Refugees Come Full Circle

Former chief of the Bureau of Refugee Services Wayne Johnson talks about his visit with refugees from World War II and their willingness to help Vietnam War refugees in Iowa in 1979.


Again, at one point when I was working in the Lutheran refugee program I was some place in western Iowa to talk to a church congregation about sponsoring. And after my presentation an older couple came up to me. And they spoke English. They spoke excellent English—but very heavily accented. And they were displaced people from…I think it was what at that time was East Germany—that doesn't exist any more of course—that had been in…after World War II had been in displaced persons camps and had evidenced an unwillingness to return to what at that point was East Germany. And so they were resettled here through the auspices of a church, a church agency who then through a local church did the resettlement. And this elderly couple told me about their experiences, how they came here and how they were placed with a farm family who was a member of this congregation as hired help. And they were paid. And they were given a place to live. And they worked on the farm with the farmer. And eventually they saved enough money. And they learned English. And they became part of the community. And they bought their own farm, but here they were, you know, I'm trying to think when this might have been. This might have been in 1982 or 1983. But almost—well more than 40 years later—here they were. It was full circle. And they were telling me that—“Well, if our church decides to do this, we're going to be involved. And we will help you.”

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