Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Archive for April 2011

Powerful Katrinka

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I adore this letter. Sylvia is so excited for Alex’s homecoming (though it seems far away and temporary). In the letter she is jubilant, loving and even a bit vain. I like hearing how she jokes about destroying Alex’s ship so he has to stay ashore and her warning that Adrienne won’t like it if he doesn’t shave. I love that she doesn’t want Adrienne to be “shy or retiring,” and calls her Powerful Katrinka. I had to look that one up – and at first I thought she might be referencing a book published in 1915 called “Katrinka – The Story Of A Russian Child.” The book is geared towards children and since Sylvia’s parents were Russian I imagine that this was a book she was familiar with. But, upon further investigation, I think that she is actually referring to a character from a daily comic called “Toonerville Folks” featuring (according to Wikipedia) “Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang, the Physically Powerful Katrinka, Little Woo-Woo Wortle, Aunt Eppie Hogg (The Fattest Lady in 3 Counties) and Mickey McGuire, the town bully.”

Here she is, Katrinka herself, in toy form:

(I apologize for the formatting issues I had with this post.)

Thursday, April 26th

Dearest Alex,

No letters yesterday, but two today. In one you admire Cookie as she sits on her grandfather’s lap – and in the other letter you tell me that you expect to be home for our darling’s birthday! Darling, I was so happy that I paid no attention to Cookie’s chatter until she just gave up and wet herself!

You needn’t worry about Mrs. Sylvia Rosner occupying herself with anything else but her husband when he comes home on leave. Everything will be called off for those wonderful days. I don’t know what plans to make for  us except that I want to be with you every minute of the time. But dearest, it’s going to be the hardest parting yet if you have to leave again. Now is no time to think of our parting, when you

haven’t even come home on leave. So enough of that. I’ve been kivitzing some of my friends who work in the Navy Yard. I’ve been told of one sailor who has been here for a number of months while his ship is being repaired – so I tell these Navy yard workers to use a blow torch and blast the S.S. Pa [Alex’s Ship] in half to keep my husband here a long time. Some joke! Sweetheart, I keep picturing your homecoming so many times that it seems as if I will greet you in a very offhanded fashion.  The first few times I pictured this scene, I saw myself overwhelmed with joy – the next few times I was surprised and tense – then later I was tearful – how I’ll act I still don’t know.

Anyway, I read Cookie part of your letter, where you say, “I want to spoil her with Candy and ice cream.” So I told her when daddy comes home he’ll hug and kiss her and buy her candy and ice cream. She smiled and said “And malted too.” Hmm! She’s at a terribly possessive stage now. She won’t let other children approach me, but pushes them away shouting, “My Mommy!” And at times she won’t let anyone in to the downstairs hall shouting “My house!” And now nobody can touch your picture – it’s “My daddy!” It’s nothing to get upset about, as Gesell says all children go through this assertive period… but at times it’s embarrassing.

The other day she casually pulled a toy away from a strange child, saying “It’s mine. No you.” You might not react the same way I do, but I’m glad she’s not a shy or retiring baby as shed be pushed around too often. As it is she does a lot of pushing, but I’m there to make her understand she has to share and play well with other children. She does play nicely with them until they approach her certain box in the monkey cage – when she gives them a good wallop on the head or back! Or if they touch her carriage, she pushes them aside. Powerful Katrinka).

            Sweetheart, it’s a wonderful feeling when she puts her arms around your neck and kisses you. You’ll love it – but you’ll have to shave

Your wife didn’t protest too much at your beard, but your daughter will. When you get back, we’ll all go shopping together for cookie. I’ll make up a list of what we need since you’re coming home with so much money. Considering the debts you owe ($20 for me) I believe it will be closer to $350.00, and after banking some of it, and spending the rest, you’ll have nothing…The only thing I can think of now, besides clothes, is a linoleum for Cookie’s room and a chest of drawers…Well, we won’t splurge, but will buy some necessities sensibly. But what’s the sense in buying me nice things if you’re not around to see it? (Don’t lets buy cheap clothes for me. They don’t last and the money is wasted.) All in one breath I say “Don’t” and the next I saw “Do.”

Sweetest husband, the day of your homecoming will be the most excited one in my life. I want to look beautiful for you – so please let me know beforehand (if you can) so that at least my face will be washed. You’ll probably be all spiffed up when you come home, tall and straight in your uniform! I want you to be as proud of me as I am of you.

Sweetheart, if we could only be together for always after this… I’d even get up to make your breakfast. (Don’t say anything you’ll be sorry for, Sylvia.) I love you with all my heart, Alex, and wish to heaven that you’ll be allowed to work ashore. Dearest, I love you, you don’t know how much.

Goodnight, honey-

            Forever yours,


P.S. It took only 5 days for your letter to arrive. Love – S.

Written by Molly

April 29, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Happy Birthday, Blog

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Well, I forgot to mark the 1 year anniversary of this blog. I think that the most appropriate way to commemorate the blog’s birthday is to meditate a little on community – the community, for instance, that has kept this blog going. Looking for clues about Alex and Sylvia’s communities gives the letters a purpose other than simply delving into their private lives.  The ways private and public get jumbled together is what I find most fascinating about New York. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the two, and sometimes it’s a privilege to have your private moments interrupted, interpreted, evaluated or even cheered on.

Alex and Sylvia’s different communities enter the letters in a beautiful way and help fill out a rich image of their world. From the sailors who help a drunk Alex to bed, to Adrienne befriending a rabbi on a train, to Sylvia relaying the neighborhood gossip, all of the people who enter the letters give me a glimpse of what they were like as people not interacting with their families.

On a run through Prospect Park this week I went through an empty tunnel where a man was practicing saxophone. He wasn’t playing for money. He had just found a private/public (and echo-y) space to play. As someone who only practices instruments when I know my roommates are not around and when I hope that the rest of the building has gone out, I can understand this man’s impulse. Sometimes a public area affords more privacy than one’s own home. This got me thinking about other public displays of private lives (hmm… like writing a blog).  As luck would have it, there was a totally charming NYTimes article about crying in public and the anonymity (sometimes labeled “privacy”) that the city affords its residents. Check it out here: Look at Me I’m Crying.

Like many New Yorkers (dare I say most New Yorkers?) I have cried on the subway, in the park, on the sidewalk. I have gotten on the wrong train, tripped, been yelled at. I have laughed at a funny thought while I was by myself and done a number of other embarrassing things that one might prefer not to have an audience for.  (To be fair I’ve also watched people trip, judged their crossword puzzle skills over their shoulders, and been freaked out by people who are smiling on the train for no obvious reason.) I don’t think that, as the article says, crying in public happens for a lack of private space. It’s just something that happens when public spaces and public transportation are a constant presence in the daily lives of 8 million people.  And life is tough. Sometimes you just need a community of people to ignore you and New York is great for that. I think that crying in public is a little bit like writing a blog – you are kind of scared that people will see, but at the same time you hope they might tell you its alright.

So here’s to a year full of those moments that range from glowing to cringe worthy, and the people who witnessed them.

A card from Adrienne’s 1st birthday. (I don’t know who Al and Vange are.)

Written by Molly

April 29, 2011 at 7:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Arlington National Cemetery

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I just returned from a wonderful trip to Washington D.C. where I saw and met great people, visited various national monuments, and learned to navigate a new public transportation system (always a plus).

While I was there I visited Alex’s grave for the first time, since he is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Walking through the fields and fields of tomb stones I was overwhelmed by the quantity of graves. I felt more sadness gazing at the fields of strangers’ graves than I did when I actually found Alex among the plaques where ashes are inurned. I knew he had lived a long and happy life. I knew he would find it funny that he was buried at Arlington despite having been blacklisted by the government during his life. I knew that he didn’t die at war, far from home, in the prime of his life.

You might think that having your loved one buried in a place with more than 300,000 graves would make you feel like his or her importance is diminished. But that was not my experience. The beauty and vastness of the cemetery made me feel, instead, like Alex was part of something bigger than himself. In turn, that made me feel like part of something bigger than myself. Finding his stone among the others was a pilgrimage that I’m glad I made.


I wasn’t sure what to do when I found it. Should I smile in the picture with it? Should I have brought flowers? Said some sort of prayer? I wasn’t sure whether there would be a Star of David on his plaque since his political beliefs and atheism trumped his religious affiliations. There was, though, and I was surprised to recognize that I was glad. That symbol gave one more clue to his identity.

The peaceful and beautiful design of the cemetery really gave the area a feeling of respect. I could hear a funeral ceremony going on in the background and see  graves that were recently engraved. I hate the idea that all of the people buried in the cemetery are there because they were part of a war.

But at Arlington I saw the value of ceremony, order, and tradition. Something the military is awfully good at.

Written by Molly

April 25, 2011 at 8:00 am

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Wonderfulest little girl in the world

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The romance between Alex and Sylvia may be a wonderful relationship to explore, but I find it even more moving when I see “father” as Alex’s primary role in these letters. Maybe because I knew him as my grandfather, and maybe because his uber-affectionate parenting style so closely resembles my dad’s. It could also be because Adrienne had so little say in the matter of growing up without certain parental figures in her life and these letters are one way to illustrate how strong the parent-child bond really is.

The complete devotion that my grandparents (Sophie as well as Sylvia) showed their children has been passed down the line to become a staple of family interaction. Here is a letter that Alex wrote to Adrienne and I found his voice much more familiar sounding in this letter than a lot of the others. He is still sarcastic, he does what it took children’s media years to catch up to (aiming programming towards parents as well as their children). His dry humor was lost on me for a lot of years, even made me nervous sometimes. But as I got older I realized that some spunk is a good quality to have, and that not only helped my relationship with my grandpa grow but thoroughly influenced my view of the world and the people in it.

My dear Adrienne,

First thing I want to tell you, is to thank you for the wonderful package you have sent me. I shall eat tonight like a king thanks to you. I’d like to know whose points did you use to buy the can of sardines? I know how hard it must be to get canned goods. The cookies have been already eaten and they were delicious, if I knew that you could do all the turns I would have thought you have baked them. But I suppose if you can’t get back from belly to back then how can you turn the cookies when they bake.

            Now tell your Mummy not to worry because daddy had a very nice time, which on K.P. is not ____. The first two days was hard, but the last one, I became already an experienced craftsman in the art of scullery, so now I am O.K.

Don’t worry about shaving, I am being trained to shave once a day, and my face is as smooth as your fanny.

Now I don’t want to throw boques [bouquets?] but I agree that you are the wonderfulest little girl in the world, and your mummy the wonderfulest full size gal (16 top 18 bottom)

            Well when I come home we will have a contest and gosh, nobody will be able to come into our room, friends or foes.

            I want you to tell mummy not to get all mixed up about dates. I told her that I’ll be home on the 2nd of November Tuesday evening. I’ll leave camp at 9:20 AM the train takes approximately 9 hours to get into N.Y. Penn Station so she can wait for me around 6PM Tuesday eve. The train is a troop train and it may be a little late, but she can find out an hour or two before by calling the Penn Stat. info. Buro and find out the exact time when to expect the train. At any rate tell mom that I’d like to plan when I arrive to go to granma for supper and see your uncle’s and aunts so that on the 3rd and so on I’ll be free to go out. Tell mummy that I also like to see “Arsenic and Old Lace”  rather than dance group.

Now if you can’t explain all this you may let mummy read this. I’ll tell your mummy to let you look around as much as you want to but remember here in the Navy we do things the same way like mummy, when 930PM comes around we all have to be in bed and sleeping and nobody can go around taking looks about what’s going on. And we got to keep mum about it too. So when your sleeping time comes around you too have to do what mummy tells you, as if you were serving in the Navy. I bet your mother must have been a P.O in one of her incarnations.

My vaccinations and injection are all OK. They don’t hurt anymore.

Here is an idea how I look this drawing comes inspired by your own, but where are your ears?

[Below Drawing:] (Tight Pants)

Well, so long dear I’ll have to write to mummy otherwise she will misunderstand!

Millions of Kisses,


Written by Molly

April 16, 2011 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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