The Zamzam Story - Survivors and Reunions

Summary of the 8th Zamzam Reunion, 2016

When Zamzam survivors and their descendants gathered in Akron, Pennsylvania in 2010, it was presumed to be their last reunion. They had had six previous reunions since 1991 and surely this seventh would be their last. But as the 75th anniversary of the sinking of the Zamzam neared, many longed for one more celebratory gathering. So it was that a jubilee reunion was planned for the weekend of April 15-17, 2016, coinciding precisely with the 75th anniversary date. Lindsborg, Kansas was chosen as the reunion site. This unique town, widely known as “Little Sweden, USA” because of its rich Swedish heritage, was home to the Zamzam Danielson family before and after the Zamzam incident and its residents have maintained a keen interested in the story over the years.

All reunion activities were held in the Fellowship Hall of Messiah Lutheran Church. Attendees stayed in local hotels and were on their own for breakfasts. All other meals were either catered or eaten together in a local restaurant. Lois (Danielson) Carlson, coordinator of the reunion, had enlisted a cadre of friends to help with snacks, decorations and kitchen detail as well as projection, sound and recording.

Twelve Zamzam survivors attended the 2016 Kansas reunion. They were as follows:

  1. Alice Schellenberg from Pennsylvania, age 27 on the Zamzam
  2. Marie Norberg Bergstrom from Minnesota, age 12 on the Zamzam.
  3. Laurence Danielson, Colorado, who turned 11 on the way back to the United States.
  4. Vic Johnson, Iowa, age 10 on the Zamzam.
  5. Eleanor (Danielson) Anderson, Kansas, who turned 9 on the prison ship.
  6. Evelyn (Danielson) Ternstrom, California, age 7.
  7. Peter Levitt, Canada, age 6.
  8. Luella (Danielson) Holwerda, Arkansas, age 4.
  9. Wilfred Danielson, Virginia, age 3.
10. Lois (Danielson) Carlson, Kansas, 19 months.
11. Gordon Smith, Texas, 16 months.
12. Janet Russell, California, 4 months - attending a Zamzam reunion for the first time.

12 survivors


The 12 survivors attending this reunion are

(front row, left to right): Vic Johnson, Evelyn (Danielson) Ternstrom, Eleanor (Danielson) Anderson, Alice (Landis) Schellenberg, Marie (Norberg) Bergstrom, Peter Levitt.

(back row): Laurence Danielson, Janet Russell, Luella (Danielson) Holwerda, Lois (Danielson) Carlson, Gordon Smith, Wilfred Danielson.

Photo by Jim Turner, Photo Products, Pittsburgh, KS

Spouses present included Ray Ternstrom, who has attended all 8 Zamzam reunions together with Evelyn; Lois Johnson, Vic’s wife; Jim Holwerda, Luella’s husband; Sheena Levitt, Peter’s wife; Dave Carlson, Lois’ husband, and; Annette Smith, Gordon’s wife. Laurence Danielson’s wife Jean is in poor health and could not make the trip. Wilfred Danielson’s wife Marilyn was not present but has attended previous reunions. Marie Bergstrom and Eleanor Anderson are now widowed, but their late husbands attended previous reunions.

Forty-four family members attended the reunion. Lois Scheirer of Durham, North Carolina, is the daughter of Alice Schellenberg and made it possible for the 102 year-old survivor to attend. Geoffrey Newman, whose father Leslie Newman was a young chiropractor on the Zamzam, traveled from South Africa, joining up in New York with his Australian nephew Glenn Levine, grandson of Leslie Newman. Elisabeth Curtis, whose father, Alexander Osborne, was the Assistant Purser on the Zamzam, traveled from Raleigh, South Carolina.

Anne Young Snyder, granddaughter of Fred and Doris Young, attended the reunion with her aunt Judy Young, daughter of Fred and Doris Young, and with her own two young daughters, Kristen and Abby. Zamzamer Lydia Rogalsky, who never married and is no longer living, was represented by ten relatives--great-niece Peggy Harden and husband Glen from South Dakota and Sandy Bartel, Larry and Eveline Bartel, Karen Wiebe, and Monty and Lori McCoy and their teenage daughter Jordan, all from Kansas.

Other family members who traveled to Lindsborg for the reunion included all three of Laurence Danielson’s daughters—Laura Danielson from New Mexico, Jan Osburn from Colorado and Linda Ritter from Belgium. Two of Eleanor Anderson’s children were present - James Nelson and Jyl Josephson and son Aksel from New Jersey, and her son Paul (Pablo) Nelson from California. All three of Lois Carlson’s children were there with their families - Julianne and Matt Davis from Colorado with Kirsten, Ryan and Erik; Chris Krumm and her sons Ben and Mitch from Wichita and; Justin and Chris Carlson from Wichita with Grady and Malin.

Dr. Timothy Demy, who is on the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, was in attendance and gave a presentation on the Battle of the Atlantic and how the Zamzam incident fit into that context. Bob Shuster, who had attended two previous reunions, is an archivist at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois and talked about archived Zamzam materials.

Other speakers included Peter Levitt, who gave a two-part presentation on the historical context of the Zamzam incident and his family’s particular experience, including internment because of their British citizenship. Geoffrey Newman and Elisabeth Curtis, both attending a reunion for the first time, provided background information about their fathers and told how the sinking of the Zamzam impacted their families.

Alice Schellenberg related details of her Zamzam experience in a question-and-answer exchange with her daughter Lois Scheirer, and was gifted with a new umbrella by Anne Snyder, to replace the one she took with her when abandoning ship. Luella Danielson Holwerda told the story from her perspective as a 4½ year-old child, and as she has written in a book for children. Wilfred Danielson introduced his 100-page bibliography of Zamzam materials, the most comprehensive Zamzam bibliography in existence. Eleanor Anderson also talked about previous reunions, all of which she had organized and coordinated.

A panel of all twelve Zamzam survivors shared personal memories of the experience and the long-lasting effect the incident had on their families. The spouses of Zamzam survivors were also given an opportunity to talk about what it is like to marry into the Zamzam family. Anne Snyder, granddaughter of Fred and Doris Young, talked about the use of social media to promote and preserve the Zamzam story. She has also established a Zamzam Facebook page. A large contingent of grand-nephews and nieces of Lydia Rogalsky shared their memories of her and how her story impacted them.

Other reunion events included welcoming remarks by Laurence Danielson and by former Lindsborg mayor and community leader Don Anderson. Devotional times were led by Evelyn Danielson Ternstrom and T. Gordon Smith. A performance by the Lindsborg high school Swedish Dancers was a special treat.

Sunday morning all attended a special worship service in the Messiah Church sanctuary at which Zamzam survivor Pastor Victor Johnson preached. About 200 reunion participants and church and community members were in attendance. After the worship service a reception was held in the Fellowship Hall and was followed by closing remarks offered at an open mic by anyone who wished.

This reunion was the last hurrah for Zamzam survivors as advancing age makes it increasingly difficult to travel. As “God Be with You till We Meet Again” was sung at the close of the Sunday morning worship service, it was with the realization that this was indeed the last time this group would be together.

This report of the 2016 reunion was provided by Lois Carlson on Nov. 7, 2016.

Summary of the 7th Zamzam Reunion, 2010

Zamzam survivors gathered July 30 - August 1, 2010, for a 7th reunion, marking 69 years since the sinking of the Zamzam. The gathering was held at the Mennonite Central Committee Welcoming Place in Akron, Pennsylvania, with a total of 65 in attendance. That figure includes family members and friends, as well as 13 survivors of the 1941 sinking.

13 survivors


Those 13 survivors are

(front row, left to right): Edith (Brill) Stanford, Eleanor (Danielson) Anderson, Alice (Landis) Schellenberg, Art Barnett, Lois (Danielson) Carlson, Fay (Brill) Ferris;

(back row): Luella (Danielson) Holwerda, Evelyn (Danielson) Ternstrom, Elaine (Morrill) Rodriguez, Gordon Smith, Peter Levitt, Laurence Danielson, and Wilfred Danielson.

At this reunion we knew of 30 survivors still living. There had been 203 passengers on the Zamzam.

Art Barnett died on Jan. 24, 2014 at age 104.  For much of his adult life, Art and his wife Peggy served as medical missionaries in Kenya.  Art is remembered for telling the Zamzam story with thanks and praise to God.

Alice Schellenberg, born Oct. 20, 2013, is now our only living survivor who had been an adult on the Zamzam.

For further information please contact

The reunion was attended by several relatives of Zamzam passengers. Again and again we were reminded of the Psalmist's challenge to praise God and to share the news of His faithfulness "from generation to generation". (See Psalm 145)

Included in the picture of descendants are:

(Standing) Kathy Harrell, Lem Blades, James and Aksel Nelson, Peter Nelson, Dave Stewart, Tim Harrell, Lloyd Hall, Lynette Mathewson, Scott and Bethanee Mathewson.

(Seated) Anne Snyder, Mike Harrell, Amy and JJ Harrell (on floor), Geoff Starr, Judy Young, Peggy Weymer, and Sally Gillispie.


Children and grandchildren of the survivors

In addition to family names mentioned previously, there were several spouses present, as well as members of other families: Bakers, Sandy Bartel and Peggy Harden, Lois Scheier, Joyce Renick, other Barnetts...

Coming to the reunion from the greatest distance were brother and sister Jim and Mary Rogers of England, remembering their great-uncle and great-aunt, Walter and Clara Guilding.

Jim Rogers of England tells about his great-uncle
 and great-aunt who had been on Zamzam.

Peggy Weymer remembers hearing that the Zamzam --
 and her dad -- were "lost".

The largest family group of actual survivors were us six Danielson "children": Laurence (CO), Eleanor (KS), and Evelyn (CA), Luella (AR), Wilfred (VA), and Lois (KS).  The Danielsons are included in the 'Thirteen Survivors', pictured above.  God has been so good to keep us well through all these years.

Laurence Danielson gave the official "welcome" at the reunion's opening meeting Friday evening, and Al Harrell led devotions. Others who led devotions throughout the week-end were Elaine Rodriguez, Gordon Smith, Evelyn Ternstrom, David Carlson, and Hans Botha (in absentia). Hymn singing, in addition to being accompanied by pianist Elaine Rodriguez, was accompanied by trombonist Lois Carlson, reminiscent of the missionary band on the Zamzam and Dresden.

At the opening session, the survivors together told the Zamzam story, recalling personal memories and feelings, as well as giving the facts. But survivors are not the only persons who tell the story! Jim and Mattie Jones, who had driven from Ohio to be with us, are an example of the expanded sharing of the story, in groups and one-on-one. It has been noted again and again that the story of the Zamzam is not only a dramatic story of faith, wrapped in God's miraculous care, but also part of the history of World War II.

The British American Ambulance Corp also is part of history. Based on his dad's diary, David Stewart told us about his dad, who was one of the 24 British American Ambulance Corp members headed for North Africa on the Zamzam. A book is forthcoming, based on Jim's diary.

Dave Stewart's dad was an ambulance driver
 on the Zamzam.

Lynette Mathewson shows her grandmother's diary.

Lynette (Hall) Mathewson, whose grandparents and dad were on the Zamzam, shared excerpts from her grandmother's diary, covering March 20 to June 24, 1941.  The diary is filled with everyday details about life aboard the Zamzam and Dresden, especially among the women and children.  Included also are names of leaders and the Scripture passages read at devotions on the Dresden.

Another presenter was Lemuel Blades, grandson of Ned Laughinghouse, the only fatality directly related to the shelling of the Zamzam. Ned died ten days after the sinking.  Lemuel closed with the challenge to let good, not bad, come from the tragedy of his grandfather's death.

Using PowerPoint, Peter Levitt shared his family's unique story of internment. We look forward to Peter publishing his story as a book.

Six tables full of books, magazines, artifacts, reports, pictures graced the edges of our meeting room. Among recent additions is Carolyn Gossage's book (in German) about the seven Canadian women who had been on the Zamzam.

Peter Levitt tells of internment.

Archivist Bob Shuster

Lu Holwerda shows an early edition of the book she has written for children.

Bob Shuster of the Billy Graham Center Archives in Wheaton, IL, encouraged the preservation of Zamzam materials; the Archives in Wheaton has a significant collection, thanks to Mr. Shuster. We are indebted also to Wilfred Danielson who has made a very complete bibliography of Zamzam materials.

Luella Holwerda recited a poem (watch the video) she has written recently, reflecting her feelings as a young child.

On Sunday we held a brief memorial service to honor Ruth Norberg Nye, a survivor, and other family members of the Zamzam group who have died since our previous reunion, in 2006. The first Zamzam reunion was held in 1991, fifty years after the sinking. Since that time we have grown close through reunions and our newsletter.

We closed our 2010 reunion by singing (through tears): "God Be with You 'til We Meet Again". God has gone with us through "deep waters" (Isaiah 43:2), and we trust His promise to be with us always.

Thanks be to God !

Submitted by Eleanor Anderson, Sep. 25, 2010 and Aug. 17, 2011.

2010 reunion - left side

2010 reunion - right side

Pictures from previous reunions.

At the Zamzam reunions, survivors often erupt in laughter and tears as they recount memories from the day of the sinking and the weeks as prisoners.   Words are not really needed to express the bond that unites the survivors, but they enjoy hearing again and again each other's stories from 1941.

For example, survivors chuckle with Alice as, with seriousness, she tells why she chose to take her umbrella with her as she left the sinking Zamzam:  the umbrella would give relief from the hot tropical sun and it could capture rain water.  ( Alice gave up her place in a life-boat and, with the umbrella under one arm, she swam to a raft.   She no longer has the umbrella, and she is not sure where she might have left it during the decades spent in Kenya as a missionary wife and nurse.)

Rhodie recalls that, as she climbed down the rope ladder, she mistakenly stood on Vida's helmet and, for a few moments, wondered why Vida was urgently calling her name.

Chuckles come too, as two young missionary couples, the Barnetts and the McCallisters, remember that they had  played the board game "Battleship" the evening before the sinking.

Tears also come.  At the first reunion, Dave was overcome with emotion as he held the New Testament given to him by missionary Gene on the Dresden.

And who can forget the 1991 embrace by Frank and Dr. Paul, the first time these two men had seen each other since Frank lay bleeding on the deck of the Zamzam and Dr. Paul had administered life-saving morphine to Frank.  (You may read  Frank Vicovari's story, linked to "On to Prison Camps" in the section titled "The Rest of the Story".)

Little toddler Gordon had been a major concern on the prison ship as he cried and cried unconsolably.  In addition to his mother, other passengers took turns carrying Gordon, trying to quiet him.   One who often "walked the floor" with Gordon was Dorothy.   At the 1996 reunion survivors cheered when Gordon picked up Dorothy and carried her, returning the long-ago favor.
It has become common at reunions to adjust easily to inconveniences, saying, "We can handle this. After all, we survived the Zamzam."
"Show and Tell" brings together a few memorable items, such as a rivet from the Zamzam, found in a survivor's trombone case.   Most items at reunions, however, are toys which were hand-made by fathers while on the Dresden.   Except for visiting hours two hours per day, men were not allowed to be with their wives and children; making toys helped bridge the gap created by separation.
Devotional times were common on the Dresden, uniting most of the survivors as one big family.  Thus, devotions are central at reunions.    Perhaps the Zamzamers' all-time favorite hymn is "Great Is Thy Faithfulness", while child survivors still enjoy singing the chorus : "Safe Am I".
Reunions seem to stimulate the telling of the Zamzam Story, even in unusual circumstances.  On their way home from the 1993 Zamzam reunion, because of a traffic accident, Doris and her family had a three-hour wait at a rest stop on the I-65 expressway in Indiana.   As they waited, Doris told the Zamzam story to about fifty enthralled listeners.  (Doris had been a young bride on the Zamzam.   At the reunion she had recalled that her loving husband had to step on her fingers to make her let go of the rope ladder and drop into the ocean.  They were among those without a life-boat, bobbing in the ocean.)

If anyone knows of a Zamzam survivor or family member not known to the survivor group, please send an e-mail to Thank you.