Thousands of CARE packages were sent to European nations in the years following World War II. Most families donated $10 to the organization, though some chose to purchase items and send packages themselves. All items had to fit in the standard CARE package box.
Chester and Marie Benjamin of Coulee Dam, Washington chose the latter option and sent over seventy packages to Erna Wagner and her young daughter Barbara in Syke, Germany. Despite the distance, language, and cultural barriers, the two families developed a relationship by exchanging letters and photographs.
Click on the links above to read about each family and their meeting decades later. Click on the links to the right to read some of the letters exchanged between the two families.
Most of the letters were written by Erna Wagner. Her correspondence reveals much about the conditions of post-war Germany. In the months and years following the war, Germans were left with very little to eat, often subsiting on 900 calories per day. Fuel for heat was also hard to come by. Many resorted to bartering for coal or digging up railroad ties. Erna notes the lack of food, warmth and even comments on the communist party in Germany's Russian occupied zone. Modern day readers can also recognize the overwhelming gratitude the Wagner family felt towards the Benjamins and the CARE program. Chester's postcards to the young Barbara gave her a small glimpse of America. All of these letters were written originally in German and have been translated for this project.
Read The Seattle Times story that inspired this project.