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Van Eeden

A Community in Pender County for Refugees Fleeing Nazi Germany
The train stop at Van Eeden

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 5, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A few miles north of Burgaw, North Carolina, on what was then the rail line, nine families of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939 were moved to a rural, agricultural setting. On April 18, at 2:00 p.m. at Pender County Public Library, a NC State Highway Historical Marker was dedicated that reads: "Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany lived, 1939-46, at agricultural colony founded in 1909 and revived by Alvin Johnson. Two mi. SW."

According to Jerry Klinger, president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, “the U.S. State Department, imbued with anti-Semitism, did not care if a Jewish refugee trapped in Europe was an academic, a scientist, a researcher, or a professor, who desperately sought to escape the Nazis and death. In 1939, they did not want more Jews coming to America.”

Alvin Johnson, Director of the New School for Social Research in New York, learned there was a back door to saving life. If a refugee were a farmer, the State Department would be willing to let them come to America—even, begrudgingly, Jewish refugee farmers. Johnson’s simple solution was to have Jewish academics classified as farmers.” However, they had to have farm land in America to settle on before they could enter the country.

Hugh MacRae, a prominent businessman in Wilmington, had 1,080 acres in Pender County already divided into small farms with small, rustic houses vacant since the early 1900s. MacRae had originally recruited farmers from Holland to establish models of intensive agricultural techniques, but it had quickly failed and they had long since moved away. MacRae knew Alvin Johnson and sold him the land to help the effort.

Most of the Jewish refugees knew nothing about farming. “Problems soon emerged, as the resettlement of urban sophisticates with little farm experience to rural North Carolina proved challenging. Crops suffered. There were snakes and mosquitoes,” said Michael Hill, supervisor of the Research Branch of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History.

Hill continued, “They made the best of a bad situation, and as historian Leonard Rogoff has written, “Burgaw was not Berlin.” However, Klinger points out that, “Johnson had the fortitude to fight the State Department. Businessman Hiram Halle had the money. Hugh MacRae had the land in North Carolina. The community in Pender County received the unlikely Jewish “farmers” and helped them as much as they could.”

Plans were to save 100 families before the Nazis closed the borders to Jews. “For those who came to North Carolina, as few as they were, North Carolina and non-Jews did what no one else would or could do. They proved, if good people wish to do the right thing, there was a way,” Jerry Klinger concluded.


Van Eeden e-Book

Pender County Public Library would like to thank the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center for digitizing Susan Taylor Block's 1995 book Van Eeden. Block's book provides details about how Alvin Johnson and Hugh MacRae planned the community and lobbied in Washington for the project, and riveting oral histories of life at Van Eeden from settlers that Block was able to interview. You can view details about the book here, or read the book online using the button below.

Read Van Eeden Now


Gallery

The Heimann family at home

The Heimann family at home

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 7, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Boxing Lesson

Klaus Heimann's Boxing Lesson

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 31, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

First Settlers Digging Ditch

First Settlers Digging a Ditch

The men of the first three settler families: Leonard Heimann, Hubert Ladenburg, and David Loeb. Drainage was a problem at Van Eeden, so it was important to dig drainage ditches early on.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 13, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Klaus Heimann at Penderlea School

Klaus Heimann with his class at Penderlea

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 14, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Loeb Family on their stoop in Van Eeden

The Loeb Family on their stoop in Van Eeden

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 6, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Walter Loeb at the Penderlea School farm

Walter Loeb on the school farm

Walter Loeb (on left, holding a duck) on the school farm at Penderlea.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 27, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Helen Loeb sewing

Helen Loeb sewing in her kitchen

Helen Loeb with a sewing machine in her kitchen.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 22, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

 

Klaus Heimann learning to read English

Klaus Heimann learning to read English

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 30, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Walter Loeb on the school bus

Walter Loeb on the school bus

Walter Loeb (right) on the school bus, heading to Penderlea School.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 6, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Fred Loeb milking a cow

Fred Loeb milking a cow

Fred Loeb milking a cow. Off camera, Dr. Alvin Johnson is providing him instruction.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 23, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Klaus Heimann learning English terms

Klaus Heimann learning English terms

Klaus Heimann (right) learning English terms from local Pender County boy.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 17, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Klaus Heimann at Penderlea School

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 15, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Klaus Heimann woodworking lesson

Klaus Heimann's woodworking lesson

Klaus Heimann (right) receives a woodworking lesson from local Pender County boy.

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 16, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Mrs. Heimann and child

Mrs. Heimann and child

Photographic Prints from Loeb Album: Scan 9, in the Manfred and Ann Loeb Collection #P0029, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.