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Leonard Kenworthy 

1912 - 1991

Kenworthy (right) with other Quaker Center staff in Berlin

Leonard S. Kenworthy served as the director of the International Quaker Center in Berlin from the summer of 1940 to the summer of 1941 under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee and a steering committee of German Quakers. He aided persons who had been labeled “Jewish” by the Nazi regime—but who were not Jews by religious or cultural affiliation—in trying to emigrate from Germany. Kenworthy also collaborated with the International Young Mens’ Christian Association in its work in the Stalags and Oflags—the Nazi’s prisoner-of-war camps. He visited individual Quakers and Quaker groups throughout Germany, as well as maintained contacts with other international relief agencies and European Quaker groups.

Kenworthy was born in 1912 to a Quaker family in Richmond, Indiana. His father Murray Kenworthy taught in the Department of Religion at Richmond’s Earlham College. After moving between New York, Ohio and Washington, D.C., Kenworthy attended Westtown School, a Quaker boarding school near Philadelphia. From there he went to Earlham College, working summers at the Pocono Manor Inn in Pennsylvania. After he graduated from Earlham in 1933, Kenworthy enrolled at Columbia University and earned a masters degree in U.S. history. For a few years he taught at Friends Select School in Philadelphia, at the Brunswick School in Greenwich, Connecticut and at the Friends Central School in Overbrook, Pennsylvania.

The Kenworthys had a tradition of working abroad for humanitarian causes: Kenworthy’s father had headed the relief work of British and U.S. Quakers in the Soviet Union during the famines of the Volga region in 1922, while his older brother Carroll spent two years in Japan on the staff of the English-language newspaper in Tokyo. In the spring of 1940 when Clarence Pickett, executive secretary of the Philadelphia-based AFSC, invited him to direct Quaker relief efforts in Berlin for a year, Kenworthy honored his family’s tradition of serving others and quickly accepted the position.

After Leonard Kenworthy completed his yearlong assignment with the American Friends Service Committee, he returned to the United States. Soon drafted, he spent the next few years in the projects of Civilian Public Service—an AFSC program for conscientious objectors. In the CPS Kenworthy worked with emotionally disturbed children for a year in Laurel, Maryland and then served two stints in medical experiments at Yale University.

After the war Kenworthy joined the staff of the Preparatory Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in London and later in Paris. He became the first director of its Division on Education for International Understanding and wrote the first booklet published by UNESCO, The Postwar Child in War-Devastated Countries. Following his job at UNESCO, he taught social studies methods and international education for thirty years at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He served on the international relations committee of the National Education Association, the Association for Curriculum and the National Council for the Social Studies. Kenworthy also headed a three-year, inter-cultural project of the Association for Childhood Education International of Neighbors Unlimited. He also wrote many tracts on education, social studies, world affairs and Quakerism.


First Impressions

The circumstances leading to Leonard Kenworthy’s stay in Germany developed quickly. In the late spring of 1940 Clarence Pickett, the executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, asked Kenworthy to serve the Quaker International Center in Berlin for a year because the AFSC sought a young, single man to fill the position who spoke German and would accept the risks involved in such an assignment. Taking an impromptu year’s leave of absence from Friends Central School in Philadelphia, the 28 year-old Kenworthy soon left New York on 22 June aboard a Pan American Clipper bound for Bermuda. Honeymooners filled the plane, casting a cheery hue uncharacteristic of that fateful day when France surrendered to the Third Reich’s triumphant, gloating Wehrmacht army.

After a two-day delay in Bermuda—made necessary by stormy weather and allowing the young Quaker time to explore the idyllic island—Kenworthy flew to the Azores and then on to Lisbon. Portugal’s capital had become chaotic by the presence of tens of thousands of refugees hoping to escape the war. Kenworthy fortunately found lodging in Estoril, a resort town some distance from Lisbon. He shared a hotel with two Polish princes and their entourage, Belgium’s President of the Chamber of Deputies and a cabinet minister, the La Revue Belgique’s editor, two wives of U.S. consuls in France, a Danish couple and numerous French and British citizens. Unable to find transportation to Germany for several days, Kenworthy used his time to see a bit of Portugal; one evening he visited the Portuguese Exposition, a grand celebration of Portuguese history dominated by a statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. After ten days, a man from A La Littoria offered Kenworthy a seat on a plane to Rome, where he conferred for several days with other Quaker relief agents before going to Vienna for two days, then on to Berlin.

When Kenworthy arrived in the German capital he soon immersed himself into the role of director of the Quaker International Center. As he became familiar with daily life inside Nazi Germany, it generally seemed that life for most Germans continued quite normally, despite the war. “People went to work; children attended school. Women shopped, albeit with ration cards and often in long lines.” Soon, however, he noticed subtle, yet distinct cultural differences between the culture he found in Germany and the one he had left behind in the United States.

As per custom there, on his first Sunday in Germany Kenworthy joined friends for a walk in the suburbs. Initially he noticed the mundane fact that men always walked on the women’s left in order to walk on the sidewalk’s curbside—as opposed to the endless changing of positions that took place in the U.S. When the strollers passed the remains of what had been a synagogue, however, Kenworthy saw “the earliest evidence for me of the cruelty to thousands of people, about which I would learn so much in the months ahead.” Continuing on, they saw several uniformed Hitler Youth talking on tiny telephones, practicing for future service as communications officers in the Nazi army. As Kenworthy walked down city streets, he saw so many soldiers that he took to counting the times an officer would have to salute inferiors as he walked down a single block.

Still very new to Germany and sensitive to the environment, Kenworthy noticed that men and boys wore gloves much more frequently than their U.S. counterparts. He saw many outdoor telephones in Germany—something quite uncommon in the United States at that time—and numerous vending machines selling newspapers and public transit tickets. Streetcars had special sections for those traveling with dogs, large packages or baby carriages, as well as first-, second- and third-class compartments based at various rates. Railroad station restaurants served good food and provided a meeting place for friends; the Germans seemed to ceremonialize the arrival and departure of family and friends—with both men and women waving handkerchiefs as the trains pulled away from the station. Bookstores were far more numerous than in the U.S., as were flower shops selling both artificial and real flowers. Separate stores sold dairy products, fruits and vegetables, in contrast to the diversified supermarkets of the United States.

Striking him as particularly surprising, Kenworthy noted that art from English-based cultures abounded. Four Shakespeare plays were offered concurrently at big Berlin theaters—prompting one native to somewhat inaccurately explain to Kenworthy that archaic English was actually modern German. He also found the books of several U.S. authors for sale: Gone With the Wind, Anthony Adverse and The Grapes of Wrath. A number of people he met had read Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage and Arundel, Margaret Rawling’s The Yearling or Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop.

Despite the limiting effects of Nazi dogma and censorship, the Germans continued to satiate their ongoing appetite for music and literature—the latter Kenworthy thought because music was the least political of the arts. In large numbers Germans attended performances of Brahms’ Das Deutsche Requiem and Each’s Matthaeuspassion. Religious concerts seemed to attract even larger crowds than usual, but according to friends, not because of any renaissance in a concern for spirituality. Kenworthy thought German books at that time consisted of three general types: short, cheap accounts of the war, world history or geography and semi-religious works. Newspapers and magazines abounded, tangible indications of a highly literate society.

During his first week in Berlin, the inquisitive Kenworthy made a special effort—despite the disapproval of German Quakers—to attend the mass celebration of the German victory in Narvik, Norway. He walked to Unter den Linden and attempted to remain on the periphery of the crowd, but soon was pulled into it. He expected harassment when he would not yield the Nazi salute during the frenzy created by the playing of Deutschland, Deutschland Ueber Alles, yet no harm came to him—apparently, he thought, because his glasses and hat suggested he was a foreigner.

Kenworthy noticed that the flags, the music and collective salute, the lights and speeches were all used to move and manipulate the sentiment of the masses. Kenworthy heard Hitler’s voice during the rally, yet did not see him. More importantly, however, he perceived a lack of enthusiasm by some of the people present—even though friends and journalists later told him it was the most aroused they’d seen the Germans in months. When he asked some of the Germans about this, some lamented they already had seen one great war and two depressions—only now to be in yet another war. An elderly woman told him she had lived through German wars with Denmark, Austria, France and the Allied Powers; did he expect her to hear any news of war with enthusiasm?

When Kenworthy arrived in the Third Reich in June of 1940, the Germans expected the war to end by August. Then they postponed its culmination to September. In October they acknowledged that it would probably last into 1941. Almost no one expected the war to drag on for more than a year. The Germans offered a variety of excuses why the war continued for as long as it had. One explanation had it that an outright invasion of Britain would cost too many German lives, a price Hitler seemed unwilling to pay. Many thought that having fought in the First World War, the Fuehrer identified with the interests of the soldiers. As proof of this they pointed to the greater mechanization of the army and the relaxing of class distinctions between ranks.

In this climate of tentative, ambivalent feelings toward the war, Kenworthy found in his experience that some ten to fifteen, perhaps only five percent were strongly anti-Nazi. The rest of the German population, it seemed to him, remained largely apathetic. Hitler did seem quite popular, however, as did Goering and Hess—although the latter’s bizarre surrender to the British shocked most Germans. Himmler, a former Bavarian chicken farmer, never did become popular with the German people.

Eventually, Germans he met asked Kenworthy if he intended to stay much longer in Germany—a question he interpreted as really meaning did he think the United States soon would enter the war. In response he answered that he had promised to serve the American Friends Service Committee in Germany for a year—and he intended to keep that promise.

Work Life

Helping those Jews left inside the Third Reich and its occupied lands after the beginning of World War II was a seemingly formidable task. A member of an idealistic, deeply motivated sect, Leonard Kenworthy willingly arrived in Berlin in the summer of 1940 to direct the Quaker International Center’s efforts to help those Jews that it could.

Upon agreeing to direct the Center’s programs, Kenworthy and the staff at the American Friends Service Committee assumed that his arrival would overlap several weeks with the departures of Alice Shaffer and Howard Elkinton, two U.S. American Quakers who had served as Center personnel. Also, Kenworthy was to be assisted by Henry Cadbury, a Quaker from Harvard University who would serve as “the elder statesman” at the Center and be responsible for communication with German and other European Quakers. Because of unexpected delays in his trip to Germany from Philadelphia via Bermuda and Portugal and Cadbury’s sudden unavailability, Kenworthy was forced to direct the Center by himself and with only a couple days’ consultation with the departing former directors. Subsequently he had to “plunge into the varied activities of the Center immediately and without the assistance of any other Americans.”

At least Kenworthy could count on the experience of “a small but competent staff to carry on the work of the Center,” as well as the help of “an unusually able group” of German Quakers. A valued staff member, Irmgard Wedemeyer brought with her much experience as a trained social worker. Being part Jewish, she also “had a special understanding of the harassments to which her clients were being exposed constantly.” For many months she had handled the cases of refugees fleeing the Nazis, so understood “all the pitfalls involved in such work.” Kenworthy said “She carried a heavy burden, but she carried it competently and sensitively.”

Eva Schaal filled the role of secretary and office manager. Being bi-lingual and widely experienced with the plight of refugees—as well as with German and foreign Quakers—to Kenworthy Eva seemed “a splendid example...of the value a secretary can be to a ‘boss’.” It would be Schaal who would undertake all correspondence in English.

In addition to the other staff, the young Berlin Quaker Dorothea Kaske proved to be a “friendly, outgoing person, willing to do anything to help, from greeting visitors to standing in line for hours to obtain [Kenworthy’s] ration cards.” Taking on all correspondence in German, Kaske was “a joyous person, often adding gaiety to what was at times a very sober scene.”

Indeed, the Quaker International Center’s work usually was very challenging and emotionally trying. The Center’s “most urgent and in many ways most important task” involved assisting individuals of Jewish ancestry who were Konfessionslos—without religious affiliation. Kenworthy explained that “In that connection we worked closely with three other refugee agencies, with the embassies of various governments, and with several banks and travel companies.”

The Center also oversaw other humanitarian-related projects. It processed financial transactions for the Quaker International School in the occupied Netherlands. In conjunction with Berlin and other German Quakers, it organized the distribution of materials to Allied prisoners-of-war. It also strove to maintain contact with various German religious groups and the several Quaker meetings scattered across Germany, as well as help coordinate travel plans for Quakers visiting Germany or other European destinations. As Kenworthy concluded, “Hence there were few dull moments, especially since what would have taken only a short time in periods of peace, often took hours, days, or even weeks in Nazi Germany in wartime.”

Although he had studied the German language for two years while a student at the Quaker Westtown School near Philadelphia, the first task Kenworthy addressed was to gain better proficiency in German. He explained that while he had “a basic foundation in that difficult and highly structured language,” his knowledge of German was “very elementary and certainly did not include such words as emigration, passports, visas, air passages, embassies, and consulates.” To help him learn words more easily, he formed a list in English of words necessary for his work and then with Schaal’s help formed a parallel list of their German equivalents. Regarding his struggle to learn German, Kenworthy complained that “If you want a basic lesson in humility, then try to conduct an interview or conversation in a foreign language. Very soon” he warned, “you will discover that your vocabulary is limited to fewer words than a child in kindergarten uses. And as an adult that doesn’t stretch very far.”

German seemed very difficult to the young U.S. American Quaker. Kenworthy found that “Gradually, however, I did learn.” Around Christmas some of the Quakers in the Berlin meeting for worship—the Quaker version of a church service—requested him to use German rather than English when he spoke during Meeting, as his messages of three or four minutes “seemed inevitably to become 10 or 15 minutes in length when translated by Emil Fuchs [a Berlin Friend].” Kenworthy had learned German well enough to realize that “the translation was about one-fourth Kenworthy and three-fourths Fuchs.”

For the first few weeks he was in Germany, Kenworthy studied German at a Berlitz school, but “stopped them soon because they seemed less practical than listening to the radio, seeing movies and hearing the language accompanying them, reading magazines and newspapers, taking part in conversations, and working up a stack of cards with English on one side and the German equivalent on the other.”

As he learned German better Kenworthy became increasingly engaged in the work of the Quaker International Center. Begun as a Quaker response to the horror inflicted upon Jews by the Nazis during and after the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, the Center committed itself to helping as many Jews as possible find refuge from Nazism in other countries. Since Hitler had first come to power various new homes for the Jews had been considered. Negotiations were being made after 1933 for the establishment of a Jewish colony in Africa’s Abyssinia or Ethiopia, but Mussolini’s invasion of the latter in 1935 aborted that plan. Similarly, Jews and their allies considered settlements in Central America, the Philippines and Turkey, but to no fruition. Some investigated sending Germany’s dejected Jewry to Australia or New Zealand, but workers there fearing for their jobs and a lowered standard of living for workers pressured both governments to discourage Jews from moving there—although, as Kenworthy noted, “demographers maintained that a population of [twenty million] was possible” in New Zealand.

Initially, numerous German Jews migrated to the United States, but soon the U.S. government issued fewer visas in response to increasing anti-Semitism, protectionist fears and for political reasons—as “there had been a few instances in which recent immigrants had been accused of being fifth-columnists.” Kenworthy further reasoned “Then, too, some members of Congress felt it would be better to slacken off the number of aliens admitted to the United States in order to offset the clamor for the complete closing of our borders to such persons. Apparently” he concluded, “President Roosevelt also felt that the barriers against immigrants should be raised.” [Public intimations, however, do not automatically reflect private dealings. For the first six of the Third Reich’s 12-year existence, the United States failed to award even half of the slots Congress’ restrictive 1924-passed quota system for immigration would have allowed for Germans and Austrians: between 1933 and 1940 the U.S. accepted 100,987 German immigrants or refugees; had all the German and Austrian quota slots been awarded, 211,895 individuals would have entered the U.S. from those two countries.]

Even if a home could be found for would-be emigrants, like other organizations of its kind, the staff at the Quaker International Center had to clear several obstacles to securing passage for German Jewish refugees. Primarily, an individual’s passport had to be validated. Children of mischling—“mixed”—marriages had to obtain releases from the compulsory Hitler Youth, a paper which often took three or four weeks to obtain. Kenworthy noted that “Emigrants also had to obtain a certificate of residence and one of good conduct. In addition, each person leaving the country had to obtain several tax papers and affidavits about his or her personal belongings and a certificate that all taxes had been paid.” Those papers, in turn, had to be taken to several government offices.

When a person requesting to leave Germany had secured all necessary papers, he or she had to take them to a special bureau which “examined the person’s belongings and indicated which could be moved abroad. Having cleared that series of hurdles” Kenworthy said, “the emigrants then had to appear at the consulate of the country to which he or she was going, producing a steamship or airplane ticket, plus other documents. To almost everyone” he summed, “that seemed like an endless process, but it was their only hope for leaving Germany or Austria.”

Kenworthy grew frustrated at the long, excruciatingly exacting process. He recounted that “In many cases our help was needed. So there were the seemingly endless trips to the banks, steamship companies, airlines, and embassies and consulates. Most officials were helpful, but the transactions were almost always complicated and slow. Sometimes it seemed as if I were a messenger boy” he complained, “trudging back and forth between our office and those places.”

At least some of the applicants actually succeeding in meeting the stringent prerequisites for emigration and managed to escape the reaches of Hitler and his Nazi fiends. Kenworthy later proudly reported “In a large poster-like booklet issued in 1980, with pictures of the places associated with aid to Jewish people, and a map of Berlin, it was estimated that the Quaker bureau assisted 1000 persons to leave Germany. Of that number” he estimated, “we probably assisted upwards of 100 in my year there.” In a journal he kept at the time, Kenworthy recorded that various individuals or families had found refuge in Ecuador, Cuba, the United States, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Shanghai and the Virgin Islands.

Many of the Jews assisted by the Quaker International Center wished to show their immense appreciation for the Centers aid, yet official policy forbade such gifts. Kenworthy recalled, however, that Frau Wedemeyer “bent that rule to accept potted plants and flowers, making her office look like a botanical garden.” One grateful Jewish woman insisted on giving the Center money, but to no avail. As she left Kenworthy’s office, she noticed a box for contributions in the room where the Berlin Friends held Meeting for Worship and placed a donation in it. When he heard about this, Kenworthy felt “tricked,” yet Frau Wedemeyer suggested he read a Biblical passage where Jesus allowed Mary to anoint his feet with oil and then wiped them with her hair. He admitted “That was the first time in my life that I learned that it is sometimes more blessed to receive than to give.”

While fortunate individuals were able to leave the Third Reich, Kenworthy met many “whom we could not help.” He confessed “How powerless I felt in such cases. All I could do was to listen intently and sympathetically, telling them how much I wished I could assist them. Occasionally” he remembered later, “I drew upon the experiences other perplexed people had shared with me and asked the person...about the sources of power which he or she had discovered in adversity.” Sometimes the regretful Kenworthy told rejected applicants for emigration about Quaker Meeting and invited them to attend Meeting or Quaker-sponsored public lectures in the hope that there they would find “fellowship and spiritual refreshment.” He conceded, however, ‘such gestures were so little, so superficial, so frustrating. In the many years since 1940 and 1941” he pondered, “I have wondered many times what else I could have done, but have come up with no additional suggestions.”

Kenworthy remembered three specific cases of people whom he could not help flee the threat Nazi extermination. “One was an old lady” he recalled, “her face hardened by bitter experiences, her eyes almost closed, her jaw determined. In her hand” he retold, “she flourished a cane as she vented her wrath on all those she could name, ending with a curse on me for not helping her in her plight.”

The “hazy picture” of a young girl of sixteen or seventeen remained in Kenworthy’s mind long after his stay in Berlin. He described the image: “In her short span of life she has experienced most of [the] extremes [that] life can offer. She is struggling to understand the world and to maintain her faith in God and in humanity. We talk and then we pause a while in silence. What more, oh God” Kenworthy pleaded desperately, “could I have done?”

A third memorable person the Center could not assist was a woman “who had just received news that would probably doom her family to a terrible fate. A woman of refinement and culture” Kenworthy said of the ghost who at that moment permanently moved inside his mind, “she now lives under miserable, frightening conditions. With the tender love of a mother, made even more tender through suffering, she tells me a little about her family and thanks me for listening.” He added “She expects no more.”

Attending to the needs of the Third Reich’s most disenfranchised subjects was the Quaker International Center’s primary, but not only concern. In addition Kenworthy and the other staff maintained contact with the Nazis’ prisoner-of-war camps. They could undertake this work on behalf of British, French and Belgian prisoners because the Allies and the Axis powers had agreed to observe the tenets of the Geneva Convention dealing with the treatment of prisoners. Polish and Soviet prisoners, however, were kept without such considerations, as their countries had not signed the legally binding international agreement in 1929.

Accompanying Tracy Strong and the International Young Men’s Christian Association, as well as the International Red Cross and the Ecumenical Council, Kenworthy visited both the Stalag base camps for both soldiers and officers and the Oflags for only officers. Explaining that “Many German Quakers were anxious to do something which would represent even in some small way a positive testimony to their belief in peace and brotherhood,” he reported that “it was the work for prisoners-of-war in Germany which provided a service outlet for...Friends—and was tolerated by the government.”

Each Thursday afternoon, numerous Berlin Quakers and their friends gathered at the Center to sort and wrap packages of books, games, musical instruments, play scripts and costumes to be distributed in various Stalags. Kenworthy recalled “since no books could be shipped if there were any ink or pencil marks in them, they spent hours laboriously erasing or blotting out such additions;” sometimes the determined Berlin Quakers even rebound books. “Despite the fact that such work was permitted by the government” Kenworthy noted, “it was dangerous, making them suspect as persons aiding the enemy. Nevertheless, it was a positive testimony and a mission of love.”

Periodically Kenworthy would join the Thursday afternoon work sessions, as well as contact publishers who were willing to donate books published in French or English for distribution to the prisoners. Kenworthy confirmed that the books were being delivered when fellow Quaker Douglas Steere “saw many of them in a Stalag in Silesia which he visited in 1940” and when members of the International Y.M.C.A. returned from the camps with reports of what they had witnessed.

Besides visiting prisoner-of-war camps, as director of the well-respected Center, Kenworthy conferred with representatives from various relief groups working on behalf of Poland, the Brethren and the Mennonite Churches and the Hoover Commission, as well as the American Church and the American Chamber of Commerce in Berlin. The Center also welcomed visitors from the United States and published a newsletter sent to Quakers throughout Europe and Great Britain via Switzerland. Kenworthy noted, however, that the newsletter “was dropped after a few issues because it was dangerous to report on many topics and persons about whom I would have liked to have written.”

Most of the work undertaken by the Quaker International Center involved at least some risk of danger, especially that of aiding Jews leave the Third Reich. Years after leaving the post of director of the Center in 1941, Kenworthy reflected on how the Center was able to accomplish its work at all. When initially asked how the Center had any success at all in its difficult mission, he responded “I did not know.” Upon further consideration, however, he thought of three possible explanations:

“One was that our work was so small that it was given a low priority by the Nazis” Kenworthy speculated. “However, they were well aware of what we were doing.” For another, he wondered if perhaps “in 1940-1941 the German government did not intend to kill all persons of Jewish ancestry; they were glad to get rid of them in any way possible. In a sense” he admitted, “we were cooperating with the Hitler regime. But we were saving the lives of human beings and that outweighed any cooperation with Nazi-ism in which we might have been engaged.” And finally, Kenworthy projected, “the past work of Quakers [especially in feeding up to a million starving German mothers and children after the First World War—including some children who would grow up to be officials in Hitler’s regime] was so well known in Germany and so highly regarded that even the Nazis were willing to let us do something to assist people of Jewish background.” Whatever the reason, the Quaker International Center served a crucial purpose.


Confronting Censorship

As he had taught secondary social studies before accepting the directorship of the Berlin-based Quaker International Center and afterward would return to a life of teaching, Leonard Kenworthy took great interest in Nazi efforts to dictate how German children would see the world and themselves in it. Although Kenworthy was unable to visit German schools, he did obtain a number of German textbooks and checked their content. He recorded two entries regarding the United States and the lives of German-Americans. As the Nazis had vested interests in defaming the young democracy, both accounts contained stilted, politically expedient assessments of life in the U.S., even if some of their observations might have reflected actualities:


The young, capable American quickly selects a vocation in which he can make a lot of money. He works and rushes around not always in the same tempo as in New York City, but on the average much more rapidly than in Europe. The American doesn’t work in order to live, but he lives in order to work. Someone has also said that the American ‘thinks economically.’ He doesn’t see the landscape, but the plot of land; not the fields, but the crops; not the forests, but the wood; not the waterfalls, but the waterpower. The object of all work is to make money. In this way one also explains the struggle for wealth and the admiration of the rich—the millionaires Ford, Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and others.


The second passage referred to the approximately twenty-five to thirty million people in the United States at that time who claimed German heritage:


The influence of the German spirit and German work, however, has been and remains great. As farmers, industrial workers, engineers, and scholars, our fellow Germans have contributed more to this nation than the emigrants of all other peoples. Many have brought it great wealth. Only they haven’t been able to unite themselves into a group and to compete politically with Anglo-Americans. That was best demonstrated in World War I. In that war the German-Americans had to forfeit their German connections and work and fight against the Fatherland or be persecuted. Our fellow Germans have learned from this wartime experience and have now brought themselves together as a group.


Of course Nazi interference into the thoughts and private lives of both Germans and foreigners living in the Third Reich was not limited to school textbooks. Kenworthy realized soon after arriving in Germany that his work and movements were closely noted. During the 1940 Christmas Holiday he spent a few days in the Vor Arlberg region of Germany with Douglas Steere—a prominent Quaker from Haverford College near Philadelphia—and Greta Sumpf, a Berlin Quaker who also represented Quaker relief efforts in Vienna. At the end of their stay at a hotel in Vor Arlberg’s Stuben, Sumpf returned to Vienna and Steere traveled to Switzerland. Upon his friends’ suggestion, however, Kenworthy stayed in Vor Arlberg “for a few more days as a way of recuperating from my demanding work.”

           Soon after the others had departed the Gestapo called Kenworthy and inquired about Steere. “I took the call and told them that he had already left for Switzerland. Nevertheless” he remembered, “they asked me to tell them exactly where he had been during the last few days. I did so and they seemed satisfied.” Kenworthy learned later that an attempt on Hitler’s life had been made at the railroad station near the Quaker International Center office in Berlin. He explained that “Apparently the Gestapo was checking on the whereabouts of anyone who might have been involved in that incident. Because of his stay in Berlin near the time of that attempted assassination and his ‘escape’ over the boarder” he noted, “Douglas was a suspect.” While Steere had been held for a number of hours in conjunction with that “situation” and because his passport had been incorrectly validated, nothing ever came of the Gestapo’s call. Kenworthy later pondered “Just why I was not implicated has remained a mystery to me.”

While he generally was treated “in a fairly friendly way by most officials and very well by others,” Kenworthy clearly recognized that the Germans kept him under surveillance. “My mail was certainly checked” he testified, “especially the letters overseas.” He said, for example, that a letter to Clarence Pickett, the executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee in Philadelphia was returned “with seven reasons why it could not be dispatched.” He also noticed that telephone conversations he placed from his office were “sometimes monitored, as a listener would sometimes break into our communications. Whether I was trailed at any time” he continued, “I do not know. I never had that feeling. But upon a few occasions” he added—noting the extent to which the fear of Nazi terror and surveillance cast a heavy shadow over the lives of everyone—“the people I was visiting gave me specific instructions as to glancing back from time to time to see if I was being followed, lest they get into trouble because of my visit.” In such an environment, Kenworthy’s Quaker principles came to be severely tested.


By June of 1940, when Leonard Kenworthy arrived in Berlin to direct Quaker-sponsored humanitarian relief efforts, he found a Germany already fully dominated by the war. With battles raging on two fronts and German material as well as human resources thinly spread, he soon experienced the day-to-day struggles of life on the homefront. While ground fighting would not reach German soil for another four and a half years, already those left on the homefront had to endure endless shortages of goods, work harder to fill wartime production quotas and suffer the constant threat of attack from first British, then U.S. American air raids.

In addition to the tangible effects of the war on the German homefront, however, the people also experienced severe emotional and psychological suffering: the possibility of the death of a loved one fighting on the front and of relatives or oneself during bombing raids over German territory, anxious uncertainty about the war’s outcome, the internal pressure of the constant stress and the heightened political oppression applied by the Nazis to every aspect of daily life.

          Used to the comfortable, peaceful life of the prewar United States, Kenworthy had to adapt to the rather grim conditions that met him in his new home. In reflecting upon life in wartime Germany, he later recalled that immediately upon his arrival in Berlin a co-worker at the Quaker International Center accompanied Kenworthy to the food-rationing board office and helped him obtain the all-important Lebensmittelkarte—the rationing card distributed to every person living in Germany. He noticed that while Nazi officials closely rationed food, “people were not starving. Accustomed to living on a much more simple diet than Americans” he explained, “they were able to survive, largely on potatoes, cabbage, and bread.” He conceded, nonetheless, “What a monotonous diet that was!”

Kenworthy took considerable notice of the food situation in wartime Germany. He found that meat had become scarce, rationed at a rate of about one pound per person per week. As adults legally could consume only one egg per week, “fish became the major source of protein.” The observant young Quaker discovered, however, that rabbits could be gotten beyond the restraints of the usual meat ration, so he was able “to eat a good meal from time to time in a restaurant...which specialized in rabbits.”

As it had been since before the war, fruit remained “scarce or nonexistent. By a curious twist of psychology” Kenworthy noted, “people reached the point where they rejoiced when the government announced a ‘gift’ of two or three oranges per person.” This mode of thinking, however, seemed contagious, as Kenworthy reported that on the first evening he was in Berlin with his predecessor in the Center, “Alice Shaffer...and I were walking down the street when Alice saw a long line of people. Immediately she suggested that we get into that line, not knowing what was on sale, but realizing that something could be bought without the precious ration cards.” To their disappointment the two Quakers passed slowly through the line only to purchase “one tiny peach each, green and hard, like tiny gourds.”

Not only food, but also drink became cherished commodities on the German homefront. “Coffee and tea were...impossible to purchase” Kenworthy said, “and I had to accustom myself to the barley coffee and the peppermint and apple tea one could obtain.” He considered himself fortunate in that he had brought with him to Germany some “Martha Washington coffee capsules which were popular in the United States at that time, and also a few tea bags. Those became precious possessions” he said, “which I hoarded and used for special occasions in the office or hotel or as gifts for my German hostesses.” In addition, milk had become largely unavailable, being reserved for infants, Schwerarbeiter—heavy laborers—and the Fuerher’s soldiers.

Not at all slow to figure out ways to work beyond the strict limits of rigid rationing, Kenworthy soon realized that “In Germany, as in other places in wartime, it was good to have relatives or close friends in the country as a pig could be slaughtered, a chicken killed, or a little extra butter made without the government knowing it. And one’s relatives and/or friends” he said, “could thus gain some extra food, which they sometimes shared.”

The availability of food, however, would not be Kenworthy’s only concern. He soon sensed the sobering threat of air raids, as newspapers publicly noted the hours of blackouts and his officemates taught him to pull the curtains “early in the afternoon because the nights came so early in that northern part of Germany.” Also, shortly after he had arrived in the German capital Kenworthy underwent his first air raid. Merely jotting in his diary “Basement 1:30-2:30,” he remembered years later that air raids during the first year or so of the war remained “short, light, and sporadic. But” he said, “they became more frequent, more widespread, and more intense.”

Kenworthy learned to keep a handbag near his bed so that when the air raid sirens pierced the night he could easily hurry to the nearest Luftschutzkeller—air raid shelter—to spend “a few minutes or a few hours until the ‘all is clear’ signal was given.” The first time he sought cover in a shelter, however, Kenworthy found no one else there and realized that “Obviously I had slept through the alert signal and thought the ‘all is clear’ alarm was the warning signal. So” he mused, “I trudged back to my room, thankful that no harm had come to me.”

One evening Stewart Herman of the American Church convinced Kenworthy that one took as great a risk going to a Luftschutzkeller as one did remaining in one’s room. “As he pointed out” Kenworthy explained, “the water mains could break and flood the basement, or the gas lines could explode and expose us to deadly fumes.” Kenworthy added that later that night “we had the most intense raid to date and at one point it seemed as if a missile had zoomed into my stomach. I lay there a while as if paralyzed, drenched in sweat. Then I got out of bed” he recounted, “took my bag, and scurried to the shelter, determined thereafter to heed the warning signal as soon as it sounded.”

While the destruction caused by bombing raids did not seem extensive at first, some sections of the city received heavy damage later in Kenworthy’s stay. All the bombings, however, seemed significant—both terrifying as well as fascinating. Kenworthy admitted that “Curiously...I sometimes enjoyed the searchlights which were used to spot the invading planes, often describing beautiful patterns in the sky. How bizarre!” he said.

The frequency and intensity of air raids seemed to correspond with developments on Germany’s fronts, yet as the Propaganda Ministry retained tight control over news coverage of the war, the people never quite knew what to expect in the way of attacks. In order to more correctly anticipate the flow of the war, not to mention simply kept abreast of what was really happening elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the world, Kenworthy gained access to news more reliable than from the popular press or government radio reports through other means.

Already having taken to checking Die Woche—a newsmagazine which published maps of territories alleged to be soon occupied—for news of the war’s spread, Kenworthy made contact with individuals who monitored the British Broadcasting Corporation’s news service, although “there were serious consequences for those who were caught indulging in that practice.” Also, returning soldiers often brought personal testimonies of Germany’s military campaigns, as did visiting foreigners. “Even the debris tossed by the waves onto the shores in the north” Kenworthy remarked, “told their stories of the events which were transpiring.” Too, attending the rallies held in Berlin to celebrate supposed “victories” offered the young U.S. American some idea of what battles were occurring where and who was sustaining what losses.

“Of course” Kenworthy explained, “the newspapers were filled with accounts of the war and the radio blasted us with the news of the German victories. When I started going to the movies” he added, “I was also bombarded with the weekly newscasts which were used to tell the populace about the feats of their soldiers.”

Officially sanctioned coverage of the war, however, dripped with the characteristic lies and dogma of the Nazis. To obtain less subjective information about current events, Kenworthy made a weekly trip to the U.S. embassy “whether my regular work with refugees took me there on business or not, in order to read the daily news briefs to which I had access, giving me a fairly good idea of what was transpiring in the outside world.”

Naturally, the war and the presence of the dictatorial regime which had caused it remained almost continuously—albeit often subconsciously—in everyone’s mind. Often, on his way to visit the U.S. embassy for recent news, Kenworthy would find himself whistling “the very catchy tune of Wenn wir fahren, wenn wir fahren, wenn wir fahren nach Engel-land, a favorite tune of the German radio broadcasts about traveling to Angel-land, a play on the world England.” Realizing this unintentional, implicit support for the war, this Quaker pacifist quickly switched to whistling God Bless America and got a “perverted sense of satisfaction from that defiant act.”

Whistling was not the only thing Germans noticed about foreigners seen in public. It took very little time before Kenworthy saw the importance of being “cautious in a dictatorship, especially in wartime.” He often found himself “looking around me in public places before I spoke of certain people or events.” He and his friends also began using coded language in order to be “more free in what we said.” As an example Kenworthy related that his friend Howard Elkinton “always referred to Hitler as ‘Nibs’ and I knew immediately to whom he was referring. So ingrained did such habits become” he admitted, “that I found myself being cautious for several days after I had returned to the States. In such diabolical ways” he assessed, “I was affected by even 12 months as a foreigner in [Nazi] Germany.”

As the experiences of foreigners in the Third Reich went, however, until the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into the war, U.S. Americans in Nazi Germany after September 1939 fared well. Kenworthy remembered later that “One of the surprises to me was the prevailing attitude of contempt toward the Poles. Probably no group was less respected by the Germans” it seemed to him, “than the citizens of that land.” Although enslaved Polish workers in Germany were forced by Nazi code to wear a purple letter “P” against a yellow field on their sleeves for identification purposes, Kenworthy noted that “the treatment shown them was so good that leaflets were distributed instructing citizens to treat them with less respect and to have no association with them.”

While U.S. Americans and their cultural cousins the British never suffered the disgraceful treatment afforded Poles, Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies, dissidents and others disenfranchised under Nazi rule, the Germans did carry particular sentiment regarding those two groups. Kenworthy testified “In my months in Germany I felt little hatred for the English,” although hostility mounted as British air raids became more frequent and devastating. “Some people” he reported, “were even bold enough to speak with admiration of the ‘beating’ the English were taking so well. A few” he added, “even said they wouldn’t mind if the British retained control of their vast, worldwide empire, while losing any control they had on the European continent. [These people] maintained that Germany would have enough trouble running the continent, without taking on the entire British empire!”

Kenworthy observed that since the United States so far had claimed neutrality in the century’s second great European war, the Germans remained “relatively unconcerned about us, assuming, perhaps, that we would not become involved.” He realized, however, that those “who were older and/or knew their history, were aware that the entrance of the U.S.A. could tip the scales on the side of the Allies, as it had done in World War I.”

Regardless of whether or not the United States eventually would enter the Second World War, Kenworthy paid careful attention to the degree to which Germans he met supported or opposed the war. Cautioning himself against thinking that any more than a few would oppose it, he found that a number of individuals “glorified in the possibility of a great German victory, with all that would mean. As loyal Germans” he editorialized, “most people hoped for victory, realizing that the alternatives would be disastrous—communism, an intense civil war in which no group would be strong enough to win, or economic disaster.” He concluded that “Therefore even some of those who were opposed to the Hitler regime, supported their country in this conflict.”

No matter how they personally felt about the Nazis or the war, every German had to come to terms with the drama which had settled upon their land. As warring societies have done for millennia, the Germans sought to ease the gravity of their situation by finding humor among the direness of the times. During his stay in the Third Reich Kenworthy heard several popular jokes that characterized ordinary people’s attempts to find some welcome levity to ease the hardship they had no choice but to endure.

One joke involved ways in which one could tell when people entered the Luftschutzkeller whether or not they had slept that night. If they said “Guten Morgen they had already slept; if they said “Guten Abend they had not and if they said “Heil Hitler” they it were still asleep.

Another had to do with a trip Hitler took with Goering in the SS commander’s plane after a heavy bombing raid. Hitler soon fell asleep. When the Fuehrer awoke he surveyed the ground below and, seeing much destruction, exclaimed “Magnificent. Wonderful”—to which Goering swiftly replied “Wait a minute, Adolf—we are only flying over Kiel.”

In one quip Hitler asked Moses “How did you get the water of the Red Sea to part so that the children of Israel could pass over dry land?” Moses replied “It was the wand I had which made that possible.” Hitler pressed the ancient prophet, asking where he could get such a wand. “In the British Museum” Moses answered.

Hitler, Goering and Goebbels were flying together—one story held—when their plane crashed. When the listener would ask who was saved, the teller of the story answered “The German people.”

           Still another joke pertained to the difference between India and Germany and alluded to each country’s great leader, Gandhi and Hitler: “In India one starves for all; in Germany all starve for one.”

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