A CHILD’S VIEW OF FAMILY AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR

The following material explains how I found the family letters, and my childhood understanding of the Second World War.

I grew up on the east coast, in a secular Jewish family, visiting relatives in New York or New Jersey and, less frequently, family in California. My aunt, who had written the letters which inspired Love, Sarah and had worked in Fiorello LaGuardia’s office, was married and living on a farm in New Jersey. I spent a magical summer there exploring the acres, finding a stream big enough for serious wading and listening to her reading to me every evening. She never mentioned her working life and I wasn’t old enough to ask about it.

Another of my childhood memories is the trip we took to California to visit my uncle and his family. In those days a trip to the west coast took 13 hours with at least three stops and food served to everyone after each stop and take-off. We were quite full when we arrived in San Francisco, greeted by my uncle who announced, “now, we’ll go for Chinese”. I remember enjoying the company of his four daughters, my cousins, and putting on “plays” in the driveway.

Years later, one of the California cousins told me about the letters. My family’s visit would have been well after the end of the War, a topic which never came up. So, my uncle didn’t mention the letters he’d saved.

My memories of the War include visiting my grandparents, traveling by train from South Station in Boston to beautiful Grand Central Station in New York. Soldiers in uniform filled each car. They were noisy, singing the popular songs of the day. As a child I thought being a soldier must be fun. I don’t think I understood much more about the War except that many of my uncles were in the Army. Where they went or what they did, I didn’t know.

Movies were a big part of my life since my father managed a local movie theater and theaters were central to entertainment at that time. I remember newsreels, but didn’t understand the War. My father, spoke before every film, encouraging the audience to buy War bonds. Looking back, I realize the War filled our lives, but to a child, it was a vague and distant issue.

My most vivid War related memory came after the War, when the bell rang at our house in a little town south of Boston. Curious, I followed my mother to the door. The young man standing there very politely explained he was from Germany and was selling magazines. My mother and father never discussed world events so I had little understanding of the realities of the War, including the fate of Europe’s Jews. My mother, of course, knew very well. She recoiled, shaking her head and screaming, “No, no, no. Go away.” She slammed the door, a reaction so out of character, I’ve never forgotten it.

Barbara as kid.png