Guest Columnist

Celebrating Iowa's humanitarian spirit

Several events planned to commemorate 80th anniversary of Scattergood Hostel

Scattergood Friends School in West Branch is shown in April 2015. (Gazette Archives)
Scattergood Friends School in West Branch is shown in April 2015. (Gazette Archives)

Iowa is special. We know that. But, at times we forget why the Hawkeye State and its people are unique. This month is a prime time to recall one of our greatest accomplishments, which set our state apart from 49 others.

Starting in March 1939, Iowa farmers, college students and supporters provided a safe haven to 185 Jewish, political, intellectual and other religious refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe.

While other states took in individual refugees, nowhere else did so few take in so many — as part of a residential project that matched one American “host” to two people they deemed “guests.”

Living together around the clock, all the “hostelites” — those from the Old World as well from the New — learned valuable lessons that remained with them for the rest of their lives. Located east of West Branch at what had been a Quaker boarding school before being forced to close by the Great Depression (it reopened as World War II ended), Scattergood Hostel saved or changed scores of lives.

This legacy continues to illustrate Iowans’ historical concern for justice and humanitarian action.

Our state’s motto being “Our liberties we prize, our rights we will maintain” is not a coincidence. Some of our most illustrious sons and daughters have embodied such spirit: Herbert Hoover, Norman Borlaug, Aldo Leopold, Carrie Chapman Catt, Henry A. Wallace … former Gov. Robert Ray.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Scattergood Hostel’s opening, Iowa Public Radio today will interview one-time child refugee Edith Lichtenstein and Michael Luick-Thrams, author of “Out of Hitler’s Reach,” a definitive history of this exceptional goodness in a time of vast darkness. And, events planned around the state will offer audiences opportunities to learn about this legacy.

Iowans are invited to celebrate this inspiring heritage by attending any of the following events:

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Today (March 27), 7 p.m., at Temple Judah, 3221 Lindsay Lane SE, Cedar Rapids.

Sunday, 2:30 p.m. at Drake Public Library, 930 Park St., Grinnell.

April 6 (afternoon time to be announced) at Scattergood School, 1951 Delta Ave., West Branch.

April 28, 7 p.m., Carnegie-Stout Public Library, 360 W. 11th St., Dubuque.

May 1, 7 p.m. at Congregation Sons of Abraham, 1820 Main St., La Crosse, Wis.

May 2, 7 p.m. at Agudas Achim Congregation, 401 E. Oakdale Blvd., Coralville.

July 2 (afternoon time to be announced) at Scattergood School, 1951 Delta Ave., West Branch.

• Michael Luick-Thrams is a social historian and director of TRACES Center for History and Culture. The Iowa native lives in Germany.

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