ANNA ASCHENBACH—IN MEMORIAM
On Saturday, Jan. 22, while Anna Aschenbach received the Dr. Alice Hamilton Peace and Freedom Award, she suffered a stroke, and passed away on Jan. 23. She was 88.
For decades, Anna was an active member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), a war tax resister, a peace activist and a staunch advocate of civil rights and equality for people of color. New Haven County WILPF presented the award to Anna in recognition of her work for peace and for her many years of activism.
At the ceremony and reception at the New Haven Free Public Library, her nephew Jack Mills and his wife Ellen were there, along with about 40 friends to congratulate her for receiving this award for her life-long work. During the ceremony, Anna had a stroke. Emergency help came quickly, and Anna insisted on remaining at the event, while receiving treatment, as Ellen read her acceptance speech for her.
Anna’s speech was on “Simple Living” as she herself has experienced it. A favorite quote of hers was “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Anna had a few French words in her speech, and when Ellen mispronounced them, Anna, even in the midst of her stroke, corrected Ellen’s pronunciation. After the speech was read, Anna was brought to the Hospital of St. Raphael and passed away at 8 a.m. Jan. 23.
The following is from the Jan. 22 program brochure: Anna has dedicated her life to peace and justice. Born in Nanking, China, of American teaching missionaries, she early on became aware of the suffering and inequity around her in China and later in the US. She studied class and racial issues at college, joined a pacifist group during World War II, and was determined to follow the philosophy of simple living. For two years she lived in an intentional community. In the late 60s she was employed as a writer in the multiracial Model Cities Participation Unit in New Haven. She has been a long-time member of War Tax Resistance and has joined local, national, and international anti-war and justice rallies. Recently, she was a leader in organizing three important events: the Bus Stop Removal Project, the expose of the rapes, murders, and destruction of many thousands of women’s bodies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the SPEAK OUT on the denial of human rights in the U.S. to immigrant women. Anna has never stopped being a fearless, passionate activist and an opponent of American militarism and imperialism.
Anna considered the use of atomic weapons as a crime against humanity, and would attend the yearly August vigils on the Green that commemorate the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She was also founding member of the Progressive Action Roundtable and for years was its proofreader. When Anna took the minutes for meetings, they were practically verbatim. She was precise and a stickler for details.
On Jan. 21, 2002, at the Yale Peabody Museum Celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Anna read her poem, “Children First” at the community open mic. The poem, about children harmed by war, was inspired by the 1972 photo of 9-year old Kim Phuc, “the girl in the picture” in Vietnam, who was running down the road, her back covered with napalm. The poem was published in the first volume of the Peabody Museum’s book, “Poems on the Road to Peace: A Collective Tribute to Dr. King.”
In February, 2010, when it was publicized that Kim Phuc would be in Bridgeport to receive the Person of the Year award from the Connecticut Burns Care Foundation, Inc., Anna wrote to Phuc about her work for peace, the poem she wrote. She included a copy of it. On March 29, 2010, Anna went to the ceremony in Bridgeport and met Phuc. They spoke at length about war, forgiveness, and the struggle for peace.
Anna leaves behind her daughter, Karen Aschenbach, of California, and her son, Michael Aschenbach, of Pennsylvania. A memorial service in New Haven will be held on Feb. 5. Please contact Caroline Bridgman-Rees at (203) 387-1444 for further details.
All who knew Anna, worked with her, walked picket lines and went to rallies with her, laughed with her and went to meetings with her, join her children in their sorrow on her passing. Anna was deeply caring and loved humanity. She had a vibrant intellect, was a passionate peace activist, a staunch war tax resister and a fierce believer in justice, civil rights and the possibility for a better world. She would often remind us that we all bear
the responsibility to help bring that better world into being.
Here is Aschenbach’s poem about Phuc:
Newscast Nov. 15, 1998: “Disturbed landmines add more peril to Hurricane Mitch mudslide victims.”
On the photo of a naked Vietnamese girl running with mouth wide and back aflame from U.S.-dropped napalm.
The flaming girl keeps running to my eyes.
No tears of mine can slake her searing back.
She runs from all the place names we don’t know
Until the war maps spread across the page.
The napalm makers profit and get fat.
The flaming girl keeps running to my eyes.
I almost long for bombings that will end
When blasted buildings reach their thund’rous fall.
Their dead are counted; new work can replace
The dwellings. But unseen in rural paths
The mines are hidden, waiting past the time
When bureaucrats write ceasefires and shake hands.
The pucks are planted for the playful child;
For generations they withhold their blasts.
Legs blow off near Leon, arms in Kabul.
The landmine makers gather in the loot.
Still screaming girls run flaming to my eyes.
Forked tongue is speaking and our children hear.
Preach peace at Christmas. U.S. Number One.
Get Saddam; he’s the TV man to break.
In Baghdad hospitals the children stare.
Our values keep our children sound and safe.
War rapist’s child and mother are repulsed.
The desert vets are giving birth to freaks.
Irradiated parents’ kids get ill.
Agent Orange companies get rich.
Chiapas mountain children starve and freeze.
Still flaming Viet girls run into our eyes.
Kids call in worldwide schoolyards: “It’s not fair!”
They grasp the concept, and they know the harm.
In Seoul, Soweto, Gaza streets are filled
With pupils striking for their rightful share.
The students know elites make war for gain,
To keep resources under their control.
We struggle hand in hand against the wars.
We join our strengths to seek our common need
To grow with justice, live in humane space,
Where never amputees are shut from life,
Where never girls run flaming to our eyes.