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Both sides of hate heard in Pa. symposium

April 11, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Throughout her late teenage years, Tania Kelley worked on a farm growing vegetables in a Nazi camp, and she and her comrades believed they would be shot when the Germans were finished with them.

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Kelley, 74, a native of the Ukraine who settled in Greencastle, Pa., learned to speak German during her ordeal, and one word - "schnell" - still sticks in her mind. In English it means "faster."

Monday night, Kelley and Floyd Cochran, a former member and chief propagandist for a Pennsylvania white supremacist group, spoke to an audience of nearly 100 at a symposium on hate and tolerance at James Buchanan High School.

The two told of pasts that were on opposite sides of hate.

Kelley, whose maiden name was Sarapuka, was 16 years old in July 1942 when the Nazis came to her farm seeking young people for their forced labor camps.

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"We were told to be a certain place in two days," Kelley said. She was frightened. "We always heard that when they picked you up they would shoot you," she said.

She remembers her mother screaming when she left. She didn't see her again until 1968, she said. Her father, a soldier in the Russian Army, was killed in the fighting in 1945, she said.

She credits her grandmother's words with saving her life in the labor camps. "She said 'always do what they tell you' and that's what I did. If they said 'sweep the floor' or 'shovel manure' I'd do it," Kelley said.

She said one girl threw a bucket down in protest and was immediately shot.

Kelley still wears the small gold cross around her neck that her grandmother gave her.

Cochran said he first became interested in joining a hate group when he was 14. A sharp-tongued recruiter got him interested in the neo-Nazi movement. Later on, when he became a full-blown member, his job was recruiting young people.

He joined an Aryan Nation compound in Idaho in 1976.

He left the movement in 1992 when he was 33 years old. He had a 3-year-old son who was born with a cleft palate and his superiors in the hate group suggested that he kill the boy because he wasn't normal.

He said it made him think about what he had been doing all those years he encouraged the elimination of people who were different.

He made a complete about face and became an advocate against hate groups. Instead of trying to recruit young people into them he conveys how dangerous they are to a healthy society.

He makes his living speaking against the movement to anyone who will listen.

This was his second visit to Mercersburg. He gave a similar speech three years ago.

Cochran said hatred was so deeply ingrained in him for so many years that he still has to fight it off occasionally.

"Don't think I'm ready to join hands with you and start singing 'Kumbaya,'" he said.

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