Tag Archives: refugees

Tobacco Diplomacy

Frank Chelf (second from right) and colleagues at The Hague, 1951

Frank Chelf (second from right) and colleagues at The Hague, 1951

It’s a battered pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, with a few of them still inside, their innards having dried up and fallen out long ago.  But, like the letters, photos and other papers of Congressman Frank Chelf housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library, it tells a story.  Chelf himself thought it worthwhile to inscribe the pack of smokes with the notation that a queen had partaken of its contents.

During his 22 years representing Kentucky’s Fourth District in the U.S. House of Representatives, Frank L. Chelf (1907-1982) found himself in the heart of Cold War politics.  In 1951, he and other members of the House Judiciary Committee took a month-long trip overseas to investigate the problems created by thousands of refugees fleeing Soviet-dominated countries for Western Europe.  While visiting The Hague, Chelf and his colleagues met with Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, who had taken a particular interest in the issue.  During World War II, Juliana herself had been forced to leave her country to live in Canada.

Expecting to take only 30 minutes of the Queen’s time, the group found her willing to talk for some two hours.  Finally, Pennsylvania Representative Francis E. Walter got to his feet as if to take his leave.  Inadvertently, he committed a diplomatic faux pas, for it was Juliana’s prerogative to decide when the meeting would end.  But Chelf jumped in to smooth any ruffled feathers.  He assured the Queen, who he knew understood American slang, that they didn’t want to “wear out their welcome.”  And perhaps, his willingness to share a couple of cigarettes from his pack of Lucky Strikes had helped, too.

Click here to access a finding aid for the Frank Chelf Collection.  The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library holds many other collections relating to Kentucky politics and politicians.  For more information, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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“We wish once more to be as a human”

Aina Raits and family in 1949; and her notes on their clothing sizes

Aina Raits and family in 1949; and her notes on their clothing sizes

In 1949, WKU foreign languages professor Sibyl Stonecipher received a request from the Kentucky Division of the American Association of University Women.  Post-World War II Europe was still struggling with a massive refugee problem, and the Kentucky AAUW had resolved to send food, clothing and other assistance to university women who had become displaced persons as a result of the war.  Could Miss Stonecipher and the Bowling Green AAUW “adopt” a 35-year-old Latvian teacher and musician named Aina Raits and her family, then living in a refugee camp in Germany?

Within two months, Miss Stonecipher had established a correspondence with Aina.  Once happy in Latvia, with a husband, house and garden, Aina, a graduate of the Latvian State Conservatory of Riga, had seen her siblings sent to Siberia and “my man . . . fallen in the war.”  Now, she was passing time in the refugee camp giving concerts, teaching music, and hoping that either the U. S. or Canada would allow her, her new husband, mother, and young children to emigrate.  We wish once more to be as a human and to work and live as the other people in the world, she declared in her careful English script.

Over the next two years, Aina wrote to “My dear, lovely Sibyl” of her life, past and present, and responded gratefully to the packages of food and clothing sent from America, including one from Miss Stonecipher’s colleague, Frances Richards.  But still, she sighed, her family could only “wait, and wait” for a promise of work that would allow them to leave Germany.  She yearned to begin life again.

Finally, late in 1951, Aina and her family emigrated to Jackson, Michigan.  Miss Stonecipher not only kept in touch, but visited them twice before Aina’s death in 1977.  “They are really wonderful people,” she reflected, glad for the opportunity given to her and Bowling Green’s other university women to help a fellow teacher.

Aina Raits’s letters to Sibyl Stonecipher are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here to download a finding aid.  For other collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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