SEPTEMBER 1, 1939: THE WAR BEGINS

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In the pre-dawn hours of September 1, 1939, Hitler’s armies, using a trumped-up pretext, invaded Poland, signaling the start of World War II in Europe.  By the time the war ended 2,194 days later, on May 8, 1945, it represented the most catastrophic man-made event the world had ever known.

The Battle of Poland

The Battle of Poland

I offer two quotes from contemporaries writing at that time—one an elegy for a world which had vanished forever, and one a fearful prediction of the world that was yet to come.

Journalist and author William L. Shirer (whom I have written about here), wrote in his diary on October 8, 1939:

“How dim in memory the time when there was peace.  That world ended, and for me, on the whole, despite its faults, its injustices, its inequalities, it was a good one.  I came of age in that one, and the life it gave was free, civilized, deepening, full of minor tragedy and joy and work and leisure, new lands, new faces—and rarely commonplace and never without hope.”

“And now darkness.”

Journalist and playwright Clare Boothe Luce (of whom I’ve written about here), observed in early 1940:

“Of course, Hitler hasn’t won the war yet. . .. .  But victory or defeat or the deadlock of a long-dragged-out blood-letting, half of Europe and perhaps all of England will be laid in ruins, and millions of boys—and girls—and old people and babies who might have seen many more lovely, lovely springs will have died very needlessly.”

Human beings, being human, love to try and quantify complex events, so as to get a better handle on them, and World War II is no exception.  How many deaths, how many casualties, did the war produce?  Twenty million?  Thirty million?  Forty Million? Fifty Million?  No one will ever know.  But even if we could calculate with precision the vast number of dead and wounded produced by the war, we would still not bring within its compass the tidal wave of suffering it produced.

I recently watched an installment of Foyle’s War, a wartime detective series first broadcast in 2002.  Entitled “Broken Souls” the show had its share of mysteries, mixed motivations, and human foibles, all unraveled by DCS Foyle by episode’s end.  But this one had more: a RAF pilot consigned to an asylum after watching the rest of his bomber crew perish in a fiery crash; a young boy, a messenger, who runs away from home after delivering one too many death notices to grieving families; a German POW who doesn’t know whether his family is still alive or not back home; a returning British POW who struggles to reconnect with a wife who hasn’t seen him in years and a son who doesn’t know him; and a Polish-Jewish refugee who, upon learning of the horrors of Majdanek (the first major concentration camp liberated by the Allies, on July 24, 1944), where his wife and daughter had been sent, attempts suicide, and later in the program kills the German POW who has knocked him to the ground and speaks to him in German.  The final tally: one life taken, four lives broken.

Majdanek

Majdanek

And today, 78 years later, Americans are marching in the streets, more heavily armed than Nazi stormtroopers, bedecked in Nazi regalia, chanting anti-Semitic slurs under the guise of free speech.  If this is not insanity, then I don’t what insanity is.

Which leads to another question: could the madness of 1939 happen again?

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Book Signings

  • February 22, 2019: Providence Athenaeum, Providence, RI
  • February 23, 2019: Village at Waterman Lake, Greenville, RI
  • February 24, 2019: Brightview Commons, Wakefield, RI
  • February 24, 2019: Atria Bay Spring Village, Barrington, RI
  • February 25, 2019: Atria Lincoln Place, Lincoln, RI
  • February 25, 2019: Atria Aquidneck, Portsmouth, RI
  • March 6, 2019: North Oaks, Pikesville, MD
  • March 7, 2019: Maris Grove Retirement Community, Glen Mills, PA
  • March 7, 2019: Blakehurst, Towson, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Brightview Perry Hall, Nottingham, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Roland Park Place, Baltimore, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Edenwald, Towson, MD
  • March 9, 2019: Springwell, Baltimore, MD
  • March 10, 2019: York, PA Jewish Community Center, York, PA
  • March 22, 2019: Viterbo University, LaCrosse, WI
  • March 24, 2019:  Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Milwaukee, WI
  • March 25, 2019: Grand Dominion, Mundelein, IL
  • March 25, 2019: Carrington Lincolnwood, Lincolnwood, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lake View, Chicago, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lisle, Lisle, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Breakers at Edgewater Beach, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Admiral at the Lake, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Carillon Club, Naperville, IL
  • April 17, 2019: Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, Charlotte, NC
  • April 24, 2019: Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC
  • April 29, 2019: The Watermark, Bridgeport, CT
  • April 29, 2019: Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT
  • May 2, 2019: Notre Dame High School, West Haven, CT
  • May 30, 2019: The Glebe, Daleville, VA
  • May 31-June 2, 2019: Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  • June 11, 2019: Osher Lifelong Learning, Clemson University, Clemson, SC
  • June 25, 2019: Nordic Center, Duluth, MN
  • June 27, 2019: Norway House, Minneapolis, MN
  • September 15, 2019: Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, Oslo, Norway
  • October 15, 2019: American Scandinavian Society, New York, NY
  • October 17, 2019: 55-Plus Club, Princeton, NJ
  • November 1, 2019: Oshe Lifelong Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • January 21, 2020: Alpha Delta Kappa, Raleigh, NC

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Upcoming Events

Share

Book Signings

  • February 22, 2019: Providence Athenaeum, Providence, RI
  • February 23, 2019: Village at Waterman Lake, Greenville, RI
  • February 24, 2019: Brightview Commons, Wakefield, RI
  • February 24, 2019: Atria Bay Spring Village, Barrington, RI
  • February 25, 2019: Atria Lincoln Place, Lincoln, RI
  • February 25, 2019: Atria Aquidneck, Portsmouth, RI
  • March 6, 2019: North Oaks, Pikesville, MD
  • March 7, 2019: Maris Grove Retirement Community, Glen Mills, PA
  • March 7, 2019: Blakehurst, Towson, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Brightview Perry Hall, Nottingham, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Roland Park Place, Baltimore, MD
  • March 8, 2019: Edenwald, Towson, MD
  • March 9, 2019: Springwell, Baltimore, MD
  • March 10, 2019: York, PA Jewish Community Center, York, PA
  • March 22, 2019: Viterbo University, LaCrosse, WI
  • March 24, 2019:  Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Milwaukee, WI
  • March 25, 2019: Grand Dominion, Mundelein, IL
  • March 25, 2019: Carrington Lincolnwood, Lincolnwood, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lake View, Chicago, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lisle, Lisle, IL
  • March 26, 2019: Brookdale Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Breakers at Edgewater Beach, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Admiral at the Lake, Chicago, IL
  • March 27, 2019: The Carillon Club, Naperville, IL
  • April 17, 2019: Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, Charlotte, NC
  • April 24, 2019: Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC
  • April 29, 2019: The Watermark, Bridgeport, CT
  • April 29, 2019: Congregation B’nai Israel, Bridgeport, CT
  • May 2, 2019: Notre Dame High School, West Haven, CT
  • May 30, 2019: The Glebe, Daleville, VA
  • May 31-June 2, 2019: Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  • June 11, 2019: Osher Lifelong Learning, Clemson University, Clemson, SC
  • June 25, 2019: Nordic Center, Duluth, MN
  • June 27, 2019: Norway House, Minneapolis, MN
  • September 15, 2019: Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, Oslo, Norway
  • October 15, 2019: American Scandinavian Society, New York, NY
  • October 17, 2019: 55-Plus Club, Princeton, NJ
  • November 1, 2019: Oshe Lifelong Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • January 21, 2020: Alpha Delta Kappa, Raleigh, NC
< 2019 >
February
SMTWHFS
     12
3456789
10111213141516
171819
  • Count Folke Bernadotte’s meets with Himmler to negotiate the release of Scandinavian prisoners
20212223
2425262728  
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history