Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, established by United Nations resolution during 2005 and observed worldwide to commemorate the six million Jews and lesser numbers of other minority groups systematically slaughtered by the Nazi regime during World War II.
The commemoration is held on Jan. 27 because on that date during 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi concentration-death camps, where an estimated 1.1 million people were exterminated.
Iowa's Holocaust Memorial (top), constructed during 2013 with financial support from the Jacqueline and Myron Blank Fund, is located on the west terrace of the state Capitol grounds in Des Moines, near the intersection of East 7th Street and Grand Avenue and is well worth visiting today, or any other day. The photo here is taken from the Memorial's web site; the Memorial's Facebook page is located here.
But I wanted to write something this morning about a little-known program in Iowa that still shines like a very small, but very bright, candle in the darkness of U.S. immigration and other policies during that era --- including overt stonewalling by the U.S. State Department --- that prevented thousands of Jews seeking refuge in America from reaching safety on its shores.
Iowa native Michael Luick-Thrams wrote the book on the Iowa project, "Out of Hitler's Reach: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-1943," back in the 1990s and it remains available via Amazon and other sources. I met Michael shortly after the book was published --- and bought a copy --- when he visited our Unitarian Universalist fellowship in Mason City. Then last year, I was pleased to hear from him again.
The Scattergood project grew out of a 1938 gathering of young Iowa Quakers at what then was the Iowa Methodist Camp on Clear Lake's south shore. They were aware of the increasing persecution, in Germany, of both Jews and vocal opponents to the Nazi regime. They also were aware that Scattergood Friends School, near West Branch, had been forced to close during the Great Depression and was standing vacant.
The young Friends developed the idea of using the Scattergood campus and farm as a hostel for German refugees fleeing Hitler who had been able to reach the United States. There, they would be assisted as they prepared to build new lives in America.
The hostel plan was carried out with assistance from the American Friends Service Committee and during the four years it operated provided hope and sustenance to 185 refugees who remained there for an average of several months each. The Quakers did not note the religious affiliation of those who found refuge with them, but Michael estimates that about 85 percent were Jewish.
The hostel, supported by nearby Quakers and the community in general, flourished until 1943, when war blocked the arrival of additional refugees.
The Friends then proposed that the hostel be opened to Japanese-Americans who had been rounded up and were being held in concentration camps of another sort in various places across the United States. But the communities that had welcomed the German refugees to Iowa said a firm "no" and the Scattergood experiment ended on a less than harmonious note.
The video here, a segment from the old "Living in Iowa" program, will tell you more about the Scattergood hostel. There's much more to be found, too, at Michael's Web site, "Traces." Scattergood Friends School continues to flourish. Its web site is located here.