History of the Peace Pole: The Thousand Crane Project and Visitors from East Germany

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“Included in this response was a picture of a camp in East Germany and the children there carrying the paper cranes we had sent.”

The Thousand Crane Project

As part of my library program of reading to the students, all of the children had heard the story “Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes.”  When I told them of the program run by Plowshares, in which children could fold 1000 paper cranes and send them to a selected world leader along with the message, “We want you to have this gift to remind you to do everything you can to prevent world war and promote world peace,” they immediately chose that as their first project.

The library quickly became festooned with strings of folded paper cranes, visible evidence of the group’s commitment to world peace.  I contacted Plowshares and they gave me the name of Erich Honecker, Chairman of East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR).  At the end of the 1985-86 school year, we packed all the cranes in a box and sent them off, not knowing whether we would ever hear if indeed they had arrived at their destination.

Visitors from East Germany

It was a period of change at Moorestown Friends.  Alex MacColl had resigned as Headmaster and the post was now occupied by Gardiner Bridge as Interim Head.  At the first faculty meeting in the fall of 1986, he announced that he was confused by a letter he had received from the East German Embassy in Washington, D.C. and wondered if anyone could enlighten him on the matter.

I could not believe my ears.  Kids for Peace had achieved their first goal, and they were excited when I shared the news.  Chairman Honecker had written a two-page response and asked the East German Embassy in Washington to deliver it in person.  Included in this response was a picture of a camp in East Germany and the children there carrying the paper cranes we had sent.

Also included in the letter was a request for a tour group to visit our school.  This was the first such group from the Communist nation since Germany was partitioned after World War II.  The visit was arranged with the help of Frank Mader, the press attaché of the East German Embassy in Washington.

The date was set for September 16, 1986, which happened to coincide with the United Nations international Day of Peace.  Judy Reed, the Lower School principal, facilitated the event and many others offered support.  The Peace and Social Concerns Committee of the Moorestown Monthly Meeting and the high school students enrolled in Margaret Barnes’ course in Peace Studies worked to plan the luncheon for our visitors.

At a very moving ceremony in the Meeting House, Frank Mader presented Chairman Honecker’s letter to the members of the Kids for Peace group.  Kristen Overholt received the letter and Joanna Dreby offered her original peace poem.  All then joined in silence for a traditional period of silent worship.  It was a truly remarkable event, East Germans and Americans joining together in a fervent wish for peace.

An afternoon ceremony on The Oval brought the whole school together to once again hear the message and join in singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” led by Jane Woods and her 6th grade choir.

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