There are few Memorial Day Parade as nostalgic as the village of Kutztown, where citizens and neighbors gather on the Main Street of this rural community to celebrate their Americana freedom of Liberty to renew Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, the lifeblood of our Democracy. While pondering the noble lives of brave Americans this past Memorial Day, I recollected one of Kutztown’s most famous Folklorist, Dr. Alfred L. Shoemaker, who was a prisoner of war fighting Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany in World War II, where he witnessed the violent hatred of peoples for one another in the Jewish Holocaust.
A patriotic American, he enlisted in the Army Intelligence Corps to use his knowledge of the German language to defeat Nazi Germany. Forced to carry a weapon, he carried it unloaded because he was a pacifist who was subjected to the wholesale destruction of European cultures during World War II. While a prisoner of war, he was befriended by a non-Nazi officer who enjoyed his American ethnic heritage, but this friendship was short lived since this humanitarian officer was caught up in war action and was killed himself.
Dr. Shoemaker fell into a deep depression over the death of this German humanitarian, and vowed to himself, as a German prisoner of war, never to allow the hatred of ethnic peoples and religion to be transferred to America where he would someday establish a patriotic Kutztown Folk Festival celebrating true-grit Americana folklife under the principles of the United States Constitution. A dynamic Pennsylvania Dutchman from Lehigh County, Shoemaker earned his doctorate studying the Amish dialect and folklore of the Amish in Arthur, Illinois, at the University of Illinois in 1940.
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.