Teacher’s Note – Ben Heintz

We have a story this week that’s partly about an ugly exchange in our community, in which one community member called another a Nazi. That moment was controversial, but of course we’re all guilty of being too casual, throwing around words like “Nazi” and “Hitler.” Obama was “like Hitler” for some on the right; now Trump is “a Nazi” for some on the left. It’s easy shorthand, drawing from the one piece of history almost everyone feels like they know.

Over the years, through my students’ family history research in U.S. History classes, I’ve heard dozens of stories about families in this community and their experiences during World War II.  One student’s great grandmother was the only survivor from a Jewish village in Belarus. Another student’s great grandfather hid under the floorboards while Nazis searched his apartment in Rotterdam during the Hunger Winter. Many students’ ancestors had harrowing combat experiences, fighting Nazis in Europe.

This post collects a handful of such stories, from families with students currently in our school.  Two were written and generously published by recent graduates whose younger siblings are still here.

 

Shaped By War – Aine Kennedy

My step-grandmother, Kathrin Perutz, was 5 years-old at the end of WW2. Despite being so young, Kathrin was greatly influenced by the time period. Much of what she knows about WW2, stems from stories told by her mother, Dolly Hellman Perutz. Surrounded by loss and tragedy, Kathrin relied on her mother for strength, protection, and care during the war. From Kathrin’s perspective, she says, “I was shaped by the war, watching my mother, long before I ever heard anyone mention it.”

 

Stories from a Flight Nurse – Aven Williams

Cordelia Durkee likes to think of herself growing up as a tomboy. The fourth daughter in her family, nicknamed Billie, for the boy her parents had expected, she never fit the characteristics of a sweet, quiet, pretty girl growing up in the 1920s.

 

Behind Enemy Lines – Jacob Bradley

On a freezing cold night in December 1944, 20-year-old Malcolm McLane of Manchester, New Hampshire walked into a Nazi-occupied village on the border of Luxembourg and Germany. His eyes were swollen almost shut and his eyebrows and eyelashes were completely burned off. He was escorted by a German soldier on patrol duty who discovered him wandering the forest of “the bulge”, searching for a river crossing. Malcolm was turned over to the officer in charge of the village garrison, who questioned him briefly then had him “locked and barred in a farmhouse room with a blanket and some straw on the floor.”

 

“Suck it up and Be Quiet” – Andrew Crompton

One snowy November night, in the mid-1950s, Eleanor Edman picked up the phone to hear her uncle, Gustave Axel Anderson. “He never called us,” she said, “and I didn’t like the way he sounded. He was telling me how much he loved my dad and I thought to myself, ‘gosh he’s drunk.’” Since Gus returned from World War II, he was always drinking. His alcoholism greatly affected his life, to the dismay of his family. He told Eleanor that he was in trouble at work again. Gus seemingly could not land on his feet.  The war was taking its toll.