An Oral History Of A Young Jewish Women In World War Ii

It was 1940, I was 23, and there was a war going on. Everyone knew that Adolf Hitler, Germany’s Fuhrer, was campaigning against several countries in Europe. He had started another war by invading Poland months earlier, and now it seemed that he was taking other countries as well1. It was being talked about, but not much was known specifically about what exactly was happening in Europe. The United States was not getting involved in another great war. There were so many lives lost from the first war, and the country was still feeling effects of the depression that we could not afford to get into another war so suddenly. After all, for Germany to attack us they would have to go all the way across the Atlantic Ocean; and seeing as how we were not directly participating in the war, they had no reason to attack us. Their war was in Europe, not here in the United States. There was almost a sense of sureness that we were not going to take part in this war. Most importantly was the fact that there were more important things going on in Brooklyn, besides this war. People were looking for jobs and trying to make ends meet. The great depression had left many people without employment and caused many families to struggle. This was one of the main reasons that people did not want to go to war, because of the disastrous effects left over from the Great War.
By 1941, there was a greater sense of the war. The people seemed to know more about the war and see how powerful and dangerous Hitler and Germany were. More and more people were beginning to feel that America should take part in this war, yet most of us still felt that it would be a lot safer and be in the countries best interest to stay away from the war in Europe. The country had to remain out of the war to once again become stabilized, but more importantly because the country was just not ready for another Great War2. People were struggling, yet there was a sense that progress was coming, and that the main focus had to be emphasized on the countries own issues, rather than the involvement in other countries conflicts and affairs3. However, there were still other people who felt that it was America’s duty as a free and democratic nation, to go and prevent the tyranny caused by those Nazi’s and Communists4. As time went on, and the war were perceiving to be a lot more threatening and realistic to the people of the United States, more and more people began to feel that our country needed to prepare for war against the Germans.
It was December and this horrible feeling seemed to spread from person to person, after hearing the news, the news that would change the whole country and eventually the whole world. On December 7, 1941, the radio was playing. The president’s voice, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was on the radio sounding more serious than ever imaginable. The president’s most memorable remark can still be heard clearly, “A day that will live in infamy!” The Japanese bombed the Pearl Harbor Naval Base on that day, killing over 2,000 people and destroying or sinking almost all the ships stationed5. For the next several days all that was being talked about was the horrible attack on Pearl Harbor, by those awful Japanese. This was a shock to all of us because we didn’t know what to expect. Our country hadn’t been in war for a while now and it was scary. A fear stayed with us everyday until the war was over. A fear that the Nazi’s were going to win and all things were going to change all the people in the United States. Very little was known about Hitler’s actions against the Jews, especially the Holocaust. People just had an idea of Hitler wanting to take over all of Europe and do what ever he pleased with whichever group of people. Along with that was the fear of the United States being bombed.
The country was now at war and things were changing. Men began being drafted for the army by the hundreds. I would see lines going around the block. These were men who were waiting to get physicals so they could be enlisted in the army and go fight. It was a terrible feeling because you didn’t want any of the men in your family to go off to war. My husband was drafted, but after getting his physical he was given an A-1 card. He had a heart condition, which was the reasoning for receiving the A-1 card. This card meant that you were physically not fit to fight in the armed forces, and you could not serve in the army. There was a lot of relief for myself when this occurred, yet my husband was disappointed. He felt terrible about not being able to serve his country in that way. Many men wanted to join the army willingly to go out and fight against Hitler and the Nazi’s. Almost every window in the city had a star in the window. The Stars would represent a person in your family who was in the actual war (cite). If your brother was in the war, you had a star. If you had a father, and a husband in the war you would have two stars. It went just like that.
As the night came in New York City the lights would go out. Imagine, New York City being completely pitch black. They had to do this of course because of the fact that if planes were to come and try to bomb New York City; they would have difficulty finding it. There were also tons of posters and advertisements supporting the war, and telling you ways of how you can help the war effort. Everywhere you turned there was a poster of Hitler, or of banners telling you to save your scrap metal and buy war bonds. People would also make up expressions to help prevent certain things. The one quote that stands out the most is “Loose Lips, Sink Ships”. All the American people were contributing to a common good. Every little thing that was in every person’s everyday life was put forth to the war effort. There were great shortages due to the contribution to the armed forces. Things like sugar, meats, tires and gasoline were all rationed out6. A ration book was given to each family. These ration books had points and you would use these points to things like meats and sugar, but each ration book was limited7. People could not go in and buy pounds and pounds of meat, they had to take what they could and know the rest was for the troops overseas. Sometimes I would wait on line for hours, just to get a small portion of steak. People really didn’t care about rationing. It was a little annoying, but it was all for the war. The people were willing to do what ever it took to contribute to the war effort8. Instead of people complaining about having to ration their food, they would do something about it. For instances, victory gardens. These were gardens that were planted by ordinary people, so they could grow their own cucumbers, carrots, onions, squash and so on9. These gardens began to spring up all over the place and it gave a sense of American pride that would lead to victory; hence the name victory gardens. Similar to food rationing was the rationing of gasoline. We didn’t have a car, but there was a card similar to the ration book, which would ration gas to each car a week. People were constantly finding tires and metal to contribute to the war effort. One of the greatest aspects of World War 2 was the unity of all the people of the United States. Everyone was united in helping to fight this war and having freedom reign over tyranny. Now a days people are spoiled, wasteful and all about themselves.
During the war, another great aspect was the role of women in America. Before the war women were just seen as housewives, teachers, secretaries or any other stereotypical view of female employment. When the war began, women began to show that they could do the same kind of jobs that men do. All the men were being drafted into the army so none of them were really around to do the jobs needed to keep the war going10. For instance, women worked in the factories to help melt down the scrap metal, work the assembly lines, and even be mechanics11. By the time we were fully into the war for a couple of years, most of the factory workers were women12. This was a considerable thing for that time, because most women were not ever seen as capable enough to do the jobs that men do. Women were now finding out that they were not only capable of doing “male oriented” jobs, but were also capable of making money, and lots of it too. Women were making the same amount as men and in some cases more money than men. Every woman was involved in some way. I sold war stamps and war bonds. They still have them today except they are savings bonds. I would go from house to house and apartment to apartment, to try and convince people to buy war bonds. I would let them know that it was an investment in the war effort, and in the future you get a return of the money deposited with some interest13. It was never a problem for me to sell the war bonds because people were eager to help out in anyway they could, but more likely they bought the war bonds because they were insured a return plus interest.
Every week I would go to the theater to watch the newsreel and see exactly how America was doing in the war. Before each reel was a cartoon. These cartoons would show America beating up the Nazi’s and the Japanese. It’s hard to remember any specifics, but it was always clear that the Nazi’s and the Japanese were our enemies, and we were supposed to hate them. People were always making fun of the Japanese and the Italians, calling them funny names. How ever, I remember the Germans being hated and made fun of the most. Everyone hated the Germans with a passion. They would constantly make fun of the way they talked, and of course make fun of that ridiculous mustache of Hitler’s. The hatred for these people ran deep.
Throughout the war Hollywood did a great deal to help the war effort. Many stars, such as Bob Hope, went over to entertain the troops. They would actually put themselves in real danger, because they were where actual warfare was taking place. They did a great deal to help boost the confidence of the troops, give them encouragement and remind them as to why this “war to end all wars” was being fought. Hollywood also did a great deal of charity work for the troops overseas. They would hold certain fundraisers to contribute more money and food to the war effort. Hollywood also played a part in making war movies, which were also confidence builders to the United States people. This aided in keeping the people totally in the war effort.
As 1945 approached, there was more and more confidence as to the Allied forces winning the war. The American people were all beginning to have their great fears diminish. Finally in the spring of 1945 (April 29,1945), the Germans finally surrendered and the war of the Atlantic was over14. The war of the pacific was still going on, and it would for a few more months, (August 14, 1945), yet just the thought of victory over the most powerful enemy, gave so much morale to the American people15. The day of the German’s surrender was the most memorable experience. Everyone was celebrating in the streets, hugging and kissing one another. It was just one big celebration party that made you feel good about being a free American. One of the main reasons for such great happiness at the end of this “war to end all wars” was the fact that, with the exception of Pearl Harbor, there was no massive damage done to any part of the United States. On that day, I wrote President Truman, telling him that on V-day, I had a baby girl. My first daughter was born on that day. A few weeks later he returned it with a certificate acknowledging her birth as being on one of the most important days in American history. President Harry Truman signed the document and I still have the historic moment in my life framed.
It took a few years for the country to get back to normal. Rations were ending on food and gasoline. America began to progress again, but in the case of women, it regressed. Women were forced to give up there jobs and assume the pre-traditional female role again. This was so difficult for women, because many of us became accustomed to making our own money and spending our own money. Women also felt that if they could do the jobs just as well as men, then they should be allowed to remain employed. The good thing that came out of it was women’s awareness, and the fact that women are fully capable of doing what men do. Another post-war issue that was upsetting was the countries unity. After the “war to end all wars”, came drew closed, Americans were getting back on there feet, yet that sense of national teamwork and accord became more a sense of personal gain and individual preoccupation. World War 2 was phenomenal, not only for the great battles and war stories, but also for a time when a whole country functioned for one purpose. Individualism didn’t exist, but more like patriotism to ones country in a struggle that was only made successful through national unity.
A View of Life on the Home Front:
The Account of a Young Jewish Lady in America During World War II
Raymond Veira
Anderson, Karen, Wartime Women, Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press 1981
Cole, S. Wayne, Charles A. Lindbergh and the Battle Against American Intervention in World War II, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1974
Cole, S. Wayne, America First, Madison, Milwaukee: The University of Wisconsin Press 1953
Kaufman, I, American Jews in World War II: The Story of 550,000 Fighters for Freedom vol.I, United States of America Dial Press 1947
O’Neill, L. William, A Democracy at War: America’s Fight at Home & Abroad in World War II, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press 1993
Lyons, J. Michael, World War II: A Short History, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, Prentice Hall 1989
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