Posts tagged world War II

V-J Day Postscript: A Dog Named Gus

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Ever since I wrote my first blog, back on September 3, 2015, I have encouraged my readers to provide feedback.  I appreciate the words of encouragement I’ve received, as well as the (thankfully, minor) criticism.  I’ve also enjoyed hearing from readers whose own memories or stories, some happy, some sad, some bittersweet, are prompted by something I’ve written.

In response to my most recent post, regarding the end of World War II, one of my readers sent me the following reply, which I thought particularly deserved to be shared with all of you.  With the reader’s permission, here it is, in full:

“V-J Day is etched on my memory.  I was twelve years old.  My cousin Jacky and I were crossing Riverside Street in front of her house along with our two dogs.  Suddenly, a hot rod bearing a group of screaming, celebrating teen boys, roared over the hill out of Monterey Park.  Jacky and I jumped to the side of the street; our dogs did not.  Both were killed.

Even at twelve, I knew there was a reason for the boys, who were in my cousin Bob’s graduating class, to celebrate.  They had been facing the prospect of wading ashore in Japan to the type of reception American boys had faced at Iwo Jima.

The reprieve was not to endure: within five years, most of the guys would experience being overrun by the Chinese in Korea.

Although I understood it then and now, I still miss that little dog.”

April 28: Odd Nansen’s Diary Ends

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“So completely has our world been turned upside down.  Is it strange that one should be confused and still unable to fit oneself into reality.”

Thus ends Odd Nansen’s final diary entry, on April 28, 1945.  Nansen was in Horsens, Denmark at the time, and, while technically not yet “free”—there were still German guards about—it was clear that the end was near, and Nansen was safe.

But the unreality of the war’s sudden end had stopped him in his tracks.  Nansen, a man who had assiduously filled the pages of his secret diary for almost 40 months in the most challenging environment possible, was now rendered speechless.

“Only it seems so hopelessly impossible to describe.   Where am I to begin, where am I to stop, what am I to write?”

Another famous diarist, William L. Shirer, writing shortly after Nansen, agreed: “It was the week, of all our lives, we’ve been waiting for.  When it came, and unfolded, one breathless hour after another, it was too much for our poor human minds really to grasp.  You could not find words—or at least I couldn’t—to express it.”

Odd Nansen can be forgiven if anticipating the object of his longing—home and family—precluded any further attention to his diary in those whirlwind days.  Selfishly, I would have preferred the diary to continue a bit longer, if only to read his thoughts and observations on the world-shaking events that continued to unfold:

  • April 28, 1945: Mussolini executed
  • April 29, 1945: Dachau liberated
  • April 30, 1945: Hitler suicide
  • May 1, 1945: Goebbels suicide
  • May 2, 1945: Berlin surrenders to Soviets
  • May 8, 1945: Germany surrenders
  • May 9, 1945: Quisling arrested

But it was not to be.  Interestingly, Nansen, who had maintained a diary almost continuously since his teens, would never again over the course of his life take up a pen for a diary.  Perhaps he felt that nothing could compare with the experiences he—at such great personal risk—had memorialized.

And perhaps he was correct.  When you’ve written what some critics later called “a masterpiece,” “never-to-be-forgotten words, “and “among the most compelling documents to come out of the [war],” it’s best not to attempt a second act.

Nevertheless, we shall always be grateful for what we have: a first-hand account, in Shirer’s words, of “how noble and generous the human spirit can be in the face of terrible adversity.”

Churchill’s Darkest Hour

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Gary Oldman as Churchill

On this day in 1965, Winston Churchill died, age 90.  So perhaps it is only fitting that yesterday the 90th Oscar nominations were announced, and among the leading contenders was “Darkest Hour,” a film that could easily have been titled “Churchill’s Darkest Hour.”  The film received a total of six nominations, ranging from obscure categories like Best Picture and Best Actor, to some highly contested categories (the ones you have to stay up till 11:55 pm to find out the winner), such as Best Makeup and Hairstyling.  I guess making Gary Oldman look convincingly as bald as Churchill is quite a skill. I enjoyed watching the movie thoroughly and highly recommend it.

Winston Spencer Churchill was a very complex man, one whose life spanned the reign of Queen Victoria to the space age, and included important roles in both World War I and World War II.  As with any complex, larger-than-life personality, he has, and will continue to have, his share of supporters and detractors.  But it is hard to conceive that anyone else could have carried Great Britain through when, alone, the country faced the Nazi juggernaut.  Churchill assumed the prime ministership on May 10, 1940.  By then Germany had crushed Poland in thirty days, occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia and Denmark, and overwhelmed Belgium in eighteen days.  France, which had fought for over four years during WWI, and helped defeat Germany, was invaded the same day and capitulated a mere forty-six days later.  (The country which held out the longest was Norway, a nation of less than four million, which took over two months to subdue.)

Churchill and England fought on, alone, with the United States officially neutral and its Congress still deeply isolationist, and with the Soviet Union bound by a nonaggression treaty with Germany itself.  It was not until Hitler committed the twin disasters, within a six-month period, of invading Russia and declaring war on the U.S., that the tide unexpectedly began to turn.

When Churchill assumed this arduous task, one that he would shoulder until the very closing days of the war, he was 65 years old, the age when most of us want nothing more than to retire.  I am 63 and am content to walk my dogs, write a few blogs (like this), make an occasional presentation about Odd Nansen’s fabulous diary, From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps, and tend my garden, and I consider that a pretty full life.  Whatever the source of Churchill’s energy was, it sustained him through many a dark hour, day, week, month and year before the outcome of World War II was assured.

In sustaining England, Churchill also sustained those who were prisoners of the Nazis.  Odd Nansen mentions Churchill in no less than eight of his diary entries, the first six weeks after his arrest.  By then Churchill had been Prime Minister for almost two years.  Here’s what Nansen writes on Friday, February 20, 1942:

“Churchill made his speech a week ago, explaining the why and how [of the fall of Singapore].  It was plain that all who had heard him were eminently optimistic, though we haven’t got hold of what he actually said.  In all probability he didn’t gild the situation, but no doubt gave expression as usual to his unshaken faith in the future and the final victory.  The certainty he gives our whole world!  The victory of which our whole world is as sure as he is!”

I certainly am going to watch the Oscars this year, and will even stay up to 11:55 pm if I have to.  And in a small way, I hope that the man who said “Never, never, never give up!” will get his due.

PS: The movie “Dunkirk” (which I’ve written about here) received eight Oscar nominations.  Yet another reason to watch the proceedings!

Upcoming Events

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Book Signings

  • September 24, 2020: Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce, Chicago, IL (Virtual)
  • October 7, 2020: The Adult School, New Jersey (Virtual)
  • October 27, 2020: Osher Life Long Learning, Clemson University, Clemson, SC (Virtual)
  • November 4, 2020: Sun City Huntley, Huntley, IL
  • November 4, 2020: Shorewood Glen, Shorewood, IL
  • November 5, 2020: Admiral on the Lake, Chicago, IL
  • November 9, 2020: Kristallnacht Observance, Chapman University, Orange, CA (Virtual)
  • November 10, 2020: Osher Life Long Learning, Clemson University, Clemson, SC (Virtual)
  • November 15, 2020: Kristallnacht Commemoration, Congregation Or Shalom, Orange, CT
  • November 18, 2020: The Adult School, New Jersey (Virtual)
  • December 1, 2020: JCC of Central New Jersey, Scotch Plains, NJ (Virtual)
  • February 12, 2021: Osher Life Long Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • February 15, 2021: Osher Life Long Learning, NC State, Raleigh, NC
  • February 22, 2021: Osher Life Long Learning, NC State, Raleigh, NC
  • May 13, 2021: Sons of Norway, Grand Forks, ND
  • May 14, 2021: Norwegian Heritage Week, Thief River Falls, MN
  • SPRING 2021: Notre Dame H.S. Alumni Club of DC, Washington, DC,
  • SPRING 2021: Sons of Norway, Fargo, ND (Kringen Lodge)
  • SPRING 2021: Sons of Norway, St. Cloud, MN (Trollheim Lodge)
  • SPRING 2021: Tuesday Open House, Mindekirken, Minneapolis, MN
  • SPRING 2021:  Georgetown University Bookstore, Washington, DC
  • June 9, 2021: Bet Shalom Hadassah, Jackson, NJ
  • October 19, 2021: Shalom Club, Great Notch, NJ

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- Nan Bentley Director, Wednesday Forum University Unitarian Church Seattle, WA

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