Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘trains

I Hope I’ll Do Well

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My computer is back in hand and we can continue our time traveling!

Let’s take a trip back to the fall or winter of 1943. The last letter you saw was a heated one from the end of the war in 1945. In this letter Alex is still in training and based in Virginia.


Here I am at my new base. We arrived this morning early, and we’re terribly tired. Up till now we had work to do with our gear welcome speeches and being assigned to our company and barracks. Now I am very tired and won’t write lengthily.

Out of the men who came down a group of us has been selected for special training and instead the usual 4 weeks we shall remain here for 5.

I’ve been appointed as the captain for my crew. I hope I’ll do well. We are six in the crew among whom a former member of my old company at Sampson.

The place is a new one, formerly an infantry camp, and the navy took it over, the barracs [sic] are not so nice as the ones in Sampson. When we got here we all felt pretty bad because we were hungry, dirty and cold, but now I feel in much better humor because my good luck in having been assigned to the special training, which is an experiment for future sailors to follow if we make good.

This is my address:

Alex Rosner S 2.c
Gun Crew Polaroid #6
Arm guard School
Camp Shelton
Norfolk (11) Virginia

The officers treat us nice and usually ship out with the group, which they train, and are courteous. I think I like it. They give us here too some statistics which I am sure would make you feel good about us and the enemy.

Darling, I am very dull tonight because of weariness, so forgive me if I am not long in this letter. I am including a few lines which I jobbed [sic] down on my way but which I was prohibited from mailing from the train.

Tomorrow I’ll write again.

My love to you my dearest sweetheart



A two-year jump is a big one in these letters. They read so differently. First of all, the war is still an abstract idea.  Alex says he was told some statistics about “the enemy” which are encouraging. Alex takes pride in his appointment to captain of the gun crew, and they are still getting settled and hearing “welcome speeches” at their new base.  Alex even says that he thinks he likes it at the barracks.

I don’t know if it is because Alex is tired, as he says repeatedly,  or because Alex’s English actually improved as he wrote over the next two years. His sentences are constructed as if they were translated from another language. They are not written as if he is thinking in English. He writes, “we are six in the crew,” and “forgive me if I am not long in this letter.”

Having known Alex so much later in his life – when he had reflected on his experiences and become quite staunch in his political views – it is fascinating for me to see that he was not always so set in his beliefs. The Grandpa Alex I knew was strictly opposed to war and the stories I heard about the Navy were rarely positive. When I was in 7th grade he gave a copy of Mark Twain’s “A War Prayer” and wrote in it that it was a “most precious book.”

In this letter Alex seems young and idealistic. Even though he went through a tremendous amount of hardship before this time his words sound youthful: “I’ve been appointed captain of my crew. hope I’ll do well.”

It is clear that when Alex began his naval career he hoped to be a successful and valuable member of the crew. While this letter is caring and loving, I would imagine it was difficult for Sylvia to read about Alex’s hopes for the navy from her home in Brooklyn with her less than 6 month old daughter by her side.

Written by Molly

October 23, 2010 at 8:00 am

The Country and Christening a Rabbi

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In this letter Sylvia leaves the city with Adrienne! The letter is longer and more detailed than many of the other letters. If you only have time to read a page or two of this letter, read page 5 and 6. I will write about this letter in the next post.

My dearest,

Your letter was sent out to me yesterday and despite its shortness it was such a comfort. Darling, you have no idea how much I miss you – especially out here away from the family. Well, enough of that – as there’s no need to tell you how much I miss you, darling. You know all that.

Baby and I arrive in Catskill Thursday – and dearest, that was some trip. I carried Cookie and a heavy suitcase and by the time Cookie and I got off the train I was dripping wet and absolutely knocked out. Cookie slept for an hour and cried for an hour and peed and walked and didn’t enjoy it too much.

The trip was supposed to take 3 hours but it took 4-41/2 hours – and it seemed like a year. Out here, Cookie sleeps much better and also eats lots better. She drinks more than a quart of milk a day whereas in the city if she finished 3 bottles I was happy. I give her the plain pasteurized milk from the town and its rich and so creamy – much richer than the so-called rich homogenized milk in the city – and baby loves it!! Last night she grabbed the cooked chicken with both hands and ate it so fast – all by herself. She ate almost 1/4 of a chicken and a carrot and soup and crackers and milk and she was very happy until

I try to put her to sleep. She sings and dances in her crib – so I take her downstairs and put her in the carriage and she falls asleep to Yasse’s (the farmer’s son’s) crooning – and she sleeps out on the cool porch or under a tree until I’m ready to go upstairs – and then I put her in her crib.

It took her a little while to get used to walking on the grass, but now she does walk on it, slowly. She talks to the chickens and gets down on her hands and knees to kiss the cat and dog. I’ll get her a puppy when we get home since she loves the dog so much.

We have a small room up here but we’ll probably get a larger room in a few weeks when some of the family moves away. I’m very anxious for you to come up here after this trip. You’ll like it dear – as ten days here wouldn’t make you irritable with its crowdedness.

Cookie wrote this page to you – to tell you she loves you and misses you very much.

Darling, there’s so much to tell you- like how Cookie broke her milk bottle over a rabbi’s head on the train. He was sitting just in front of us, and he kept praying and his head went back and forth. Adrienne watched his head go up and down – and she was fascinated. Finally she said “da da dad” in rhythm to his praying. And in the middle of his prayer he’d say “sune- da da” “da da” – I was hysterical. She’d pull his hat – and hit him with her milk bottle and he loved it! Then after one particularly hard knock he turned his head and the bottle fell and broke and the milk spilled. It was like a christening of a ship and the rabbi being the ship.

Or else I can tell you how jealous she got when she saw one father here playing with his little girl – and his girl kept laughing and saying “daddy”. Adrienne walked over and stood there. Then she lifted her arms and said nodding her head, “daddy.” Darling it was all I could do to keep from crying … She misses you, dear and she’ll certainly enjoy your presence here when you come up. (and so will I!)

Keep writing me from wherever you are darling – and send me a cable to say that you’re alright! Also, hon, keep on collecting coins for my necklace. I’ll have it made after the summer.

About taking care of Cookie – I love it and don’t find it hard at all. So don’t worry about us. We’re both fine.

All my love hone and write me soon, drage (?)

Io te ama, amore


P.S. I asked the farmer and his wife how much they wanted for the room and the wife said $40.00 for the summer! Her husband protested as he wanted more. It was embarrassing for me – but it still isn’t a lot. I suppose Anna and I will share it. I won’t ask her for it unless she brings it up. Edward will probably be up here in about a week and he’ll love it out here.

Write soon, darling

All our love-

Sylvia and Adrienne

Written by Molly

July 19, 2010 at 12:13 pm

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The Windy City

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I recently returned from a visit to Chicago where I watched my brother graduate from Medical School. Congratulations, Zach! We explored this exciting city between the ceremonies and celebrations. We wandered through the Blues Festival, visited the Art Institute and took an architectural boat tour.

Chicago is the city my great-grandfather, David, Alex’s father, first came to when he arrived in the United States. He worked in the steel mills of U.S. Steel. How amazing, then, to see my brother become a doctor in the very same town. David arrived after World War I by himself. His wife, Pauline, stayed in Europe.

The federal immigration bills passed in 1921 and 1924 severely limited immigration to the United States. In the face of rising nationalism immigration was limited “to 3% of the population of the United States, based on the 1910 census” ( David remained by himself in Chicago until 1929. During this time he sent money back to Italy for his wife and four children.

In 1929, Alex (my grandfather, the youngest of the siblings) and my great-grandmother Pauline were allowed to join David in Chicago. By that time David had gotten his citizenship and could bring his wife and any children who were still minors to live with him. Alex just met this criteria – he was 17. One might imagine that the reunion, after so long, was movie-like. How amazing, after all, to leave the old world and come to the country where “the streets are paved with gold.” However, after an almost ten-year wait, Pauline arrived at David’s run-down apartment on the South Side and, story has it, her first words were, “You make me leave my family to come to this?”  According to Alex, she always wanted to go back. “She never learned English, although she spoke Hungarian, Italian and Yiddish. She never adjusted to America.”

The family left Chicago by train and moved to New York. Alex told my father that he remembered coming to the U.S. as “coming to a country on fire.” My dad tells me, “He meant that when he arrived and traveled by train to Chicago from NYC all that he noticed were the billows of smoke and fire from factories and steel mills in  Pittsburgh, Indiana and Chicago. That’s what he recalled. He, too, was pretty upset.”

I’ll let my dad continue with his explanation of my family’s adjustment to America: “My grandmother [Pauline] always said that poverty here was so much worse than in Europe. In Europe she believed that the poor were part of a community and there was a culture and self-respect to be a working class person. But in the US it was seen as a sign of weakness and failure so everyone was much more ashamed of their station in life. I’m not sure whether this was really the case, but that’s how my Dad explained her ‘withdrawal from America’ to me.”

Alex’s first job in the U.S. was also in the steel mills as a shoveler. This is someone who had to race into the open area in the ovens and shovel out the debris that had fallen from the oven walls. He remembers that many of the other workers helped him since he was a weak 17 year old kid. They often took his place in line so that he could have more time to recover from the previous “run.”

David (my great-grandfather, not my dad) was a highly skilled mechanic in Europe and took a great deal of pride in his work. But here he was put on assembly lines doing terrible, unskilled, and in his eyes, humiliating jobs. He ultimately gave up all his working in factories and ran a newspaper stand when he moved to NY. It was on East Broadway near Canal. He had a heart attack working in it in 1946 and died there.

This narrative is one of hardship and triumph mixed up all together. While America might not have been the land of happiness for everyone in the family, and without forgetting that professions do not define people, I think it’s okay to stop and think about how in three generations Chicago saw the family go from steel workers to doctors.  I’m so proud of you, Zach.

Written by Molly

June 16, 2010 at 6:52 pm


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