Peace Testimony During and Between the World Wars
"QUAKERS in BRIEF"or "QUAKERISM made EASY"
(An over-view of the Quaker movement from 1650 to 1990)
by David M Murray-Rust
Birkenhead Meeting, Merseyside, UK (1995)
The "Peace Testimony" has been a continuing tradition throughout Quaker history, although it has seldom been imposed on Friends with credal force. During the present century it has remained a powerful influence on Friends' thought and action, based as it is on a religious conviction.
When conscription was introduced during the first World War, there was some provision for conscientious objection. Tribunals had the power to give exemption on condition of undertaking some approved service or even unconditionally. Tribunals were in general unsympathetic; exemption was hard to obtain and an unconditional exemption was very rare. An appreciable number of Friends and Attenders, who claimed unconditional exemption, suffered long terms of imprisonment. There is little doubt that the sincerity and the steadfastness of those who made the protest had a considerable influence on later attitudes. So, by the time of the second War things had changed considerably; there was greater tolerance to those claiming exemption on conscience grounds and many Friends were granted exemption either absolutely or more frequently on undertaking alternative service.
The corporate action of Friends towards peace and war may be said to have had two purposes: the healing of the hurt done by war, and the establishment of a condition of peace. Among the ways in which Friends reacted to the 1914-18 War were three organisations which need special mention.
(a) The Emergency Committee. This was set up in 1914 to counteract the danger of mass hysteria and violence likely to be directed against 'enemy aliens'. There were large numbers of Germans, Austrians, etc., either employed in this country or simply stranded here. Many of the men were interned or at least lost their jobs. The Emergency did what was possible to support them and their dependants.
(b) Friends War Victims Relief Committee, originally set up in 1871, was revised to undertake overseas work of relief and reconstruction. The name inevitably connected with this is A. Ruth Fry. A first-hand account of her work is to be found in her book "A Quaker Adventure". Much medical work was done in France, including the founding of a maternity hospital at Chalons-s-Marne. The work expanded, especially after America joined in the war in 1917 and extended to some nine countries, including Poland, Russia, Belgium.
(c) The Friends Ambulance Unit. This was an unofficial body, which started at a training camp in 1914 under the leadership of Philip Noel-Baker. It was composed of pacifists, Quaker and non-Quaker, who originally worked in France under the direction of the military, but purely in a non-combatant manner. The work was both with the civilian population behind the lines and with the wounded at the front.
Quaker peace work continued after the cessation of hostilities, taking on different forms as different needs developed. An immediate opportunity came in Germany and Austria, where large student populations were seen to be suffering severe deprivation. Food relief was undertaken through both British and American Quakers.* This relief, known as "Quaker-Speisung" in Germany, made a lasting impression on the people. Later on, in the days of the Hitler regime, there were a number of Germans now in positions of responsibility who had benefited from this help and had remembered it. There were occasions when Quakers were enabled to give help to those suffering in Germany when others could not.
* * * * *
* Distribution took place through 2,271 kitchens in 8,364 feeding centers in 1,640 communities through out Germany. At its peak in June 1921, they fed 1,010,658 children per day. The program lasted, with one hopeful hiatus, for four years, until October 1924. About five million German children took part at one time or other, plus 40,000 adult Germans who assisted the several hundred Quakers.
-- Michale Seadle, Quakers in Nazi Germany, 1978
"Quiet Helpers" Celebrates Quaker Service
by Wendy Ward
INDIANAPOLIS, IN Standing ovations don't happen often in a Friends meeting house. What brought almost 300 people to their feet in applause at First Friends Meeting, Indianapolis, on February 11 was the introduction of twelve former Quaker relief workers, who had come from as far away as California and Maine for the U.S. debut of the exhibit "Quiet Helpers Quaker Service in Postwar Germany."
"Quiet Helpers" began its U.S. tour at First Friends in conjunction with an AFSC hoard of directors meeting. Among those attending the opening were Indiana Governor Frank O’Bannon and his wife, Judy, and German consul Erhard Zander. "The governor and his wife didn't just make an appearance," said First Friends pastor Stan Banker. "They stayed over three hours." Also in attendance were people, German and Jewish, who had been helped by Quaker humanitarian aid and remembered the "Quakerspeisung" (Quaker feeding) of children. "Our local Mercedes dealer was born in Germany," Banker recounted. "He feels he’s alive today because of the Quaker feeding. He underwrote the cost of the reception."
Mounted by the German Historical Museum in Berlin, "Quiet Helpers" honors Quaker humanitarian work in Germany during three periods the 1920’s, the Nazi era, and following World War II. "The exhibit tells a compelling story about befriending the enemy," said Tom Conrad, international representative for American Friends Service Committee. "It’s work that is still remembered in Germany today."
Photographs, letters, documents and artifacts hear witness to the often difficult work that brought aid and reconciliation to Germany after the two world wars and help for those persecuted under Nazism. A replica of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Quakers in 1947 takes a humble place near children’s toys. The entrance to the exhibit gives an overview of Friends history and convictions.
During the three weeks "Quiet Helpers" was at First Friends an estimated 1,500-1,700 people, including school groups viewed the exhibit. "It went very well," said Banker. "Our meeting did benefit. We were able to see up close what AFSC did." Noting that First Friends still supports various relief efforts, Banker said, "The exhibit gave a personal face to the impact you try to have on people’s lives, For our meeting, it was a blessing."
The exhibit traveled to 21 German cities before coming to the United States. Its U.S. tour is presented by American Friends Service Committee and sponsored by the government of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Robert Bosch Foundation. Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, the first campus setting, hosted the display from mid-March through April. A number of future sites are under discussion, according to Conrad, including Dayton, Ohio, in May; Friends General Conference Gathering, Rochester, New York, in July; Guilford College in September; and Philadelphia in October.
For more information about the Quiet Helpers exhibit tour, contact Ingrid Schafroth, AFSC, 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia PA 19102; (215) 241-7093 e-mail Ischafroth@afsc.org.
Updated 5th Month 31, 2000
Return to our Page