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Far From Hitler:


Scattergood Hostel/WWII-Era Refugee Exhibit


Twelve former refugees from Nazi Germany, staff members from the Quaker hostel that took them in and the children of both groups returned to Iowa on November 9th, 2003, to attend the opening of an exhibit about Scattergood Hostel. Created in direct response to the Nazi pogrom Kristallnacht, which in 1938 gave the last signal that Jews were not welcome in the Third Reich, the eastern Iowa hostel took in 186 exiled refugees—as a kind of “Schindler’s List on the Prairie.”

Created by the Des Moines-based, non-profit educational organization TRACES, sponsored by the Iowa Jewish Historical Society and funded in part by Humanities Iowa and the National Endowment for the Humanities, the exhibit uses didactic panels, original artifacts, and mixed media to illustrate this unique story. Special guests who attended this traveling exhibit’s grand opening complemented the overall project.

This was the first time that some of these people have been in the state since the refugees found a safe haven here. Even the Des Moines-native former staff member hadn't been here since 1952; through TRACES, Camilla Hewson Flintermann was a dinner guest at her childhood home while in Iowa. TRACES also accompanied the former refugees and their family members to visit the hostel site, which is again a Quaker boarding school, having closed for eight years during the Great Depression and then serving as a refugee center for four more years. [see tour schedule, below]

From April 1939 to March 1943, 186 refugees from Nazi-occupied Europe found an unexpected safe haven at Scattergood, a temporary hostel near West Branch, Iowa. Among them were a large percentage of Jews, as well as political opponents of Hitler’s regime, Christian religious leaders, artists and others endangered in the “New Germany.” With the help of the Quaker farmers and idealistic college students who took them in, the refugees (referred to as “guests” by staff) sought to overcome the trauma of their experiences in Europe, find a niche for themselves and build new lives in the New World.


Irmgard Rosenzweig Wessel—a Jewish girl of 14 during her family’s stay at Scattergood—wrote at the time, “I am very happy [to be] at Scattergood. A good fortune brought me in early years to this country of freedom and I am grateful that after this way through the hostel I can try to do my best to become a good American.” She went on to attend Eureka College in Illinois and later worked as a social worker and taught in New Haven, Connecticut. 

As an adult looking back, one-time teenage staff member Camilla Hewson Flinterman wrote that the 14 months she spent as a volunteer at the hostel were “eye-opening, mind-expanding and enriching.” Today an active Quaker grandmother and writer in Ohio, she also went into social work after leaving the hostel.  

Iowa-born historian Michael Luick-Thrams interviewed 40 former refugees and staff a decade ago for his book Out of Hitler’s Reach; he conceptualized and has overseen the construction of this exhibit, which will travel around the Midwest, to the Northeast and to Europe for the next several years. He sees the attendance of the dozen guests at the exhibit opening as a fitting way to mark the 65th anniversary of Kristallnacht: “We must never forget the horrors unleashed by the forces of hate and intolerance, violence and greed.” Luick-Thrams is the executive director of TRACES.


more information about Scattergood Hostel

Far from Hitler: The Scattergood Hostel for European Refugees, 1939-43
was dedicated on Sunday, 9 November 2003 at the
Iowa Jewish Historical Society Caspe Heritage Gallery at
3320 Ute Avenue, Waukee (suburban Des Moines, Iowa)
and closed 11 January 2004 before traveling to other venues,
before being permanently placed in the
TRACES Center for History and Culture
in Saint Paul/Minnesota in fall 2006

Exhibit Flyer | Related Article


to order TRACES' book | Out of Hitler's Reach |                                                                                        to order | Exhibit Catalog |


Teaching Materials: 

Elementary | Junior High | Senior High

Tour Schedule:

  • Dinner with former refugees in Des Moines, 6PM Friday, 7 November

  • Visit by former refugees to Scattergood, West Branch, Iowa, circa 10.30 AM Saturday, 8 November 

  • Visit by former refugees to former staff member Robert Berquist, West Branch, Iowa, circa 11.30 AM, Saturday, 8 November 

  • Visit by former staff member Camilla Hewson Flinterman to her girlhood home in Des Moines, 6PM 8 November 

  • Coffee-and-rolls reception for special guests, Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, 42nd and Grand, 9-10 AM, Sunday, 9 November 

  • Meeting for worship with special guests, Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, 42nd and Grand, 10-11 AM, Sunday, 9 November 

  • Luncheon for the special guests, Owen and DJ Newlin home, Des Moines, as of 11.30 AM, Sunday, 9 November 

  • Opening reception for Far from Hitler, Caspe Terrace, near Waukee, Iowa, as of 2.30 PM, Sunday, 9 November

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