Monday, April 7, 2014

May 27, 1939: A Good Fit

Letter from Charlotte Salmon at AFSC to Luther Harshbarger at McPherson College


Dear Mr. Harshbarger:

Congratulations on your campaign for raising funds for a refugee student. We are so glad to know you have been interested in this problem, and you certainly must have worked hard to raise $400 dollars.

It is a little difficult to suggest students to you since I haven't a catalog of McPherson and don't know very much about it. For instance, one very fine boy whom we should like to see in this country, and who needs scholarship help is Thomas Doeppner. I enclose a brief curriculum vitae. However, he is interested in engineering and should continue his studies along that line. I don't know whether or not he could do this at McPherson.

I have asked Miss Frenyear at the Fellowship of Reconciliation , 2929 Broadway, New York to send you the credentials of Jan Rosenbach, a young Czech boy whose father was a prominent pacifist, and who needs a scholarship.  If you don't hear from her soon please let me know, for I think you will be especially interested in him.

My third suggestion is Manfred Lange. I haven't full papers for him as yet, but I enclose some information about him.

Will you please send me a catalog of McPherson College? If you think that perhaps none of the boys would fit in there you might also write to the International Student Service, 8 West 40th Street, New York. I should be very glad, however, if there were a chance for one of the students I have mentioned.

Sincerely yours,

Charlotte S. Salmon
Placement Worker
Refugee Service

Charlotte writes Luther back, and with praise for their job well done. I just finished watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl, the severe drought that hit the mid-west in the 1930s. It was mind-boggling. I highly recommend seeing the film, I found it on Netflix. When Charlotte commends Luther on a job well done for the students of a college in Kansas to raise $400 - she had reason to be impressed. I’ll keep bringing it up: this was not a fruitful, wealthy, solid, safe, lush time. It was perhaps the scariest financial time these folks had ever seen. Financial security was a forgotten experience. The Great Depression was slowly lifting - but not into wealth, and the drought conditions in the mid-west were so immense that many were sure that the land would become desert. There was even a mass-exodus of people from this area in search for a better life, primarily: jobs and food.

So Charlotte again tackles the challenge of recommending students for the “prize” of studying in one of America’s colleges. It is interesting the balance she tries to find between finding a good fit for the student, and finding an exit strategy for the refugee. She first mentions Opa as a “very fine boy” (indeed!) who would be interested and qualified, but wants to study engineering. Charlotte pretty much knows nothing about McPherson college and so I am guessing that she is suggesting folks who have the best chance (and most need) of getting to America. Charlotte also mentions Jan Rosenbach, who seems to have a file with the folks at the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He is a Czech boy, and if you do a little digging into history, you’ll remember that Czech’s were in a pretty shaky relationship with Nazi Germany. Germany annexed the Sudetenland (borders of Czech with higher populations of German folks), and that mobilization into Czech was what I think prompted my Opa to be drafted into the Army when he was. Luckily, he ran the opposite way. Now, if you’re a boy in Czech with a father who is a prominent pacifist- you are likely *not* on Hitler’s happy list. Last Charlotte recommends Manfred Lange and encloses information on him. (Also - a side note- I love the exchange of information and cooperation between the agencies that are all aiming to help refugees.)

Charlotte asks to get more information on McPherson so she can make better suggestions. I appreciate how thorough she is on trying to make a good fit. On the one hand, she is searching for quality of life along the success of relocating. On the other hand, if I were a refugee and knew what lie ahead- I would tell her to forget the happy fit and find any old school who’ll have me. However, the folks didn’t know exactly what lie ahead. I wonder if Charlotte knew more about what would happen and when, would she put as much emphasis on the fit? Or would student visas be just another function of safe exit, without much emphasis on the student part? 

Charlotte’s goal in finding a good match for a student was likely more big-picture than just “can they study what they want.” A good match meant that the refugee had better chance of adjusting, adapting, settling, and success to stay in the safety of the school and the country. Maybe Charlotte did have a long-term view of this and understood that the success of the student in that first year would go a long way in securing his/her success as a potentially permanent resident of the USA.

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