Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘Family

Happy New Year!

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Below is a letter to Alex that everyone in the family contributed to on New Years Eve, 1944-5. Some are written in Hungarian and Sylvia wishes for victory and the end of the war.

Here’s to a happy start to 2013, as well.

Darling, everyone’s up including Adrienne and drinking to victory in the new year. You can’t believe how much I missed you – dearest husband, let this be just a New Years wish – to have you home shortly, safe and sound, and for our brothers and friends and all the boys fighting those bastards, a decisive victory in the New Year and let them all come home safe.
I love you, dearest, with all my heart,
Come home soon in good health and Zai gezunt. [Stay well in Yiddish]
–Your mu-in law.
Dear Alex –
Happy New year and lots of love.
Your sister Serena
We are all together wishing you good health and to see you soon here
Your brother in law
Wishing you a happy new year and hoping that long before the next celebration we wll be all together in good health.
From your old friends Alicia and Adalbeil Fiace
Dear Alex:
It is the New Years Eve – in 2 hours and ½ we are in 1945! We all came here early this afternoon – and enjoyed very much dear Adrienne’s company. She is beautiful and so adorable and I am proud that she has a preference for me – Before going to bed she kissed us all – now we are waiting till the clock (radio) strike 12. Well, I send you the best wishes in the hope to see you here soon in very sound health. Your’s affectionately, Anichad(?)

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Written by Molly

January 13, 2013 at 9:00 am

Beauty Parlors and Weddings

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We are going back a few years in this letter, to the time before Sylvia moved into her apartment in the Brooklyn Navy Yard projects. This letter is particularly gossipy and entertaining. There is no mention of anything here except the beauty salon and a wedding that Sylvia attended. I wish we still had the pictures that Sylvia refers to here. I’d like to see her and Adrienne in front of the Hudson River, the water that I looked at everyday growing up from my apartment.

Sylvia talks about going to get her “hair set” in this letter. I’m not even sure what that means (though I can imagine it involves a lot of hairspray and chemicals). Her referral to Alex’s mother as “Mom” and her attachment to Serena comes through with clarity in this snippet of everyday life for a woman who’s husband is away but who has, in his stead, a whole new family.

September 10th, 1944


Received these pictures today and am mailing them to you. Doesn’t Adrienne look adorable? The water is the Hudson River. The calf we ate a few weeks later. Horrible thought.

I have a lot of work packing. Oh how I wish you were here. As it is, I’m anxiously waiting for your cable assuring me of your safety.

I’m expecting 2 more rolls to be developed and you’ll see the results as soon as I.

Your mother and Serena were here and

Serena gave me $15.00 for the rent. Isn’t she wonderful? They were here Saturday – and when I went to the beauty parlor to have my hair set for Emma’s wedding, Serena and Mom came along. Mom had her hair set and Serena had her nails done. I looked wonderful darling, and how I wished you could have been there with me. It was a nice wedding and my cousin Emma good, for her. Charlie Winter says she’s the only ugly bride he’s ever seen.  I’m enclosing the menu .The liquor was lousy- but the food was good. The groom is skinny and gawky and ugly. But they will be very happy.

Cookie is downstairs with Mom and I’m supposed to be packing. It’s such a headache! But once I’m settled in the new apartment, it’ll be O.K. Darling, kiss me as long and as often as you can when you come home. And dream of me tonight.

I love you, sweetheart.

All our love,

Sylvia and Adrienne

The note that Serena gave Sylvia money for rent caught my attention. There are any number of mentions of the family giving each other money but today what I noticed is that this $15 was for rent. America is at war during this time and in just a few years, with the return of the G.I.s, America will enter of economic prosperity and the expansion of the white middle class. Yet here, just a few years earlier Sylvia cannot even afford her rent while her husband is away at war. Sylvia is lucky to get an apartment in the projects — the housing shortage in New York will not be addressed for a few more years — and the letters just after her move are filled with concerns about the cost of moving. I particularly relate to this letter because of my own spatial (but seemingly temporal) relocation. It seems that I myself have moved to the 1950s. More on that in another post.

Written by Molly

September 12, 2012 at 10:51 am

That’s me pushing a broom

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This letter is from the U.S. Naval Training Station in Sampson, New York. Alex wrote it to Sylvia in 1943.

My darling

A week from today I’ll be in your arms at this time. Sweetheart, forgive me if I don’t write you long letters, believe me I am going in circles from work. They gave us another Battaglion (Battalion?) Standby watch and where ever they need work to be done they send us. Today we shined the administrator’s buildings floors, and besides that we have our own work to take care of, particularly because we have had our extra work taken away from us. I received all your wonderful letters, I can’t do justice to them and I am sorry.

I wrote mom and told her the time I’ll be home, I think we still should do as planned and go over to her home when I arrive. I don’t know what will you do about the shows, but honey I really don’t care. The only think I want is to be with you, near you, to kiss you and make love to you. Everything else is really secondary. So don’t worry about that, if worse comes to worse you will go by yourself after I left and will try to console yourself. This will sound lousy, but honey don’t worry we together and nothing artificial will be needed to stimulate us. I’ll be so happy in the Cookie and Mummy and Daddy combination. What else can a guy want?

It is very nice that the girls wanted to present you with the tickets to make our get together so pleasant, that is really friendship.

Poor Cookie, so she has a rash, I am glad you are taking her to the clinic and I hope her cold is a thing of the past by the time this arrives. You can’t imagine how hard it is to imagine her, because I could believe she is as small as when I left her and I can’t imagine her any bigger.

So mummy’s clothes can already be remodeled, that is splendid, and so cheaply too. I always knew that my wife was an artist.

Don’t feel badly about my castigation, I’d suffer hell for your sake!

Don’t send any mail after Sunday, but Sunday send a long letter so that I’ll be to hold out till Thursday.

That’s me pushing the broom.

That’s me sleeping on my watch.

That’s me dreaming of you and Cookie.

That’s me and you at the station next Thursday evening.

My love to you and Cookie,



This letter from Alex, written in 1943, is particularly interesting because it goes through such a wide array of sentiments in its short four pages. Each page seems dedicated to a different side of Alex and a different part of the life he is leading. Alex begins the letter in a tired voice, apologizing that he cannot write long letters like Sylvia does. He talks about the work he is doing and how he feels like he is going in circles. None of it sounds particularly rewarding.

On the second page Alex becomes sweeter – focusing on his trip home. Sure, it’s kind of uncomfortable to read about my grandpa wanting to have sex but once we get past that this page is a fascinating display of what kind of man he was. He is a little forceful in his opinion that he and Sylvia should go right to his mother’s house when he returns and spend the rest of their time doing whatever they want together. He does not want to go to a show that Sylvia has been planning to attend. He simply says he doesn’t care about the show and she will have to deal with it. He is  also saying this as a loving father who couldn’t ask for more than to be with his wife and child. The page ends with a kind sentiment that Sylvia has good friends. Alex is aware that he is being a little rude and this is the most tension I have seen so far in one of these letters.

The third page is Alex as a father and husband. He addresses Cookie’s cold and rash and then sadly relates that he cannot imagine Cookie any bigger than she was the last time he saw her. This leads him to tell Sylvia when she should and shouldn’t write to him. His somewhat bossy instructions just show how  important the letters are to sustaining his morale. I am not sure what castigation he is referring to his letter. Is there a family member out there who can shed some light on that?

Finally, the last page is comical and romantic. Alex draws little cartoons of him working, sleeping on the job, and dreaming of his family that are playful and wistful. I love that Alex is always wearing his sailor hat in the drawings and we also find out that he slept on the top bunk of a bunk bed! In this letter he is looking forward to a visit home and think of himself in his family role, signing the letter Daddy.

On a more general side note: I really enjoy reading Alex’s letters because of the way he writes in English. For the most part, he writes so well that you wouldn’t realize that English wasn’t his first language. But every so often you can see that he phrases something oddly and I am able to hear his accent and remember a small bit of how he spoke. In this letter he writes, “I don’t know what will you do about the shows…” There are not many solid examples in this letter but you can see that his letters sound formal sometimes because he doesn’t organize sentences in the same order, or speak as casually as a native English speaker might. It is just something to note and I will try to point this out when we hear more from Alex.

Written by Molly

July 29, 2010 at 11:09 am

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October 21, 1944

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Alex darling –

Your mother paid me a surprise visit tonight, and then in came Anna and Edward. It was pleasant to have company this rainy night. this note will be short – but I am enclosing some of the Saratoga pictures to make up for it. By this time you must be close to home – so I hope I’ll see you very soon.

All my love, dearest,


Love and many kisses from your Mother

Dear Alex, I hope to see you very soon. We are here at your home, the Baby is very lovely. Eugene is in Belgium.

Love your sister,


Written by Molly

June 1, 2010 at 2:09 am

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What’s genetics got to do with it?

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Motherhood is, in the end, one of the most tangible ways to leave your mark on the world. Your children represent parts of you regardless of whether they carry on your political and ideological beliefs. Your children represent you whether or not they are genetically tied to you.

Since starting this blog I’ve spent more time than ever thinking about someone I have never met. Walking around Brooklyn, I try to imagine a woman who was my age when she lived here with a young daughter and her husband away at war. Even though she has always been a mysterious presence to me I can’t help but look for how I am connected to her and how I might resemble her.  But I don’t want to get caught up in the notion that my family, or its legacy, is important just because of my biological connection to the people in it.

I always felt lucky, growing up, to have four living grandparents. There was my mother’s father, John, who shouted “Don’t come back with any holes in your body,” when I was seven and walking out the door to go get my ears pierced. Of course, this caused me to anxiously turn to my mom and ask if he knew what I was about to do.  There was my maternal grandmother, Joan, who was straightforward and loving; laughing at my one pathetic attempt to embroider and miraculously not hurting my feelings. (She was also exceptionally good at “The Price Is Right.”) Then there was Alex. But I can’t talk about motherhood without introducing Sophie, Alex’s second wife, and the woman that I grew up knowing as my paternal grandmother.

Sophie, the last of my grandparents who is still alive, doesn’t posses quite the same sharpness of her younger years. She is without a smidgen of doubt my grandmother. The term step-mother doesn’t get a lot of use in the family and its “evil” connotations have no place here. She was a teacher, having earned a PhD is childhood education. When she joined the family she had a son named David, too. (Yup, that’s how my dad and his brother came to share the same name). A notoriously bad cook, we relied on my grandfather’s culinary skill for our weekly Sunday dinners in New Jersey.

Grandma Sophie and Dad

While this blog may have grown out of an attempt to understand Sylvia, it is also about understanding a heritage that has little to do with genetics. My family, like so many families, is a network of people that is not constrained by biology.

Without replacing Sylvia, Sophie became another mother to the family and has helped me understand that above all, family is about inclusion – not exclusion.

After all, it was Sophie who saved the letters that Alex and Sylvia wrote to each other so that they could be passed on. It is Sophie’s handwriting on the box of letters that says “For David and Adrienne.” That’s motherhood.

Written by Molly

May 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm

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