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e red house in the hilltown of Cummington, Mass. (pop. 800) sits not far along Main Street from the town’s historical museum, which marks its 50th anniversary this summer with continuous Saturday showings of a 1945 U.S. government documentary about a proud moment that echoes today.  It was in that house, as depicted in “The Cummington Story,” that many of the 44 World War II refugees who found sanctuary in this western Massachusetts community stayed between 1940 and 1944.  The 20 minute U.S. Overseas War Information Bureau film (https://archive.org/details/gov.archives.arc.46921), which was translated into 20 languages, dramatizes the temporary haven the Rev. Carl Sangree offered for German and Austrian refugees through the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches.  The Yankee townsfolk, at first suspicious of who these foreigners were and why they’d traveled on a Greyhound bus to the picturesque New England village, felt the strangers — many of them artists, craftspeople and literary figures who were political refugees or part of mixed religion couples who fell through the cracks of other other assistance programs — couldn’t be trusted.  But the strangers, who used their stay at the makeshift hostel— a dozen at a time — to retool their skills to find their way to new lives, won over the locals by their hard work.  The film was part of a series the U.S. government used to be shown in recently liberated Europe to counteract enemy propaganda and show the value of democratic institutions, from a New England town meeting to the freedom of religious expression.  Yet “The Cummington Story” also hints at some of the tensions the foreigners experienced, with some villagers — believing they were spies — even threatening to shoot them. They were confined to their rooms during a quarantine imposed after the nation declared war on Japan in 1941.  A scene from the documentary, The Cummington Story

A message from the Rural Assembly

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