Efforts

—Quaker Responses to the Nazi Persecution

—the Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-43

—the Quaker Hill Hostel for European Refugees, 1940-41

Third Hour

Jews [Re-]Imprisoned with other German-American Internees:

—the case of Eddie Friede

—Jews from Latin America Forcibly Brought to the U.S. and “Exchanged” during WWII

Day 3

[5-8.30pm Thursday]

First Hour

Jewish Midwest POWs in Nazi camps

—Lionel Greenberg of Saint Paul

­—Sol Korey of Milwaukee

Second Hour

Aftermath: Remembering the Legacy of the Holocaust; interview with Twin Cities survivors, produced by Twin Cities Public Television

Third Hour


—Panel Discussion, Q/A: Survivors of the Holocaust and U.S. Army Witnesses

—Course Review: “What We’ve Learned”

Description of Select Case Studies:

Midwest Anti-Semites:

Henry Ford

As founder and owner of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford Sr. made a positive and lasting contribution to both American industry and culture by providing inexpensive automobiles to millions of people. As the only American mentioned in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, however, Ford contributed much more to American society than just automobiles and jobs.

Henry Ford held an authoritative role over both his company and his employee’s personal lives by offering English and other “improvement classes” for immigrant workers. He vehemently protested World War I, and lashed out against international bankers whom he saw responsible for financing the war and hurting his business. After a disastrously failed peace-making attempt in Europe , he sought an outlet to express his feelings. In 1919 he purchased the failing Michigan newspaper, the Dearborn Independent. The newspaper first began attacking Jews in May 1920 and in 91 subsequent editions blamed Jews for almost every problem in America , ranging from unemployment to fixing baseball games. His hateful sentiment was well summarized by his pithy quote,

Whichever way you turn to trace the harmful streams of influence that flow through society, you come upon a group of Jews.

Anyone who bought one of Henry Ford’s automobiles was automatically given a subscription to the Independent, which eventually boasted a circulation of 700,000.  Many of the paper’s anti-Semitic articles were reprinted by the Ford-owned Dearborn Publishing Company in four paper-bound volumes, the most notorious being the The International Jew, the World’s Foremost Problem. The International Jew portrayed Jews as monolithic, malicious schemers, plotting to control the planet. The book did not portray Jews as individuals, but as a single minded, calculating cartel. For his work, Hitler’s regime awarded Henry Ford the “Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle.”

Although he later publicly issued two written apologies for his books and articles, Henry Ford’s sincerity and even his signature are still debated as being possibly inauthentic. Although the now publicly-owned Ford Motor Company has attempted to mend ties with Jewish people, the International Jew—which once had an audience of hundreds of thousands—is now posted on the internet and, capitalizing on Henry Ford’s name, continues to spread hate to millions.

Charles Lindbergh

Born in Michigan and reared in Minnesota , aviation pioneer Charles Augustus Lindbergh was one of the world’s first truly international heroes. In 1927 he completed the first-ever solo trans-Atlantic flight—and caught the imagination of a newly airborne nation. Only 14 years later, however, many branded him a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semitic because of his outspoken views against the U.S. ’ entry into World War II. One columnist said the “Lone Eagle” had plummeted from “Public Hero No. 1” to “Public Enemy No. 1”. Debate continues today as to whether Charles Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer or simply sought to keep America out of the war.

On 11 September 1941 Charles appeared in Des Moines/Iowa to speak on behalf of the isolationist America First Committee. The famous aviator criticized groups he perceived were leading America into war, for acting against the country’s interests. He expressed doubt that the U.S. military could win a war against Germany , which he assessed had “armies stronger than our own.” The speech was met with public outrage, and Charles was denounced as an anti-Semite for comments such as:

If any one of these groups—the British, the Jewish, or the administration—stops agitating for war, I believe there will be little danger of our involvement.

Even Charles’ hometown of Little Falls/Minnesota removed his name from its water tower.

Six years previously, Charles and his wife—writer Anne Morrow Lindbergh—had moved to Britain to escape relentless and sensationalist publicity surrounding the kidnapping and murder of their infant son. In 1936, Charles inspected the German military aviation program on behalf of the U.S. government, and that August attended the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin as a guest of Hermann Goering, the head of Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Impressed by German industry and society under Hitler, the Lindberghs considered moving to Berlin and began inspecting possible property. In 1938, Goering presented Charles with the Service Cross of the German Eagle for his contributions to aviation. Upon returning to America in 1939, Charles advocated isolationism, but was criticized for his Nazi sympathies and anti-Semitic sentiments.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 , debate over U.S. war policy came to an end and America First quickly dissolved. Charles, who had resigned his military commission in 1939, asked to be reinstated, but President Roosevelt refused. The middle-aged Lindbergh later served as an observer in the Pacific, and eventually flew over two dozen combat missions, including one in which he downed a Japanese aircraft.

Midwest Pen Pals and their European “Friends”:

Lucille and Maria

Lucille Nelson of Eagle Grove/Iowa had had polio at age seven, and later took 60 piano lessons via a correspondence course with a firm in Kansas City , given her immobility. Her keen interest in music, then, excited her when as a 15-year-old girl at Goldfield High School she learned of a girl in Vienna who sought a pen pal. A doctor’s only child, Maria Louisa Likar happened to have many of the same interests as Lucille—including a passion for Wagner operas. For more than a year and a half, the two exchanged not only letters full of details from their lives, but newspaper clippings, photos of Hollywood stars and starlets, fashion ideas for Maria’s dressmaker—even gifts of jewelry and handkerchiefs.

Maria’s letters, however, increasingly departed from the cares and interests typical of teenage girls and dripped with political references. She stood for hours on a curb in the Austrian capital, for example, and waited for a glimpse of Adolf Hitler—who she said “arrived under the indescribable jubilation of the people.” On another occasion, Maria later reported to Lucille that

Our Fuehrer [was] in Vienna for three days. There were so many people at the Hotel, though he was not officially here, that you can’t imagine. I myself waited 4 hours. But that doesn’t matter. I think never a man was loved by the whole nation like this. Just [now] I read in the paper that you hear in the newspapers [that] in Germany [there] are dreadful conditions and I don’t know what else. That is not true. That’s only wrote by the Jews to prevent peace. Everything is in best order. It is so funny if you sit in Germany and you reads things that never happened. That I only tell you, that you know how the things stay realy [sic].

Maria’s letters noted Hitler’s birthday and of listening to the “wireless” to the Nazi party rallies in Nuernberg. She also warned Lucille not to believe “Jewish lies” about the “New Germany”, which during their friendship came to include annexed Austria . After the annexation both girls’ letters were subject to censorship and some of Maria’s never arrived in Iowa . Eventually, Maria wrote “I will never again write about politics.”

Lucille was devastated when her last letter to Maria at Salmgasse 10 was returned “address unknown.” Since Maria was to have just received some furniture for her own room as a birthday present, Lucille couldn’t understand the mysterious disappearance of her special friend—and she would wonder, her whole life, what happened to her Austrian pen pal.

Anne and Margot Franks’ Iowa Pen Pals

They were four young girls, interested in friends and boys and movie stars, in laughing and giggling and having a good time. Were they best friends, living next door? No. In fact, Iowa farm girls Juanita and Betty Ann Wagner, and Amsterdam residents Anne and Margot Frank lived half a world apart and never met except through letters. The girls were pen pals, brought together by an innovative and progressive Iowa school teacher, Birdie Mathews.

Juanita told her pen friend Anne all about life on a farm and about the state in which she lived. She shared about her mother and older sister Betty as well. Anne wrote back and spoke of the Montessori school that she attended and told Juanita about her own family. The girls’ older sisters also became pen pals. Margo Frank wrote to Betty Ann Wagner about the exciting times during which they were living and about being so close to Germany .

War came to the U.S. on 7 December 1941 . Both Juanita and Betty Ann were concerned for their Dutch friends but they attributed the lack of letters to the war. It was not until after the war when Betty Ann wrote again to Anne and Margo and received a reply from Otto Frank—Anne and Margo’s father—that they found out the girls had perished in one of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps, Bergen-Belsen .

For a brief moment in time—during an era when many young people did not look beyond their own borders—four girls touched each other’s lives from half a world away, thanks to Birdie Matthews. “Miss Birdie” was a world traveler who brought the world back to her students; she retired in 1945 and died in 1974, at the age of 94—fondly remembered by many of her former pupils.

Herman Stern: Quiet Rescuer of Jews

A German-Jewish immigrant himself in the early 1900s, between 1933 and 1941 Herman Stern helped 125 Jews—mostly relatives or friends of relatives—flee Nazi Germany. Assisted by Senator Gerald P. Nye of Hermann Stern’s adopted home state of North Dakota , Stern personally raised the funds to bring and found the makeshift livelihoods to support the many refugees he aided. A one-man rescue team, in large part he used unreliable, meager Depression-era proceeds from his modest dry-goods business to “buy” the lives of individuals who otherwise might have perished.


[This information is from Nowhere to Turn on the Minnesota State University at Moorhead ’s website http://www.mnstate.edu/shoptaug/nowhereexhibit.htm, researched by Terry Shoptaugh.]

Quaker Responses to the Nazi Persecution:

Clarence Pickett

“I remember sitting in a quiet Quaker Meeting one Sunday morning in our Center on Prinz Louis Ferdinandstrasse and listening to the screaming voice of Goebbels (from a loud-speaker outside), pouring forth a venomous attack on all Jews and calling upon the churches to have nothing to do with them,” Clarence Picket later recalled, after visiting Nazi Germany in 1938.

Born in Illinois , raised on the Kansas prairie and graduated from Iowa ’s Penn College , Clarence became the Executive Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in 1929. As an Earlham College professor he had been teaching and experimenting with the application of ethical principles in social situations; the AFSC was seeking to focus on the prevention of war, not just war relief.

Relief for Jews who were trying to flee Germany soon became an overwhelming concern. Working closely with Jewish, Lutheran and Catholic groups, the AFSC and British Friends (as Quakers also are called) sought at the Berlin Quaker Center to help individuals who were not religious but were condemned because they had even one Jewish grandparent. For this and other work the AFSC—along with the (British) Friends Service Council—was awarded the Nobel Peace in 1947.

Leonard Kenworthy

Leonard S. Kenworthy served as director or the International Quaker Center in Berlin from 1940–41, as he wrote later “primarily assisting Jewish people to leave that hate-drenched nation.”

AFSC head Clarence Pickett—seeking a young, single man who spoke German and would accept the risks involved—asked the 28-year old Quaker school teacher to direct Friends’ relief efforts for one year. Leonard had been born in Richmond/Indiana to a family with a tradition of working abroad for humanitarian causes; he accepted and stayed despite the frustrations, fears and wartime conditions he endured. Soon after his return home, the U.S. entered the war and he was drafted and served as a conscientious objector.

The Center—begun as a response to Kristallnacht—was committed to helping as many Jews as possible find refuge in other countries. The obstacles were enormous. First of all, few places in the world were willing to accept Jewish refugees. Then, the bureaucracy facing those who had found a place to go was long and exacting. As Leonard reported “it seemed like an endless process, but it was their only hope for leaving.” He estimated that of the 1,000 persons the Quaker bureau was able to assist, perhaps 100 left during his year. Those he was powerless to assist, he listened to sympathetically, but long afterwards he continued to ponder what else he could have done.

One thing the Center was able to accomplish was to provide a place for Berlin Quakers to wrap packages of books, games and musical instruments to be sent to German camps for Allied prisoners of war. This was one small testimony to peace that Hitler’s regime allowed the Friends to do. Years later, when asked why the Nazis permitted Quakers to do even as much as they did, Leonard speculated that it could have been because they were so small, or because they were ridding Germany of Jews, or because the feeding that the Quakers had done after WWI was still remembered by hungry German children—some of whom had grown up to be Nazi officials.

Nancy Parker and Gertrude McCoy

Two young Midwest Quaker women, Nancy Parker and Gertrude McCoy, spent the 1938-39 academic year teaching at a Quaker school in Palestine . At the Friends School of Ramallah, they taught a variety of subjects, and supervised many of the Muslim and Christian students—which at times included having them lie on the floor when battles between the British and Palestinians came too close. Nancy and Gertrude both fell in love with the land and their students, but had only signed on for one year. Nancy was to be a delegate to the German Quaker Yearly Meeting in August 1939, while Gertrude had gotten a post in a school in the German town of Ambach , near Munich .

Gertrude spent a month in Germany , where she experienced women hissing at her for wearing rouge and lipstick, and soldiers threatening her when she did not offer “Heil Hitler”. Just before school was to open, soldiers took the headmaster in the middle of the night, and banged on her door: “If you don’t go back to the U.S. today, you will have to work for Hitler”. She sailed back in a ship filled with others escaping the impeding war—including the Joseph Kennedy family of Boston and renowned conductor Arturo Toscanini.

Nancy also felt the fear that pervaded Germany . She, too, was hissed at when she did not say “Heil Hitler” and German Quakers told her to always be careful, as the Gestapo was present at all Quaker meetings. Only when inside a Friend’s apartment or way out in the country after a long hike was she able to hear her hosts’ grief and frustrations. She was even careful not to write her impressions in her journal while she was there. She, too, had narrow escapes leaving Germany , but did make it home safely, despite the terror of the times.

She later vividly described her experiences in Notes from Ramallah, 1939.

Midwest POWs in Nazi Germany : Behind Barbed Wire

The first U.S. troops to enter WWII came from the Upper Midwest ; the 34th Division also served the longest stint of active duty—611 days. In February 1943 some 1,800 mostly Iowa, but also Minnesota and Dakota soldiers fell prisoner to Rommel's Afrikakorps; they were marched to Tunis, flown to Naples, then shipped in box cars to Nazi Germany, where they spent two years as "Hitler's uninvited guests." Those who survived that living hell returned to America 's Heartland forever changed. Jewish Midwest POWs had experiences different from their co-captives.

Aftermath: What 
 Soldiers Found in Nazi Camps

American GIs who fought their way across Europe from Normandy and Italy into Germany were not fighting to liberate Jews in ghettos or concentration camps. Nor was that a stated war aim of the Allied Powers. The Soviets, however, opened the Majdanek Camp in Eastern Poland on 23 July 1944 and took control of abandoned camps at Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka the next month. Their Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, while Canadian forces liberated the abandoned Vught concentration camp in the Netherlands in October 1944 and Free French Forces entered the Natzweiler-Struthof camp in Alsace on 23 November 1944.

See www.TRACES.org for more information and views of the exhibit.

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