Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Censorship

Bad Joke Department

with 3 comments

In this letter Sylvia writes self consciously about the censor. She cannot get used to the fact that there is a third party reading about their private lives. Yet here I am putting these letters out for the world to read. I wonder when personal and private life becomes an historical part of public memory. Sylvia includes a few jokes in this letter that are meant for the censor’s entertainment as much as Alex’s. The first joke is my favorite. The third joke, I don’t understand. [Update, Shtik Drek means piece of shit in Yiddish] Anyone who has lived with me knows I make up jokes about inanimate objects. Sylvia calls these kind of jokes a poor attempt at wartime humor, where people are looking for “phony gaiety” wherever they can find it. I have no such excuse. None of this letter was censored, though it must certainly have been read. I hope whoever read it laughed or cried.

I am repeatedly astonished by how powerful these letters can be. Time and again I have chosen a letter at random (or one that happened to be written on the same date that I am writing a post) and Sylvia’s words feel like they were stolen from my own head. To me the letters are astonishingly relatable. I mean, I don’t have a child, but her letters have an uncanny ability to reflect thoughts that I relate to so strongly.

Sylvia writes sweetly about her apartment with Alex and their cooking habits. She reminisces about their courtship and makes her friends envious by telling stories about their relationship. Here, she also says that she knew she would marry Alex the moment she set eyes on him. Fact or fiction, (who’s to say?!) it’s lovely to read about.

Mommy did go out and is now back. It’s too late to use the typewriter, because although its supposed to be a noiseless machine, it makes enough racket to wake the household.

While making the formula this evening I was so engrossed in my thoughts about you, that I poured Cookie’s milk into the sterilizer instead of into the measuring cup! Isn’t that terrific?

But I’ll begin to show some sense soon sweetheart. In regarding this letter, it sounds a little slaphappy – but that’s because I’m so keenly aware of there being a third party (that censor!) who is introduced to our private life. 

And there are so many things I’d like to say, but can’t, as I can’t grow accustomed to the idea of a stranger knowing our private thoughts! I wonder how he feels about reading other people’s mail – guess if they don’t try to keep a sense of humor they become crabby old maids. So the following is for you as well as the censor.

Bad Joke Dep’t

  1. Did you hear about the moron who thought his typewriter was pregnant because it skipped a period?
  2. Did you hear about the moron who crippled his poor old mother because someone told him to go back where he came from?
  3. Did you hear about the moron who flushed himself down the toiled because someone told him he was a “Shtik Drek”?


I know they’re bad sweetest, man but that’s what is called ‘humor in wartime.” Anything goes. But its probably a hungry effort on everyone’s part to try and catch some phony gaiety.

Dearest, there are so many things I want to tell you but I’m so tired – and sleepy. It’s rather late- and having to crawl into a cold and lonely bed is nothing a gal looks forward to… but I’m not too tired to say you’re one grand guy! Lately, I’ve started telling interesting stories about the days before our marriage when you were courting me (or was I courting you?) and the stories are really amusing. Blanche was envious when I told her that the first time I set eyes on you – I knew I’d marry you – you lucky stiff! As it  — she’s envious, Virgre’s envious, Lida’s envious. All because of you and Adrienne. She’s such a doll – it’s the most —- sensation in the world-

– babe – it’s because you’re not here with me and so all my emotions center around her! But I love that kid so strongly, [cut off] anything happens to her!!! Or to  you – I’d die.

 [cut off]  it’s late and I’m beginning to [feel] a little wacked  up (as usual – — meals) so I’ll close this letter [with a ] close embrace and a wish for your return (funny – I’ve got the [feeling] that you’re not far away from us.

Dearest darling –

Cookie and Mommy love you – so hurry home.

(Ripped off part of a note about Butch)



Written by Molly

January 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Alex’s 99th Birthday! Blog’s 50th Post!

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Drum roll please…….. This is the 50th post on this blog AND today would have been Alex’s 99th birthday!

Sorry for the long absence, but timing is everything! Happy birthday Grandpa. My grandpa’s birthday is the day before mine, so I’m posting a photo of us during what I believe was one of our birthday celebrations together. Since I don’t have a scanner this is a poor quality photo of a photo.

Here is a cool birthday coincidence: My grandpa Alex was 35 when my dad (birthday March 13th) was born. And my dad was 35 when my brother (birthday March 7th) was born. Each generation was 35 years apart down to the week.

Here is a picture of my dad and my grandpa 10 years ago on March 17th, 2001.

For this special 50th/birthday post I wanted to put up this blog’s first audio clip. However, technical difficulties prevent that as well so consider this a teaser for what the next 50 posts will bring.

Below is a letter that Alex wrote on his birthday in 1945.  My incredible friends and family are getting my 25th year off to an amazing start and I’m so grateful for that. Reading Alex’s letter is difficult because it highlights how far away he is from the people he loves. At the start of the letter Alex is not so happy, realizing that he is alone because everyone went out to drink while he was asleep. He refers to “the boys” a lot in this letter, and by the end realizes that they may have decided not to wake him because he had gotten so drunk the night before. This is a community of men who appear to be both young and caring.

My darling,

Here is once more my birthday. I think my last one was in Boston. At least then I knew that in a few days I would see you. Now its just another day… and the realization that I am not growing younger.

I got up at the usual time this morning. There was work to do and I kept at it even after everyone else was finished. We were painting our tool locker and I wanted it done so that on Monday we should be able to store away all our tools. It was done about 4 PM so I took a shower and shaved for a change and put clean clothes on. I had supper and I told the boys to get me up for a few beers when the pubs open up. They open at 5PM I was so tyred [sic] that I slept like a log. No one got me up and I am dry and thirsty and I can’t even say that I had a few drinks. Its about 10 PM now. Some hellofaway to spend ones birthday.

I think I thanked you and Cookie for the birthday cards, but if I didn’t thanks a lot, you both are thoughtful and sweet and I love you even more for it.

Cookies pictures delight me always. I keep on looking them over, and she really strikes me as a pretty child.  They also make me a little homesick.

They remind me of the sunny afternoons in Knickerbocker Village. At any rate its splendid to see a little of your environment.

We have beautiful sunny days, strange as they may seem for England. At such times your being far away is felt even more keenly. I am never going to live down the caption on one of Cookie’s pictures. You write “I woke up grouchy like you” and did the boys took notice of it, when I proudly them the pictures. As it is most of the time I’ve got to throw them out of their bunks in the morning, a terrible job in itself. But now they all attribute it to m bed disposition on awaking.

Darling, the crow (Eagle) on Cookies arm is wrong. It should be on the right arm. Of course young lady may have their choice.

On of our boys is lucky. We bumped into our chief cook on our second trip. He borrowed ten dollars from this fellow of ours. Now he is collecting it after ten months.

Tomorrow I think I am going to a concert if I am lucky and get tickets. This is the firs of the season in this town and it’s a fine orchestra considering the conductor. So I hope I’ll have a good time.

The boys are lit tonight and they just came in waking up everybody and singing (?) songs and (?). Last night we had a riot in our quarters. I acted drunk and the boys carried me into the  focusle(?). Of course I really looked as if I had one too many. My buddy Mike was just raving “Once I let him go and he comes home drunk… he won’t go out anymore, etc.” The boys told him they picked me up from the gutter. So Mike very tenderly undressed me, took my shoes off and socks, my jacket. Hoisted me up into the bunk and covered me up.  All this while he was swearing that he won’t let me out alone anymore. During all this time I was enjoying all this fuss about me and acting the drunk. Its just dawning on me, that must be the reason the boys must have stopped from waking me up. The saloons over here are opened from 5 to 10PM like all over England. At 10PM the sidewalks are pulled in. So over curfew is even better than at home.

Darling now to sleep. I hope I dream of being home with you. All my love to you and Cookie and millions of kisses,



On a more serious note, I feel compelled to mention the tragedy that is continuing to escalate in Japan. My heart goes out to everyone who has been impacted by the earthquake, tsunami and now the nuclear disaster. It is impossible to comprehend that a country that just commemorated the 65th anniversary of when an atomic bomb devastated Hiroshima, is now amidst yet another nuclear threat. The images that we, the American public, are seeing are horrifying. I look for comfort in the fact that human compassion is so strong that even when Japan was considered an enemy nation during WWII, the US government censored the images of Japan after the bombs in order to rally citizen support for its actions.  Today, we are flooded with detailed reports and images of what is happening on a minute-to-minute basis in Japan and I only hope this will fuel the world’s compassion and generosity.

Written by Molly

March 17, 2011 at 8:00 am

Victory Mail

with 5 comments

Ah, that’s right, history! Of late, I’ve been caught up in the love story and the storytelling aspect of this blog. Let’s do some more general historical investigation.

In the upper left hand corner of “V-Mail” you’ll see the “Passed By Naval Censor” Stamp. In the letter below you’ll notice how conscious of the censor my grandfather was. He writes “we are where we are supposed to be.” In more content filled letters this will gain importance.

Dearest lover,

This is a hastily written note to let you know that we are where we are supposed to be and after this we may head for home. It will take a little time yet, so dear, keep writing to me.

I hope we find some mail from home and I shall write a long letter as soon as time allows it. With all my love to you and baby and millions of kisses


I’ll write later.

Let’s examine the outside of the letter. The airplane on the stamp is certainly emblematic of WWII. I’m unsure as to why there is a stamp when the bottom of the V-Mail instructions states, “V-Mail letters may be sent free of postage by members of the Armed Forces. When sent by others postage must be prepaid at domestic rates (3 c ordinary mail, 6 c if domestic air mail service is desired when mailed in the U.S.)” Alex was a member of the armed forces so why is there a stamp? My theory is that the postage to the U.S. was free but the stamp covers postage once the letter has arrived in the country. (If someone knows the correct reasoning, I’d like to know. If I figure it out, I’ll share it.)

V-Mail stood for Victory Mail. All V-Mail was written on this type of standardized paper that functioned as an envelope as well (as seen above). The letters were opened, censored, photographed and the negatives were sent to the U.S. rather than the full sized letters. This saved shipping space for war materials.

On the day this letter was written – October 21, 1944 – the first German city, Aachen, was taken by the Allied powers. I haven’t delved deeply into WWII history thus far but I find it most striking how little the events of the war, as we learn about them in textbooks, finds its way into the letters. The later letters are full of hope for a swift return home. Censorship, prices and pay, the end of the war, and political upheaval will certainly be present in the letters as we go. But when it comes down to the day to day communication, we hear mainly about barracks and chores, baby clothes and visits from relatives.

I find it fascinating that personal letters were becoming standardized. They were such a prevalent and crucial part of everyday life. Everyone’s letters were so personal and so universal.

Thus far, Brooklyn daily life has seemed more present in the letters than the war abroad, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Written by Molly

June 6, 2010 at 11:07 pm

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