Day 7: Alice and Helga Herz

Alice Strauss Herz was born in Hamburg, Germany on May 25, 1882 to a middle-class Jewish family. She married Paul Herz, a chemist and soldier, and had two children, a son and a daughter. After the death of her son and husband, Alice began intensive study of the Nazi movement, sensing the worst of what was to come long before it arrived. She fled to Switzerland, then France, with her daughter Helga (b. 1912). Alice worked as a news correspondent while Helga got a degree at the Sorbonne and became a teacher. After Germany invaded Paris, Alice and Helga were placed in a detention camp by the French for being German nationals. After 3 weeks, they were released and soon after, left for the US, settling in Detroit.

Alice HerzIn the US, Alice worked as an adjunct instructor of German at Wayne State University, and Helga earned a degree in library science at University of Michigan, and went on to serve as a librarian for Detroit Public Library for 24 years. They petitioned for US citizenship but were denied for refusing to vow to take up arms to defend the country (Helga did gain citizenship in 1954). They both remained activists for peace, steadfastly joining causes and non-violent protests. In her later years, Alice joined the Society of Friends and, later, the Unitarians. She became increasingly concerned over the actions of the US involvement in Vietnam and the global arms race and that protests were not enough. On March 26, 1965, following the example of the Vietnamese monks, self-immolated, becoming the first person to do this on US soil. She died of her burns 11 days later, just shy of her 83rd birthday, leading to an outcry from around the world including leading the Detroit Women for Peace to protest and demand peaceful change. Japanese author and philosopher Shingo Shibata established the Alice Herz Peace Fund shortly after her death, and Alice Herz Platz was named in her honor in Berlin in 2003.

Helga.HerzAfter Alice’s death, Helga continued to work for peace and, after retiring in 1978, headed the library at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University. Her work has been compiled as the Helga Herz Peace Archives. She received the Spirit of Detroit Award for her tireless volunteer work, and was active in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) for many years. In 2000, she won an appeal for reparations of property seized by the Nazis in East Berlin, and gave the proceeds to the German Branch of WILPF.  She died in Silver Spring, MD in 2010.

For today, take a moment to reflect on Alice’s last written words (taken from a communication she asked Shibata to give the the Japanese UN ambassador to take to the UN about on-going atrocities): “Yours is the responsibility to decide, if this world should be a good place for all human beings, in dignity and peace, or it should blow itself up to oblivion.”

(Thanks to the Swarthmore College Peace Collection  and to “Phoenix: Letters and Documents of Alice Herz” by Shingo Shibata for much of this information).

Day 34: Kenneth Boulding

We earlier wrote about Elise Boulding (Day 9). Her husband, Kenneth (1910-1993), was also very active in Quaker circles and the Peace movements of the 1960’s and 70’s. A native of England, he was granted US citizenship in 1948. Much of his career was in university academics as an economist and social scientist. For Boulding, economics and sociology were not social social sciences but were aspects of a single social science devoted to the study of human persons and their relationships. He spearheaded an evolutionary approach to economics. He emphasized the interconnectedness of everything, and that to understand the results of our behavior – economic or otherwise – we needed to develop a scientific understanding of the ecodynamics of the general system and the global society.

Kenneth Boulding

Boulding was also active in peace-related activities. He helped organize the first teach-in relating to the Vietnam War at the University of Michigan in 1965; he was pelted with snowballs by UM students who disagreed with him when he spoke on the steps of the graduate library; and he conducted a silent vigil at the AFSC headquarters to protest what he considered a distancing from Quakers. He also wrote “There is a Spirit”, a series of sonnets based on the last statement of James Naylor (also written about on Day 6 of this series).

A prolific writer, Boulding left many pearls of wisdom. Consider this one:

“The consumer is the supreme mover of economic order…for whom all goods are made and towards whom all economic activity is directed.”

For today, consider the small things you can do today to bring your consumerism more aligned with your politics and values.

Day 15: Phan Thi Kim Phuc

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, born in 1963 in Trang Bang, South Vietnam, is best known for the iconic photograph taken by Photographer Nick Ut of her at age nine running naked down the road after a napalm attack struck her village during the Vietnam war. Kim’s burns were so severe that she was not expected to survive, but 14 months and multiple surgeries later she was released from the hospital. Her time spent hospitalized inspired her to study medicine as a young adult; however her studies were put on hold when she was removed from university to be used as a propaganda symbol by her government. She eventually resumed her studies in Cuba, where she met her husband, another student from Vietnam. On their honeymoon, they disembarked during a layover and requested political asylum in Canada, which was granted. The events of Kim’s childhood left her with physical as well as psychological scars, not the least of which was an intense hatred for her situation and those responsible.


Searching for purpose, Kim spent much of her time reading, especially religious texts, one of which was the Bible. She describes the day she found God as a turning point, after which she began, slowly, to forgive. Kim has since set up the Kim Phuc Foundation (Later, the KIM Foundation), whose aim is to give child victims of war access to much needed medical and psychological care.

She frequently travels for speaking engagements, where she shares a message of love and forgiveness. For today, ponder this message from Kim:

“Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.”