Mac college featured by holocaust museum

By Sentinel Staff

In 1938 Tom Doeppner, an 18-year-old German-born refugee, was able to enroll at McPherson College after receiving help from the student body of the school. 

In 1938, McPherson College students were moved to take action after learning about the events in November of that year, known as Kristallnacht – violent anti-Jewish protests throughout Germany and Austria. Students raised money to support Doeppner and bring him to the United States to attend at McPherson College.

“The acceptance and financial assistance to McPherson is what enabled him to get a visa, which is how he left Europe,” said Sarah Snow, Doeppner’s granddaughter. “This was an action out of compassion, but also sacrifice and amazing coordination on the part of the students. Opa (what she called her grandfather) was in a very precarious position, so this scholarship and acceptance to a school in the United States was literally a life-saving invitation.”

Snow  compiled research used in a recent exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which included articles from the McPherson College student newspaper, and an original copy loaned by the college was included in the exhibit.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will feature McPherson College in an upcoming digital program that will discuss how students at McPherson College and other schools took action to help refugees in the 1930s and 1940s.

The program explores how young Americans, while growing up in a time of racial segregation and the Great Depression, looked beyond the struggles of their own nation to respond to the Nazi threat in Europe. Speakers include Leila Braun from the University of Michigan and Dr. Rebecca Erbelding of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

According to the American Friends Service Committee, Tom Doeppner was born in Berlin in 1920. Tom’s mother, Ella, was Jewish, but his father, August, was not. He attended Quaker summer camps and clubs in Berlin. In 1935, Nazi Germany instituted the Nuremberg Laws, and he was classified as a “Mischling” — “mixed race.” When he was 18, he illegally escaped from Germany to the Netherlands. There he asked the Quakers to help himStories immigrate to the United States. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) worked to get Doeppner a scholarship offer from a college.

According to to facinghistory.org, McPherson was one of more than 200 colleges to actively recruit refugees with students raising funds to pay for full scholarships. Doeppner struggled to obtain a US visa as a student, since he technically did not have a country to return to after graduation.

According to American Friends Service Committee, while at McPherson, Doeppner did very well academically, but immigration troubles still followed him. After completing his first year, he was ordered to report for duty in the German Army. He replied, “I really don’t care whether you list me in your files as a deserter or otherwise. I no longer claim German citizenship but look forward to becoming a citizen of the United States.”

After college, Doeppner enlisted in the US Army in 1944.

The program will be held live on the museum’s Facebook page at 8:30 a.m. March 2400.

A link to the digital program is on the museum’s events calendar on its website, www.ushmm.org.