Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Helena Kruger

Helena Kruger was born in Siberia and emigrated with her family from Russia in 1921 at the age of 19. She and her husband Peter, a Mennonite, eventually settled in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where they joined the Church of the Brethren in 1941. Recruited by M.R. Zigler for relief work in 1945, Helena served in Belgium, Italy, and Austria. In Austria she founded a kindergarten and, virtually single-handed, founded and furnished the Thalham Tuberculosis Sanatorium.

The refugees with whom she worked in Austria noticed something different about Helena. Not only did she speak more languages than most American workers (Russian, German, Dutch, Polish); she also evidently understood how refugees felt and what they experienced.

They were right about Helena Kruger, for she had once been a refugee - at the time of World War I. She knew about starvation first hand. She said, "Starvation is a terrible thing. Those who have not experienced it do not know. Field mice, dead horses, and whatever you can find can be eaten when hunger is keen enough." And Helena knew about being displaced, traveling in strange countries, living in refugee camps. She could appreciate also what it meant for her family when the Mennonite Central Committee helped them resettle in the United States.

So when the call came following World War II to assist with the plight of European refugees, she and her husband arranged their lives so that at least Helena could assist. Her husband said, "If the church had not helped us to come to America, we would be homeless a second time." Helena told her friends, "We wanted to help others as we had been helped."

Source: The Brethren Encyclopedia