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"Artzy" Art during World War II

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Letter #2--U. S. Soldier's  response to Jewish civilian

Write a 1-2 page written response to this letter, as a U.S. soldier in World War II.


Uneven Treatment of the Axis Powers
    In Hollywood feature films, Germany, Italy, and Japan were not treated as villains of equal stature. Were they handled differently relative to their perceived threat to the U.S.? If so, Japanís attack on American territory on Dec. 7, 1941 might explain why the Japanese became Americaís number one object of hate. Germany had blitzed England and occupied France prior to December 7, and President Roosevelt's speeches had warned Americans that we were next. So correctly, Germany received much harsher treatment than did Italy, but not at all as severe as the venom reserved for the Japanese (Dolan, 45). In American feature films, with the exception of Mussolini himself, the Italians were either ignored or received little serious criticism beyond their stereotypical lassitude and military ineptitude. By and large Italians were treated, as this investigation's title suggests, as buffoons, simple comic diversions in otherwise melodramatic scenarios. (Interestingly, Frank Capra's propaganda documentary Prelude to War (1943) treated Germany, Italy and Japan equally.)

The letter:

I am sure that by this time you have heard of the "lager" of Osozwiesz. They came from there. That they are alive today is remarkable. Osozwiesz for "Juden" meant death within three or four days.

How I met them is interesting but unimportant at the moment. I would like to begin my narrative with my first visit to their home. We were sitting around the table talking and laughing. It looked so very much like a typical Zionist Youth group at the festive occasion. We had had some tea and as we talked Leah got up to take away the dishes and wash them.

The talking continued and then someone began to hum the song "Chamisha". Soon we were all singing. It had been such a long time since I had sung or even heard Hebrew Shirim and I was thoroughly enjoying myself when I suddenly noticed a number tattooed on the arm of Georg. I looked around. Each one of them on the left arm had a number indelibly tattooed, the bachurot. I thought back of the many girls I know in America. It was so small a matter to these people, this tattoo, but how would American girls feel about carrying such a burden with them through life. I think it was at that moment that I first realized that these friends of mine were "different". They had lived in "Gei Hinom". I could no longer sing. I wondered how could they sing after all they had seen and all they had gone through. But not only could they sing, they could laugh. I as to learn a great deal more from them. Most important I was to learn that this laughter was the secret of still being alive. It was the medicine that neutralized the poison of the concentration camp.

It was a clean and wholesome laughter - the laughing of children at play - of healthy people glad to be alive --- but for me, it was unbelievable. How could they laugh where others would cry? They laughed at Meilach because he would sleep on a couple of chairs or on the floor. The bed was too uncomfortable to sleep in after getting used to the hardness in the "lager". They teased Wolf and Reven because they could not chew food. The S. S. Troops had knocked most of their teeth out. And Wolf and Reven each laughed at the other for looking so funny without teeth. This kept them from becoming animals, this laughter. It was Meilach who once told me "The Lager changed many people, but it did not change us. And those who changed did not live very long".

Yes, I learned much from them. I learned about courage. They told me about Rabbis in the camp so orthodox, they would not eat even the very little food given them because it was not kosher. That took courage. And the others, respecting them for their decision, gave them from their own food, to keep them alive, when there was something the orthodox could eat. And that took courage.

These words are empty. Words always are empty. You must reach into your heart and into your mind to understand what these people understand. Can you imagine how they felt when they heard the screams of the dying hundreds, carried to them by the winds from the crematorium only two kilometers away. Can you feel their hearts pounding and their tears running as the S.S. separated youth from parents and sent the parents to the crematorium to be burned to death.

Leah and Bebah were together. After only three days of the hell of Osozwiesz Bebah told her friend she was going to ask to go to "Block 25". Block 25 meant the crematorium. Leah said, "No, we must live. Someday we shall get nikomeh". Two days later Bebah was taken out and put to work on some scientific experiments. Her life became easier. It was very lucky she had had very good schooling. Leah stayed where she was. And she lived. Three or four days was the usual life allotment for Jews. Leah lived for more than twenty months, with no water to wash with, no clothing to keep warm with, very little food and sickness all around her. Almost everyone became sick - diarrhea, or dysentery, or typhus Leah remained well - but hungry. She had seen her father and mother go to the crematoriums. She was going to live to see revenge. She did not get sick. That is courage.

They shaved their heads - men and women alike. They beat them and starved them. They killed and burned them,. But this laughter - this ability to sing - that they could not kill. That they could not burn. Nor did it freeze and fall dead during the tortuous hours of roll call as did many a human body.

Can you for a moment carry your thoughts from the comforts of home and see as did Bebah the following scene: It was her "initiation" into the life that was to come. She and many others were beaten and kicked from the crowded cattle cars into the camp and there when she heard screams she turned to see a woman lying on the ground with dogs tearing out chunks from her screaming body. This was only the beginning. Do you understand how why, three days later, she was willing to go to the crematorium? Yet only a few weeks ago I heard her singing "Am Yisroel Chai", "The Nation Israel Lives". Dad, all these things are but the experience of six people. Multiply it by hundreds more and even thousands more. It makes me feel very humble indeed to know these people. They are not martyrs. They are everyday folk like you or me, except that they have seen more and have aged faster. They are wise beyond their years. I am very proud to know them.

They speak of going to Palestine. They speak of building a home for their People. There is more, much more that I can tell you. But at the moment I am too full of memories of Wolf and Georg, Leah and Reven, Bebah and Meilach to cramp the thoughts into words. Let it wait till next time.



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