Meet Stanislaw Debert; at the end of 1945, Mr. Debert was the recipient of one of the 150 heifers sent by the Heifer Project to Poland on the SS Santiago Iglesias. In early October, I had the good fortune to sit and talk with him, his wife, and a daughter in their home near Gdansk about what that heifer meant to them.
At the end of World War II when Europe was seething with displaced persons, Mr. Debert arrived in the area of Gdansk. He fled from Kielce on the roof of a train car with only the clothes he was wearing.
He started his life over with his wife on his allotment of a 50-hectare farm (123 acres). There was nothing to eat, not even fruits and vegetables. However, help was on its way in the form of a heifer from the Heifer Project as well as a horse and canned food goods from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. UNRRA is the organization that provided the shipping for the Heifer Project animals.
The heifer was so important to the family that they kept her in the house with them. The Russians, Poland's "liberators," had been stealing and eating farm animals during that time. The Deberts didn't want that to happen to their beloved cow. She was the only cow on their farm and served them well for the next five years. Sadly, she got sick and had to be put down. Mr. Debert said, "The children cried. It was a very sad time." Even talking about it some sixty-three years later brought tears to his eyes.
Mr. Debert, now 89, asked me how he could thank the people who sent him his cow. I told him I would convey the message for him. And so, to you supporters of Heifer International, and especially those of you involved in the early years, on behalf of Mr. Debert and others like him, I pass on to you their hugs and tears of gratitude and say, "Thank you, thank you!"
P.S. I found Stanislaw Debert's name on a list of recipients from the SS Santiago Iglesias shipment in the process of researching Heifer's first decade in order to write a book about it. While in Europe, I also had the opportunity to meet with German recipients of heifers in 1950. I tell their story in a "Letter to the Editor" in the upcoming Spring 2014 World Ark.
- Peggy Reif Miller
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