My family and WWII

Nazis suck.

My father was a child in one of the countries the Nazis trampled.  He doesn’t talk about it.  He still has an odd fascination with fire that shows itself with birthday cake candles.  And he’s 5’2″ because although he never went hungry, he didn’t get a lot of nutrition either.  His mother and siblings moved to the US after the war.

I found out recently that although my bonmama was Catholic (along with most of my family on both sides), her father was Jewish.  Her husband (I’m not clear if this would be my grandfather or my step-grandfather) moved to Argentina with his mistress after the war (taking all the money, and triggering Bonmama and her children’s migration), and it is thought that he was a Nazi sympathizer.  Funny what one learns when Nazis are in the news again.

My mother’s mother joined the war effort as a nurse.  At her (Catholic, military) funeral, this time period featured prominently as the most important time in her life.  She rose up the ranks in the air force to become a Captain.  When she taught me how to knit, she gifted me with the knitting needles she’d used to while away the time flying towards a battlefield.  On the way back, the needles would be put away while they tended the wounded.

She met my grandfather during the war.  He wasn’t an enlisted man.  I’m not sure why not– whether it was preference or a medical condition.  He was a counselor for the American Red Cross.  While my grandmother treated the physical consequences of war, he treated the mental and emotional consequences.

My maternal grandparents’ commitment to public service filtered down to most of their children (I guess technically my horrible Trump-loving uncle is a forest ranger).  My uncles are veterans, one aunt is a federal judge, the other is a nurse practitioner who ran a hospital system.  My mom, the professor, was elected to our local school board for several terms.

We can’t let Nazi values of hatred and fascism take hold in the US.  We need to honor the ideals of this country that fought against evil in the second WW.  It is true that our own history is full of horrors like slavery and internment and xenophobia.  But we can’t let those forces win.  We must keep fighting.  Concentration camps didn’t start killing people overnight.  Germany didn’t start out evil.  We cannot tolerate injustice.  Keep calling your representatives.  Keep protesting.  Keep recruiting people to vote and donating and encouraging campaigns.  It’s a long slog to freedom.  But the alternative is something our grandparents lived.  They fought with their lives.  We should fight with our time and money and words so that we don’t have to get to that point.

What did your family do in WWII?  How was your family changed by it?

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9 Responses to “My family and WWII”

  1. Zenmoo Says:

    Three of my four grandparents served in the army or airforce during WWII.

    My (British) grandmother was a firecracker – she did the classic lie about her age to join up and ended up in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, on anti-aircraft guns. She served all around Britain (including in London) and in Belgium and France. One of the duties included helping process camp survivors, an experience which returned as a traumatic memory towards the end of her life. After the end of the war, she remained in service through the Nuremberg trials – including a stint as a guard for female Nazi war criminals. My Nan was a strong woman with very strong opinions about doing the right thing. She also definitely had an element of “oh, you think can’t? I’ll show you” to her personality. I may be proud bearer of that personality quirk today. I think the main influence her service had on our family as a whole was a conviction that we do the right thing, even when it’s the hard thing.

    My grandfather (her husband) had a much less exciting time of it – he was an aircraft mechanic and he spent a lot of time in Southern Africa with pilot training. All I really know about his experience is that they had a pet cheetah at the base…

    My other grandfather served in the army in the Middle East and Papua New Guinea. I don’t know much about him as he died when I was only 7. He was injured- (although I don’t know how) which meant he couldn’t play all the sport he used to after the war. This led to him establishing a bowls club in his small home town because he was still really competitive and wanted to play something!

  2. First Gen American Says:

    My aunt and uncle were forced to work in slave labor camps in Germany. My uncle had it comparatively good. He worked on a farm and could steal food. He met my aunt after the war in a slave labor camp. They were there for 5 years from age 14-19.

    Both were welcomed to immigrate to multiple countries after the war. They chose the US. It took my mom 20 years to get to America legally. She was 36. She was uneducated. By most definitions, she is a person who most nationalists wouldn’t want coming here today…and I had a discussion about that with some colleagues last week who believe only educated immigrants should be let in. Yet, she never collected welfare, paid taxes, worked her butt off for minimum wage and raised a child who pays tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and gives to charity.

    My mother and aunts and uncles all average about 8 inches shorter than their children. They would start running out of food in the winter and had to ration the potato, kraut, milk, eggs and oats for months on end. The chickens would eat the potato peels. They were cold..they had no electricity, central heat or indoor plumbing. They wore shoes that didn’t fit and have deformed feet. Yet she is thankful every day for what she does have because she knows what it’s like to be near death.

    It’s disturbing to think how many people believe immigrants are deadbeats who sponge off the government. The immigrants I know are some of the hardest working people out there and are great for their jobs. I can go on forever on this topic but will end their.

  3. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    My family was living in poverty in 3rd world country so I don’t think we knew what was really going on with WWII…. I’ve read so many history and first person accounts and historical narratives about it though, I feel very steeped in that history.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    My aunt was just in the news for what she did during WWII:
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/10/the-kindertransport-children-80-years-on-for-the-rest-of-his-life-my-father-had-nightmares-that-the-gestapo-were-coming-for-him
    She is also the poster child for the exhibit “Remembering the Kindertransport: 80 Years On” at the Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, London NW1 from 8 November to 10 February.

  5. Cloud Says:

    The grandfather who died last month was a WWII veteran. He served in North Africa. He didn’t talk much about his time in the army. My great-grandmother (his wife’s mother) worked in a munitions plant during the war. Grandma and Grandpa met because of the war, though – he was stationed near where she and her family were living and they met at a USO dance for which my great-grandmother (yes, the one who was also a Rosie the Riveter) was playing piano.

    The other grandfather had health issues that precluded military service. I don’t know as much about what those grandparents were doing during WWII – they already had kids at that point and most of the family stories on that side are about family hijinks.

  6. FF Says:

    My relatives who had not already immigrated to the U.S. or Canada were all murdered by the Nazis–almost the entire shtetl (99%) that my grandmother came from was murdered.

    My father was a type 1 diabetic and so was exempt from the draft and went to school and worked. My father’s brothers were both WWII veterans and my uncle (his sister’s husband) lost his sight in one eye from a war injury. I think my grandfathers were too old for the draft.

  7. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My father’s family worked in munitions plants in Ohio (my grandma and grandpa both!). Some of my mother’s family was murdered in the camps; the rest escaped to Canada, some went to Cleveland from there, some went to England, the rest ended up super-right-wing religious in B’nai B’rak.

  8. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    So many lives were changed (and ended) by the war. Thank you everyone for sharing your stories.

  9. EB Says:

    My mother was a Navy nurse in the South Pacific (on a mine sweeper and then at little field hospitals on tiny islands); my dad was an army doctor in North Africa and Italy. They both served in the battle zone, so although he was not a combatant, my dad could not tolerate being photographed with a flashbulb for many years after the war, because it caused flashbacks of being shelled. Plus he got malaria, which lasted a while. But my uncle was in the D-Day invasion, lived in a fox hole for 6 weeks, and he and his fellow GI’s had to mutiny against their lieutenant (or captain), because he lost it and started cutting ears off of dead German soldiers to keep as souvenirs. War is hell. Necessary, in the case of WWII, but hell. None of them talked about their experiences.


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