Brooklyn in Love and at War

History of World War Two Told Through Letters

Posts Tagged ‘World War II

Captain America

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This week I finally got around to seeing the Joss Whedon blockbuster movie, The Avengers. This proved an entertaining distraction from the heat and introduced me to a character that really caught my attention — the character known as Captain America. I had no knowledge of Captain America’s back story before the film and I enjoyed how the other heroes in the movie treated him as an outdated, all-too-wholesome, naively patriotic boy. He is an unquestioning soldier who believes in distinct lines between pure good and evil.

Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). Cover ...

Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941). Cover art by Joe Simon (inks and pencils) and Jack Kirby (pencils). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This remnant of WWII comics was striking to me, in an era of hero movies that question who is truly “good.” (I am eagerly looking forward to the new Batman movie.) Captain America took hold of American youth before the U.S. had officially entered WWII, and thus is not the favorite hero of the baby-boomer generation, though immensely popular when he was created.

I decided to read a little about Captain America (and yes, I started with Wikipedia). I read, “For nearly all of the character’s publication history, Captain America was the alter ego of Steve Rogers, a frail young man who was enhanced to the peak of human perfection by an experimental serum in order to aid the United States war effort.” I read the first pages of the premiere comic.The war-mongering vermin – this is how the comic refers to the Nazis – are threatening peace-loving America. Young men volunteer to fight but the Allies need something more … We, along with a FBI agent, are led into a secret laboratory where they inject a special formula into a weak looking young man. That is as far as I could read for free but in case you couldn’t guess, this young man becomes Captain America.

What seems most odd to me about the creation story for this particular super hero is that it is a scientific process aimed at creating a superior and perfect race of humans. Does this sound a bit too similar to the Nazi aim as well? The creation of Captain America has nothing to do with him working through the ranks of the military to become a captain. Nor does something special cause him to gain super human abilities (e.g. a special crop of corn from the heartland causes him to become a super American). It is simply a government experimenting with genetic modification. Wikipedia explicitly says, “Captain America Comics #1 — cover-dated March 1941 and on sale in December 1940, a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but a full year into World War II — showed the protagonist punching Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in the jaw; it sold nearly one million copies.” Though the creator of Captain American was certainly opposed to the Third Reich’s practices, he simultaneously created a fairly Aryan superhero who lacks a story that opposes the ideology of a supreme race. While characters like Superman come from another planet, Batman has a lot of fancy gadgets, and X-Men naturally mutate into super heroes, the hero who is invented solely to help the war effort and fight the Nazi Regime is a genetically altered super-human.

Written by Molly

June 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

Confronting the Past in Berlin

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The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin

The Brandenburg Gate on Unter Den Linden

I’ve just returned from a trip to Berlin — a city saturated in World War II history. When you walk around Berlin, you come across the Holocaust Memorial whether you mean to or not. The rows of cement rectangles grow and form waves just to side of Tiergarten (Berlin’s Central Park) and south of the Brandenburg Gate and Unter den Linden – the famously wide avenue where the Nazis once paraded in strict formation. This memorial, along with the Topographie of Terrors — a site that chronicles Hitler’s rise to power and the horrifyingly organized, yet disturbingly arbitrary, takeover of Germany — led me to realize just how absent the discussion of Nazis, systematic mass murders, and the persecution of Jews is from the letters between my grandparents. My grandfather was deeply committed to radical left wing causes and he was Jewish (even if not practicing), yet there has been complete silence on this subject in their correspondence. Is this because it might be censored? Is it because the atrocities being committed were already common knowledge by 1943, when these letters begin? Are they too horrible to write about? Or, alternatively, were the atrocities still not well understood? Could it be that when it comes to the daily struggles of war, the more distant or “ideological” reasons for the war recede from your mind, no matter how real or tragic they are?

Berlin confronts its past everywhere you look. Even in a spot such as a bus stop, you might find an unforgiving portrait of a German Nazi who was responsible for the murder of a group of people, accompanied by a photo.

The city appears to my naive eyes to be thriving. It is not only an accessible city for tourists but it has become a desirable locale for young artists, musicians, and other trendsetters. Berlin is a place where you can learn about the unfathomable atrocities that happened a mere 60 years ago, while also seeing – and enjoying — what the city has to offer in present day. Sometimes the contrast can be unsettling.  So while Berlin confronts its past head on, the letters that I continue to read about World War II seem not to confront the political and social environment that is shaping their lives. How can there be such a silence from a Jewish man who has been sent back to the continent on which he was raised to battle a Fascist regime on behalf of America – a country to which he has not fully assimilated? What were the discussions like in 1943 when Fascism was taking over Europe? Why is there such a glaring silence on this subject?

The metro in Berlin.

As I headed towards the airport a German man asked me how I liked my stay, and seemed to have a genuine interest in how foreign visitors perceived the city and how they might speak about it after returning home. Before we parted ways he said that now the world is watching the American election and hoping that Mitt Romney would not defeat President Obama in the fall. In a city so aware its political past, this seemed all the more poignant that the world is now looking to what America does next.

Written by Molly

June 11, 2012 at 9:30 am

Real Time WWII

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Just as this blog has allowed me to translate my grandparents private and unique (handwritten) letters into public, digitized pieces, twitter is changing how we re-examine history. I recently read this article in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/28/arts/re-enacting-historical-events-on-twitter-with-realtimewwii.html?_r=1&ref=arts

The article is about a twitter feed that “live tweets” events of WWII (this means that  he tweets events at the time and on the date that they occurred 70 years ago). The 140 character medium taps into the public’s voracious appetite for WWII history while accomodating the oh-so-busy modern man. It occured to me, however, that people subscribing to this twitter feed are finding out about events much faster than the people living through them in 1939 would have. So much of the tension in the correspondence between Alex and Sylvia lies in the delay that mail necessitates. What impact, then, did the news delay have on the public’s interpretation of the war? When Sylvia heard news of the end of WWII, had Alex already been notified? When she reacted to the news, she had to wait days to find out whether her husband felt the same way. I’m relieved that I don’t have hourly tweets of their correspondence to go through.

To follow the twitter feed and see how other people are revisiting this time period in American History you can follow @RealTimeWWII. These tweets will continue for 6 years and will therefore become, in themselves, an encyclopedic historical account of WWII.

Written by Molly

November 30, 2011 at 9:20 am

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,

Alex

**

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

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