The Kibler Family from Alsace, France sailing to America on the SS De Grasse in early Dec. 1948. Standing proudly “à la Leo DiCaprio sur le Titanic” with her older sister, parents and relatives  at the bow of the Queen of the Atlantic, the very first liner that sailed for the “Compagnie Générale Transatlantique” aka the “French Line” from New York to Europe after WW II — is Brigitte Kibler, a 7-year-old immigrant. Brigitte Helzer Collection. All rights reserved.

The SS DeGrasse sails into New York...


The Immigration History of the United States

Bonnes Fêtes de Fin d’Année!


OTD: December 24, 1948 – December 24, 2018



Dear Members of the MDFDE, Dear Friends worldwide,


Seventy years ago today in America… As millions of Americans were just about ready to celebrate Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year, spirits were high under Truman. Not only did President Harry Truman win his reelection in the greatest election upset in American history, but the Democrats also regained control of both houses of Congress.

And “over there,” across the Atlantic, after years of despair in countries like France and Italy, it was no longer so bleak. Drew Pearson’s Friendship Train, which had brought a year earlier, in December 1947 and January 1948, shiploads of food, clothing and medicine sent by the people of the United States — the most generous people on Earth — to the starving people of France and Italy; and the Marshall plan, the European Recovery Program signed by Congress on April 3, 1948, had borne fruit. Production was picking up. Harvests were about back to normal. From Europe’s lowest moments better things had come.

Seventy years later in America… As most of us can’t wait to get our country back in 2019… Back and running on the right track in the name of Democracy and Freedom of the Press… Back and reuniting ASAP with their Mom and Dad, with their families, almost 15,000 immigrants, innocent children including babies, held in detention camps this Christmas, held in government custody…

If 2018 has taught us anything… While we are hoping and praying for better days… Let’s get back to that peaceful Christmas Eve in 1948, shall we? Let me just tell you a beautiful story. A real story. Are you ready?

TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house, no creature was stirring, not even a mouse.


The place was Long Island, New York, east of Manhattan. Home of the second and third-generation children of immigrants during the post-war boom, the new kid on the block was now Brigitte Kibler and her older sister.

November 30, 1948: Three weeks earlier, ready for a new start in America, the Kibler family had left their native Alsace and were now sailing to New York from Le Havre on board the famous SS De Grasse. And what an unforgettable day it was for them all, especially for Brigitte… turning seven years old, celebrating her big birthday on the De Grasse…

It was now past midnight. Nestled all snug in her bed, young Brigitte, sound asleep, was dreaming about food… remembering the lack of it during the war. And then…

Happy memories of the American GI’s liberating her village from the Germans and of learning her first English words, “Chocolate” and “Chewing gum”, which those GI’s were generously sharing with the children. Happy memories of the same GI’s who would often take her picture when she was wearing in her regional, Alsatian costume.

Happy memories of being on that ship that safely brought her family to America in 1948 while celebrating her 7th birthday. And how awe struck she was at all the food they served in the dining room: she had never, never seen so much food in her life!

As the story goes… While Brigitte and her family were happily spending their first Christmas in America… Back in France, something “really big” was happening at the Gare d’Orsay (today the Musée d’Orsay) in Paris. Thousands and thousands of packages, big and small, addressed to the people of the United States, kept coming for weeks… What were the French up to?

They just wanted to reciprocate, to thank their American friends for their human sacrifices during WWI and WW II. They wished to express their appreciation for the food and other goods which was collected for them by the Friendship Trains in the United States…

And so, spearheaded by André Picard and the association of the French railway veterans, and by Commandant Guy de La Vasselais, liaison officer to General Patton during the war, France was getting ready to send her own “thank you” to America. Her very own “Merci Train” made of 49 SNCF boxcars — one for each of the 48 states, with the contents of the remaining car shared between the Territory of Hawaii and the District of Columbia — the same boxcars of the “40 hommes ou 8 chevaux” type, which carried U. S. troops during both wars, now loaded to the top with 52,000 gifts donated by French citizens, rich and poor, to the American people.

Back in Long Island, New York, a few days after Christmas 1948… While young Brigitte HELZER was quickly adapting to her new life in the United States, learning so many new, exciting things… She had no idea that in just over one month, on February 3rd, 1949, she would be invited to participate in New York’s biggest event, all dressed up in her same Alsatian costume she used to wear and be photographed with by the GI’s… She could not imagine she would do her “début” on Broadway, marching along, right behind the officials and Drew PEARSON in the huge “Merci Train” Ticker Tape Parade heading all the way to City Hall!

Brigitte Helzer touring the Merci Train Boxcar at the Vermont National Guard Library & Museum in Colchester, Vermont, U.S.A. © Brigitte Helzer. All rights reserved.


Christmas Eve 2018 Update: As our story continues to this day and beyond… I am now so proud to inform you that Brigitte (née Kibler) HELZER is our MDFDE Executive Director in charge of Project #MDFDEFriendshipMerciTrain70 all across New England. Welcome aboard and thank YOU so much for your help and friendship, dear Brigitte!

Wishing you and your loved ones some safe and inspiring holidays!


Faithfully yours,

Elisabeth Jenssen


    The “Train de la Reconnaissance Française” aka “Merci Train” (1949).





© The Official French-American Project entirely conceived by Ms. Elisabeth JENSSEN to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the Merci Train (2019-2020) and the 75th Anniversary of the Friendship Train (2022). All rights reserved.

Chair, Elisabeth Jenssen

Honorary President: The Comte Gilbert de Pusy La Fayette



And here is the last, inspiring word on this special day from the legendary Drew PEARSON who, in his time, did some much to Keep Democracy Alive in America and Abroad! E.J.


24 December 1948 Washington Merry-Go-Round By DREW PEARSON

Washington.—This columnist is chiefly paid by editors for keeping an eye on Washington skulduggery, interpreting the whims and wherefore of National bigwigs, and cocking an ear at closed-door meetings where the real policies of the nation arc so frequently decided.

Around Christmas time, however, I hope I may be excused if I stray from this assignment and express some thoughts on the all-important gral which the man whose birthday we celebrate tomorrow set for us nearly 2,000 years ago, and toward which we have since been struggling.

When I read the newspaper headlines I sometimes feel that we have taken several steps backward from that historic day when the man came into the world who was to give his life for the cause of peace on earth, good will to men.

In addition to the stalemate in the United Nations, revolution in Latin America and our own huge military budget, even little Holland today seems to have taken a cue from the big aggressor nations.  War or the threat of war is everywhere around us.

People Work At Peace However, peace and democracy must build on a very broad base. And when you examine the base — in other words, the people—there is stirring in this country and in most parts of the world a fervent, crusading desire for peace.

It is a desire so strong that people get out and work at it.  They are not content to leave the fate of their country in the hands of governments.  They are not content with the Marshall Plan alone—even though that is the greatest help-thy-neighbor plan ever conceived on earth.  They want to do things themselves.  They want to make their own contribution—even though small to building neighbors.

They want to do this not only here at home, between neighbors around the corner,  but they want to do it abroad, between neighbors who speak foreign languages.

Despite the cynics and the derogators and the pessimists, this great urge exists, it is the brightest of all stars at this Christmas season, it is the healthiest of all movements to win the peace and make democracy live.

A Columnist’s Mail Looking through a columnist’s mail which is a pretty good cross section of America I find all sorts of indications of this urge.  Here is a random sample: The International Friendship League of Boston loaded up three American Airlines planes with Christmas toys to the children of Europe, born during and after the war, most of whom have never seen toys.  The league planned one plane, but the response was so generous that American Airlines donated three…

Kellogg’s cornflakes is printing on their cereal boxes special postcards for pen pal clubs to European and Latin-American children.  Much more lucrative from a profit viewpoint, are toy paper autos formerly printed on cereal boxes.  But foregoing this, Kelloggs have gone to much trouble and expense’ to set up a central office for the exchange of pen pal letters…  Clayton, N. Y., invited neighboring Canadians to join with them in honoring a great neighbor—Canada…  Bakersfield, Calif… Jr. Red Cross plans a “We Are a Family” festival to emphasize neighborliness and will send 1,000 gift boxes abroad.

Jacksonville, Ala., State Teachers College has taken in six French students…  Southwest Texas State Teachers College, San Marcos, Texas has “adopted” a German college…  Los Angeles high school adopted Nikaia high school in one of the poorest cities of Greece…  The town of Worthington, Minn., adopted the town of Crailsheim, Germany… Morganville, Kans., a town of only 300, staged a pageant to help the French town of Feves, population 2,000…  Glen Cove, N. Y., bought a refrigerator and linen for the hospital at Pontecorvo, Italy … Rocklan County, N. Y., Boy Scouts sent 150 pounds of vitamins to Echternach hospital, Luxembourg…

Richmond, Va., professional institute published a special edition of the school paper in French and circulated it to French schools and colleges… The Daily Orange of Syracuse University, Syracuse, N. Y., is doing the same… Augustine College, Sioux Falls, S. D., is bringing in foreign students on scholarships… Students at Bowdom, Stanford, Emory University, Georgia, have been pioneers in this field… On an even larger scale, Rotary International uses a fund of $2,000.000 to sent foreign students to American colleges, and American students to European colleges. The fund is dedicated to the founder of Rotary, the late Paul P. Harris… The city of New Orleans adopted the City of Orleans, France… Columbia. S. C. adopted Berk-Sur-Mer, France…  Al

Tisch, a Lakewood, N. J., hotel owner, spearheaded a campaign for “toys for tots around the world.”

Democracy At Home And improving our democracy here at home, all sorts of people pitched in, voluntarily, on such things as the “You-Must-Vote” campaign, printed and circulated by the Century Press of Toledo; a sample ballot campaign of the Lawrence, Kans., public schools; and the Junior Citizens Corps, directed by a colored policeman, Oliver A. Cowon of Washington, D. C….  In Minneapolis, Endie Groth promoted National Children’s Day, while in Hollywood, Jimmie Fidler concentrated his great radio talents on helping children all over the nation through a National Kids Day foundation …  In Louisiana, the Shreveport Journal collected, in a few scant hours, money to help a negro couple whose house and children were burned…  In Texas, Southern Methodist invited Oregon University to play football, with three negro players on the team; while various high-school, North-South football games contributed to better regional understanding.

This is just a small cross section of a Columnist’s mail.  The list of people, clubs and organizations who want to help other people is so long it would take columns and columns to print.

But the important thing to remember is that millions of people in this country are working hard at the job of winning the peace and making democracy live.  And from this winter’s own observations in Europe, plus the gratitude train which the people of France are sending us, this yearning for peace and friendship is very much reciprocated. (Copyright, Bell Syndicate, Inc., 1948)

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