The topic of the ZOOM PowerPoint: The Peace-Pipe Letters from Keokuk, IA, 1932-2022 – Rotary under Nazi Rule Today we sense once again that the fundamental values of our communal life are under threat, in the form of nationalism, populism, homophobia. The commitment to peace and mutual understanding among peoples remains a constant challenge—and a perpetual task for all of us.
In 1931, Jewett Fulton, RC Keokuk, IA, attended the Rotary International Convention in Vienna, Austria. There, he and other delegates grew concerned about rising nationalism and the danger of its leading to war. Returning home, he sent letters to all 504 Rotary clubs outside the US. Twenty-nine German Clubs were among those that received the letter from Keokuk in 1931, and of these, fifteen sent responses back to Keokuk. At the time, in Germany, Rotary was not able to stand up to the Nazis forever, and eventually, the Jewish members were expelled, and then Rotary Clubs and most other internationalist organizations were forced out of Germany. Anthony Conn, RC Keokuk, IA & Dr. Joachim (Yogi) Reppmann, RC Flensburg & RC Northfield, MN, discovered the letters in a bank safe and published them via www.LuLu.com. The May 23-27, 2022 Rotary conference in Northfield is based on these fundamental values, which is why the title story of the richly illustrated online conference magazine — p’review — features some of the Keokuk Peace Letters, 331 pages. As Conn points out, “the rediscovery of these almost forgotten letters provided the initial spark for our idea of thinking in common about Rotary’s mission. Our concern is to bring into sharper focus the areas of peace and the prevention of conflicts.”
Conn and Reppmann find it heartening that, under the shadow of the murder of George Floyd by a policeman and the storming of the Capitol by a mob, Rotarians in the United States are looking to Germany for advice. Dr. Jim Hart of the Rotary Club of St. Paul, Minnesota wonders if Americans, by concerning themselves with the crimes of National Socialism, might learn something about the country’s own dark chapter of slavery. Many have also taken a special interest in the “Stumbling Blocks,” of which 75,000 have been placed in front of dwellings in many German cities and towns. Their purpose is to commemorate those Jewish fellow citizens who were driven out or murdered during the Nazi period.
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