Poor Poland

As I read her 1940 and even, of course, her 1939 passages I look for signs of war because I want her version of this story I already know.  Her opinions, emotions, when, how, and how often the topic arrises in her pages tells me of The American Experience at this time.  What is more “The American Experience” then an individual’s view point?  Sure, other Americans felt, thought, and reacted very differently to the events of this time in a myriad of ways.  Those view points are “The American Experience” as well, more so than any chapter in a text book could really tell us how people viewed and dealt with this crisis.  Did they see it coming?  Did they wish to bury their heads or for the US to step up and step in?  Were they informed?  Paying any attention?

Up till this point, there is little mention in her pages of the war in Europe, but there certainly is some.

Saturday, September 2nd, 1939

War going on between Poland and Germany.  England and France ready to step in too.  Jakey and I played tennis and then saw “Lady of the Tropics” and “These Glamorous Girls.”  The moon was high so we watched the mail plane come in.  I wasn’t in too much of a mood but tried to cooperate.

Sunday, September 17th, 1939

Although it were rather cloudy, the weather was warm enough to wear my new dress to church and I was glad.  After church Jakey came and stayed until noon.  Mom, Dad, and I went to Bondsville with Larry and stayed there and we had a good old chat.  Poor Poland I guess it’s really done for.

Thursday, May 16th, 1940

The European war situation is becoming, or rather is, serious.  We listen to news dispatches over the air very intently.  Honey bunch came over about 7 tonight and told me all about The Civil Service hearing today where he took short hand notes.  Later we went for a walk after the rain it was so warm and quiet.  Got home at eleven.  Doing better.

Tuesday, May 28th, 1940

The second week of cloudiness and rain. But that’s better than war clouds like they have over in Europe with armies parachuting out of the sky.  We Nee-Wah girls gave a shower at the “Y” for Natalie Zelazo and it was perfect.  As a surprise, Jakey and Edmund came to meet us.  They came in a new Studebaker which Ellsworth Stanton is trying to sell Jake.  Jake is all excited but quieted down going home.  He was marvelously tender tonight.  If only this would last!

This is just a hint of the amazing WWII related photos mostly taken of or by Jacob Stefanik.  I’m looking forward to finding out more about each image.

I was chatting with Taswegian1957 about how American isolationism played in the hearts of Americans with ties to these countries in conflict.  Was it as easy for them to ostrich?  (Yes, that can be a verb. 😉

In fact, this is a conversation I raised with my students this past school year.  I’ll be frank, I had a really rough school year.  A small part of what was difficult was teaching outside my element.  Teaching Science and sometimes Math added a level of stress I didn’t need.  I also am not a History teacher either  and every day required a research project, but that part of the job I was really enjoying.  My students knew about my grandmother and about this diary project and when it came time to teach World War Two, I knew I had a great resource in my hands.  I brought the first passage in for my students to look at as we discussed what we thought was going on in the US before Pearl Harbor and our involvement.  I didn’t bring in any other passages because I hadn’t gotten to transcribing them.  I am not yet out of 1940.  I also cut the bottom part off the image of her diary passage, I didn’t feel it necessary to explain 1940s parking rituals, and projected her cursive writing onto the white board.  My students went to the board and tried to translate her passage and struggled with but loved figuring out what her cursive said.  Then the conversation we had afterwards was one of the most engaged my students were the whole year and really the most a class could have been engaged.  I asked them what they thought her experience and perspective on this was at this particular time.  One student said that she must not have been too worried because she was playing tennis and another student thought well maybe she wanted to go have fun before the whole world ended.  We then had a lovely conversation about how she went to the movies that night and that may have even been where she got the news that she was ruminating about.  We talked about how short her space was to write every day and the fact that she took that little space might have meant it was very important and perhaps concerning for her.  In fact, every time she writes about the war it is the first thing in that passage that she gets around to.

My students showed such critical thinking in both the discussion and in the tools they used to figure out the cursive.  It was a neat lesson and some day I may have to teach a bit of History again, instead of English or Theatre, and maybe that wont be such a bad thing.


10 Comments Add yours

  1. You do have a wonderful teaching resource in the diaries. Of course the events of World War II are well documented but the lives of the people at home not so much. I guess it would seem strange to the students that people would go to the movies and carry on enjoying themselves but they were in England too even though the war was more serious for them. Mum used to tell me stories of going to the pictures during the blackout but of course the pictures was where they saw newsreels not just the main feature in those pre television days. I am sure that the news of the day would have made Babu thoughtful even while parking. It’s good that your students responded so well the lesson. I worry that young people don’t learn enough history and will repeat the mistakes of previous generations because of it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Keep calm and carry on, right?

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Val says:

    I’m glad she managed to get on with living her normal, daily life, during the war years (or at least the early ones as we don’t know about later ones yet). I don’t know about people there but in Britain there was sort of spirit of keeping going regardless. I heard so much of it from my parents and their generation (who were probably Babu’s contemporaries).

    There’s more info from the British side of things that might interest you, and your students, in various diaries and answered questionnaires from the Mass Observation Archives, here: http://www.massobs.org.uk/mass-observation-1937-1950s

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow. I started to dig a bit and I didn’t get far – and wont be able to today but I can tell that this is an amazing resource! I will be back and back again to read more!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Val says:

        There are a few books that have been compiled from them, as well. I had a couple about a woman called Nella. By the way, to my knowledge, the Mass Observatory still runs – there are waiting lists, I think, for people to still take part in their questionaires, etc. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. So cool! I think I’d like to purchase some! I wonder if the American equivalent exists, and if I could work for them! Haha.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Val says:

        You never know! 🙂


  3. Awesome lesson for your students! I see your skills as a teacher here and how important it is to engage them with history they can see and feel and relate to. It’s been a long time since that war, and I think the lessons we learned are fading from popular memory. Cudos to you for reviving them.

    Liked by 1 person

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