It was a fine morning but words from an old World War II song, ‘as the shadows fall,’ clouded my thoughts as I scanned our itinerary for the day.
Nearing the end of a Viking Jarl Danube cruise with three Jackson friends, and my cruisemate, Edrie Royals, one of our stays was the city of Prague, Czechoslovakia. From there we had a choice of several tours-Lobkowicz Palace; Kutna Hora, a Bohemian Enclave; or the Ghetto and Concentration Camp, Terezin.
Because I was a child of World War II and have so many memories of those times, there was no question in my mind. I would take the Terezin tour.
During those years, for the most part, our whole country was engaged. Please forgive me for saying this, but there did not seem to be the divisional selfishness that is sometimes part and parcel of our lives today. We all felt and became part of a large effort.
The government encouraged Americans to grow their own food, to salvage tin cans, save bottles, rubber items, paper, scrap metal. Victory Gardens were started, the Brent family had one. Although honest confession is good for the soul, I must say I don’t remember any hand blisters from hoeing, chopping, or weed pulling though. For a brief, very brief, spell we also raised chickens in our backyard. Suffice it to say, yours truly may have tossed a little food in the coop every now and then, but she never gathered hen eggs in a gingham apron, or wrung any chicken necks to feed the starving family.
Parachutes were made of nylon and silk; our mothers gave up wearing hose and every now and then they used leg makeup, ‘liquid stockings’ from cosmetic companies and made a stocking liner with a black eyebrow pencil. (I think my mother tried to paint her legs but that didn’t last too long, she got caught in the rain and the hem of her dress looked like black cloves floating in a cup of hot tea had spilled onto it).
Even though we didn’t live in the war ravaged areas, we were profoundly affected by the hope of victory and the fear of defeat. I think it became part of the personality of most children who went through that time, and we felt it was a privileged mission for us to do our part.
During the week most children saved their dimes to buy Savings Stamps. It was your patriotic duty to collect scrap metal, and do whatever was ‘necessary’ for the war effort.
It seemed as if wings of hope and pride brushed our faces as brother Alvin and I pulled a little red wagon through the neighborhood, collecting scrap metal for our soldiers, and dropping pennies and dimes into a glass piggy bank for Savings Stamps. We were proud to sing the National Anthem and salute our flag.
Living with the implied threat of aerial attacks, we practiced air raid drills at school. Marching to the hall we folded arms over heads and crouched on our knees. I recall blackout nights when air raid drills were enacted and neighborhood men, wearing helmets and arm bands patrolled the streets. The windows in everyone’s home were covered so no lights would show, preventing the homes from being targets for marauding bombers.
Of course, our homeland was never invaded, but the belief was that we faced a very real possibility that it could happen and often wondered if this was the night or day we would be blown up or taken captive. Playing “king on the mountain,” “capture the flag,”or clutching a dime in hand, and waiting to catch the bus to go to Duling School, we often shaded our eyes and looked skyward for an enemy plane.
People now have no idea how all-consuming these years were - our country and others were fighting and dying for freedom of the world.
At the war’s end we were hit with more stark realities: there were none of the special effects we see in movies and on TV now, no video games, Internet, or selfies.
Contrarily, black-and-white movies brought home the unadorned, heart-rending truth of what so many people had endured and repugnance for those who wanted to conquer and rule.
We felt pain and horror when we saw the realities of what happened with true-to-life photos of the German concentration and execution camps - of what so many had endured.
There were pictures and scenes of frightened children, skeletal bodies, slave laborers, hopeless, tormented people, the stark faces of distress and horror.
Vestiges of those world-shattering, tormented times will remain with some of us until our last breath.
A black curtain had fallen across and snuffed out so many lives.
“Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow.”