Journey to Freedom

April 1, 2015

By Chip Mellor

Readers of Liberty & Law know that among the most powerful components of IJ’s cases are the stories of our clients, who are motivated to fight government abuse not simply to improve their own lives, but also to secure freedom for others. They share a sincere and deeply felt understanding of the liberties that make America great.

As we fight for these brave individuals, we sometimes learn or are reminded that our friends and supporters also have amazing stories. There is no more inspirational story of overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of freedom than that of longtime IJ donor Elfie Gallun.

As a child, Elfie survived Hitler’s Germany, only to be trapped in Stalin’s East Germany. Separated from her family after the war and uncertain whether they were even alive, she survived thanks to the kindness of a Jewish seamstress and Holocaust survivor who took her in, shared her small home and helped Elfie return to school. After graduating eighth grade, Elfie was reunited with her mother and labored for two years at an East German farm because her own family’s property had been confiscated under Communist rule.

To escape the hard physical labor, she took a job in a Communist Party food store, forcing her to join the Communist youth organization. When the group arranged a trip to East Berlin, Elfie joined them, determined to see the free zone of West Berlin. But Party leaders saw her break the rules by traveling to West Berlin, a crime that exposed her, as a 19-year-old woman, to a sentence of 20 years’ hard labor. Warned by a friend and with minutes to spare, she fled to a town near the border of West Germany. With the help of kind strangers, she hid from police patrols and finally reached freedom by crawling across a river in the middle of the night on the narrow steel remains of a dismantled railroad bridge.

In the 1980s she wrote about her experience to President Ronald Reagan: “When I finally got through the border (across a river) I ran for about 50 yards…I wanted to shout, ‘I am free, I am free,’ but no words came from my lips because by then my heart was in my throat. There I stood in silence, having no one else to share that moment with me, and being lost in the wonder of Freedom.”

Elfie’s experience gave her and her husband Ned an insight into the rare, precious and fragile nature of liberty that has been a defining part of their lives. They recognize IJ as a powerful force for securing freedom in America, and they are committed to our long-term growth and success. In 2014, they generously created a fellowship at IJ, named for Elfie, to be held by a young attorney here who will play a special role in conveying the optimism, grit and commitment to freedom that Elfie and all of us at IJ share.

Robert Everett Johnson is the first attorney to hold the Elfie Gallun Fellowship in Freedom and the Constitution. In addition to litigation work, the position comes with an emphasis on publishing written materials and speaking to students and others about the vital role the U.S. Constitution plays in protecting our most precious freedoms. Rob is already actively involved on both fronts and has published pieces in The Wall Street Journal, Politico, USA Today, The Washington Times and The Hill.

This fellowship offers a new and special opportunity to tell Elfie’s story and the stories of our clients and to demonstrate again the stakes of the fight for liberty. We are deeply grateful to the Galluns for their friendship, inspiration and support.

Chip Mellor is IJ’s president and general counsel.

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