As a genealogist, I know that everyone has a tale to tell. While most of these stories are of everyday people living ordinary lives, occasionally an extraordinary tale is uncovered. Such is the case with The Secret Letter, written by Debbie Rix, a historical fiction novel inspired by her parents’ wartime experiences.
Posts Tagged With: World War II
I remember the first time I saw New York’s Grand Central Terminal. I was in college. My Immigrant Fiction class had embarked on an excursion to New York City to walk in the footsteps of the approximately 12 million people who immigrated there between 1892 and 1954.
Like the immigrants before us, our first stop was Ellis Island, the official entry point. As we crossed the harbor to Ellis Island, I stood at the ferry’s rail, gazing at the Statue of Liberty who welcomed these people to their new home: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
After we visited both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, we headed over to 42nd Street and Park Avenue to tour Grand Central Terminal, built in 1913. Perhaps some immigrants heading to different locales to live might have caught a train at Grand Central Station? It is possible. Grand Central Terminal was and still is the most famous railway terminal in the world.
However, Grand Central is much more than a railroad station. High above the exterior doors is the ethereal sculpture featuring Hercules, representing physical strength; Mercury, the god of travel and commerce; and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and protector of cities. Under them is an ornate clock made of Tiffany glass. Then, there is the main concourse. I remember gazing across the expanse to the information booth with its famous four-faced clock; each face crafted of opal. And above was a ceiling of constellations, painted backward as if I were seeing the stars from God’s vantage point. What a wondrous sight!
In the summer of 1929, industrial production declined, and unemployment rose, leaving stock prices much higher than their actual value. In addition, wages were low and consumer debt as high. Because of drought and falling food prices, farmers were struggling. Finally, banks were unable to liquidate many of their larger loans.
As a result, the American economy entered a mild recession. Consumer spending slowed; unsold goods began to accumulate. Despite this recession, stock prices continued to rise to levels well above expected future earnings. All of this came to a head in October 1929. The time of prosperity, dubbed the Roaring Twenties, was brought to a screeching halt when the U.S. stock market crashed, wiping out fortunes and plunging the United States (and the rest of the world) into an economic depression. For the next ten years, the Great Depression impacted people all over America, leaving many destitute.
Then, starting in 1930, farmers in the Midwest and Southern Great Plains watched as their crops were destroyed by longtime drought. Massive dust storms began about a year later. By 1934, about 35 million acres of formerly cultivated land was rendered useless for farming, while another 125 million acres was slowly being stripped of its nutrient-rich soil. Although regular rainfall returned to the region by the end of 1939, thereby ending the Dust Bowl, the agricultural value of the land did not recover, forcing many farmers to leave their livelihood.
The Great Depression effectively came to an end on 7 December 1941, when the United States entered the Second World War. Almost overnight, production for the war effort began to boom, increasing industrial output by 96 percent. Approximately 17 million new civilian jobs were created.
Nearly 75 years ago, on 1 September 1939, the Luftwaffe bombed Poland just before the German army invaded. Although the Poles tried to fight back, they were no match for the Nazi war machine, and the Third Reich soon annexed Poland.
The border of the German General Government was established a few miles east of the town of Trzebinia, Poland. On 5 September 1939, just four days after the blitzkrieg, German soldiers marched into Trzebinia and executed 97 people, including local leaders.
Then, from mid-1940 until 1945, approximately 200,000 Polish children were abducted by the Nazis. Those kidnapped were deemed Aryan-looking—fair-skinned and fair-haired—and were adopted or fostered by German families or sent to Schutzstaffel (SS) Home Schools. Children determined to be Slavik in appearance and/or nature were sent to extermination or concentration camps, where they were either worked to death or gassed or were subjected to barbaric medical experiments.
As if things weren’t bad enough, in 1941, Nazi Germany decided that the Polish people must be eradicated so that their lands could be settled by German colonists. As part of the Generalplan Ost, the Nazis’ plan for mass-scale genocide, ethnic cleansing, and colonization, the Polish population was forced to perform hard labor and, through strict rationing, were slowly starved. The Nazis’ goal was to eliminate between 70 and 80 percent of the population (or about 20 million people.)