• Nora Koch

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

Instead of having a variety of history classes from 1964 through 1968, because we moved from the farm in 1965, it happened that in four of the five separate schools I attended we studied South America. I did not have European History, World History or US history. When we landed in Spring Valley the Six Days war had just taken place in Israel. I ate up the current events we studied and was subsequently intrigued by history of WWII in Europe, I was fascinated, both because it was something different than South America, but also because it related to me as a German, albeit, American. I felt responsible somehow for the holocaust, which led to the creation of Israel. It haunted me and I read numerous books, among them novels: Mila 18, and Exodus by Leon Uris to understand what had happened.

Later in life, through a Palestinian man, I gained perspective about Israel from a different point of view.

Over the years I have made it my business to educate myself about the history I missed. I realize I am speaking primarily about European history, but that is my background. Much of the knowledge I gained was from Art History classes, and by reading the Story of Christianity by Justo L. González a Cuban-American Methodist historian and theologian. Though not intentional, my haphazard approach circumvented much of the history of war.

Last year I read the abridged version of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, and multi-award winning Bloodlands by Yale historian, Timothy Snyder to understand the scope of atrocities before and after WWII in Europe. I’ve read War and Peace by Tolstoy, and Les Misérables by Hugo. This past spring, I listened to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I don’t understand why being called an Uncle Tom is considered a disgrace; he was a noble man. I learned about Emit Till from my friend and co-worker, with whom I believed I could discuss anything. I finally took a systematic on-line class of American History, free through Hillsdale college. Though it was a survey class, it filled many holes in my knowledge and helped me understand our country better. It helps me understand why we are where we are right now. I want to understand the world I live in. I intend to keep learning until I die.

One thing I have learned in all this is that we are all capable of the vilest of atrocities. We are all responsible for what we do as individuals. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Gulag Archipelago

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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  • Nora Koch

My first interaction with activists was around 1987, filmed by a TV crew, participating in a flotilla of canoes protesting mining outside Ladysmith, Wisconsin. We were, floating down the Flambeau River on a Sunday morning when people were in church. Comments from the activists centered around the people of the community not caring about the environment. It seemed to me, if they really wanted to win the community to the fight, they would have found another time, other than Sunday morning to schedule a protest. I loved the people who had led the protest. I was against mining, but told them if they had another protest on a Sunday morning, I would not participate.

Nearly ten years later, I was flattered to be asked to head a community meeting in response to a proposed factory farm about two miles from where I lived. I was opposed to factory farms, having been raised on a small family farm and knowing the intrinsic value of the life we lived, now all but gone from the landscape. At that time there was still a remnant of small family farming still going on, but I digress. . . .

When I showed up at the Town Hall, I soon realized that I had been asked into the role of leader so that I could displace someone much more prepared than I, but perceived as less progressive than I. At one meeting, activists from Madison showed up to help us plot our strategy; they made me nervous. They had nothing invested in our community, it seemed to me they were there primarily because they enjoyed agitating, and they wanted to win, whatever the cause. I remained involved in the group working on the newsletter and attending meetings, but stepped away from leadership. I attended public hearings, during one I read the account of the return to the shire from Lord of the Rings (sadly left out of the movie – it is a very important part of the story), to try to get across what these behemoths did to communities. I did not have scientific facts to contribute, just my life and this passage.

There was debate over the issue on Minnesota Public Radio, ironic, since this was in Wisconsin, but being so far from Madison, we failed to register as a blip on the capital’s radar. During the call-in, a person posing as an innocent local made political points. I knew her, knew she was disingenuous in this pose; she was not a local, but a political transplant. After that I declined to be involved in the fight because it was more political than anything else. I could see how even then back in the 1990s, it was driving a wedge between community members.

In the end, the factory farm did not go in. The activists cheered a resounding victory, but failed to mention that it was not they, but the rock below the proposed site that put an end to it. The official State Geological survey, which would be done for any such proposed large farm was what stopped it from going in. The activists had nothing to do with it, but they did have a lot to do with dividing the community.

My most recent experience with activism was really not my experience, but my sister's; a reluctant activist, who along with others from her community with whom she disagreed politically, was able to put a stop to mining of sand used for fracking, by imposing new regulations in their community. This is the kind of activism I applaud, but which is rare. It was a coming together of like-minded people of diverse ideology over a shared concern for their community.

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  • Nora Koch

Coffee House Press was located on 2nd Avenue in Minneapolis, near the warehouse district, on the third floor, upstairs from Nate's Men’s Clothing. On the same floor was a Pit bull, replete with spiked collar, who belonged to the drug dealers down the hall. She ran wiggling all over, to me with a big smile on her face every time I called “DAIsy!!!” They scowled at me every time this took place, which was every time I saw Daisy; it really ruined their tough guy persona.

One day, Michael, our Assistant editor came in, wide eyed, from the hallway with his hands wrapped around what looked like an olive-green basketball. It was a ball of bills that he’d found in the bathroom, stuffed into the garbage can. We assumed it came from Daisy’s place.

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