Sitting her the sunlight parlor, I interview my aging Grandmother. Her reluctance to answer questions is great, but she obediently sits and stares at the tape recorder. Due to a severe cold, her voice fades in and out and she has fits of coughing that are remedied by a sip of warm ginger ale. Daughter of Polish immigrants and mother of five, she is worn and wise. With a heavy Polish accent, she describes her life in the 1940's.
M: Where were you during WWII?
V: I got married in 1944, and he was in Seattle, WA so my honeymoon was to go to Seattle. And I stayed with him six months, then he was shipped to British Columbia. Then I came to live by my parents till he came back… I don’t remember when he came home.
M: Do you remember Pearl Harbor? How did you feel about that?
V: Mad. My brother was in (the) service, stationed in South Pacific, and he was in that war. And he went out to do his job and he was coming back and he saw a ship, I think, in the water- Japanese, so he went down to bomb it and they got him too. That’s how he was killed; he drove a dive-bomber.
M: Was that before Pearl Harbor or after?
V: It was before the war started. He was killed in, um, ’44. We got married in May and he was killed in September, or maybe earlier than that but his body came in September….
M: And so you were upset about Pearl Harbor?
V: …(continuing her thought) We didn’t see his body, it was all skeleton and they shipped him home. My parents, uh, recognized him through his teeth, I believe.
M: My God. So naturally, you were very upset about Pearl Harbor.
(She shakes her head vigorously)
M: Do you remember any of the media coverage? Any newspaper articles?
V: Everything I had I threw out.
M: But you remember seeing them? There were actual documents existing that talked about Pearl Harbor. What did they say, exactly?
In any of the reports did they talk about any racial stereotypes of the Japanese? Do you remember any cartoons or charactures?
(embarrassed, she shakes her head "no" and covers the mic)
M: Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if you don’t remember.
M: So what was it like- living with your parents, being a wife during the war?
V: Well, then I didn’t work any place because my mother told me that I would help them inna store. So I helped them inna store.
M: And how was it, owning a store? I know there were rations and whatnot in WWII, but you guys owned the store. Did you guys have rations too?
V: I think so, I think there were rations.
M: I know that you lived in the Polish village and that your parents came from Poland, so was there any talk around the store about the Nazi’s? I know that they went in and attacked Poland. Was there a lot of talk about that in the store? How did you yourself, being daughters of immigrants feel about…
V: It didn’t bother me. I was young, twenty-two years old only, I didn’t take too much interest in it. I knew that the war was on but I didn’t worry about it.
M: And back to Grandpa- was he drafted or did he just join? Do you remember?
V: He was drafted.
M: And how did he feel about going?
V: He never said anything. I guess that he felt that he had to do his job and that’s all. He was never a cross in any war. He was in British Columbia and then he came home.
M: And what did he do? I know that he didn’t see very much action but…
V: He, he worked at Schultz, uh… Schultz Diecasting Company.
M: What does that entail? Did they make parts for the war?
V: No. They uh, they were making diecasts for machines. I don’t think that they were making them for the war.
M: I’m sure they were, the whole country was mobilized for war.
V: I don’t know, Mandi.
M: How did you feel about him going?
V: I couldn’t do nothing about it, he had to go. They were drafting the fellas so the fellas had to go unless there was something wrong with you or you weren’t heavy enough.
M: So how long was he gone for? Do you remember?
V: (shaking her head "no") I should have called Aunt Francis (her sister in law). I really don’t know.
M: Did you help at all with the war effort? Do you remember hearing anything about the war effort, you know- Rosie the Riveter- all of the women going to the factory, taking the places of men… Or did you donate you stockings for parachutes? (she begins to giggle)
V: (now laughing) No, I didn’t do nothing; I heard of uh, that woman, but it didn’t bother me. I didn’t take no interest in it. I wish I did but…
M: And do you remember any movies that came out during the war? Did you ever go to the movies back then?
V: (after a long pause) I don’t think so.
M: You don’t remember any movies like Back to Bataan… December 7th… or do you remember Frank Capra and the Why We Fight series- Know Your Enemy- Japan…
V: I remember they bombed Pearl Harbor December 7th…1942.
M: Yeah, 1941, they made a movie out of that, December 7th. You don’t remember any movies at all?
V: I’m sorry, but I don’t remember, I just can’t.
M: How did you feel about the atomic bombs?
V: Bad…and I felt bad when my brother was killed.
M: How did you feel about the bombing, about the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? They’ve been working on this atomic bomb- it’s a big deal. Everyone knows what a mushroom cloud is. I mean, it ended the war, but it also killed a lot of people. Did you have any feeling at all about that? I’m sure that people knew that they (the American government) were testing it in Arizona…
V: Your Grandfather’s, I mean Uncle Marci’s, my brother, friends were killed.
M: In the war? I mean, they weren’t in Japan at the time…
V: I think they were.
M: And they were killed by the atomic bomb?
M: By Japanese bombs? Do you remember the atomic bombs? How you feel about it?
V: I didn’t have no interest in it, it was bad, but uh, I was too busy,
I guess, to think about something like that.
Interviews with Rosemarie Shaffer
and Eleanor Otte
Rosemarie Shaffer is the sister of Virginia Janowiecki. Her friend for over sixty years, Eleanor Otte, was visiting at the time of the interview and at first did not want to participate, but gave in to Rosemarie's begging. Both women are over seventy years old, but have an adolescent vigor in their movements and voices. Excitedly, they move to the handsome den to get comfortable for the interview. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is playing in the kitchen and Maggie, Rosemarie's Westie, curiously prances about the tape recorder.
E: Well, we were both juniors in high school. I remember the boys were leaving, a lot of the boys were leaving. Do you remember? It was before their graduation, before they graduated in ’42, they all left for the service.
M: And so you guys definitely remember Pearl Harbor, right?
R: I remember distinctly. It was on Sunday morning, we had a phone cal. It was my friend Eleanor Otte who called and said "Are you listening to the radio" and I said, "No. Why?" and she said, "The Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor." Do you remember that? She called me.
M: And how did you guys feel…
R: It was horrible!
M: What was going on in the news, in the newspaper, anything?
E: Oh, they had extra papers. Kids would come running through the neighborhood yelling "Extra! Extra!" Everybody was very, very excited and upset about it.
M: So there was a general feeling in society at the time…
R & E: Oh yes…
M: What was it like just being there…
R: It was horrible!
E: It seemed like everybody was worried about what was going to happen and all the young boys were worried whether they were going or not.
R: We were all really, really concerned about our brothers and our friends.
M: Within any of the media representations of the Japanese and whatnot, do you guys remember any stereotyped images of the Japanese? Any charactures or cartoons?
E: See, all we had was the newspapers and they only came out once a day so it was rather difficult. I remember the names being in the paper, everyday the names of the boys that were missing or who dies or things like that. Everybody was looking forward to the newspaper.
M: Do you guys remember any movies that were around at that time- Back to Bataan, Frank Capri’s Why We Fight series, And Justice for All, The Battle of China… Do you guys remember going to see any films during the war?
E: Yeah, Frank Sinatra was in a film, they were sailors. There were a lot of war movies.
R: I don’t remember any of the ones you mentioned, no.
M: How do you think the war movies impacted society? Do you think they had any effect at all?
E: Yeah, it seemed like they united the people. We all were seeing how terrible it was for Japanese to do what they did. We all were very optimistic about the end of it, I think.
M: So there was an immense feeling of patriotism then?
R: You bet, you bet.
E: Definitely. There was no doubt that we were expecting to come out ahead.
M: And did you help with the war effort at all?
E: (laughing) We had a Victory Garden, the place where I worked. We had a plot where we planted tomatoes and corn. We had a Victory Garden…
R: And I worked at Champion Spark Plug in the factory, making spark plugs (laughs).
M: So, was it just like in the movies where it was predominately women at that time?
R: Yes, yes.
M: What was it like though? Everyone knew that their husband, brother, father, whomever, was away…what…
E: Everyone was worried, especially if you had a son or brother in the service, you always had to be worried about them. We’d do a lot of letter writing, we wrote letters all of the time.
M: Do you remember anything about rations?
R: Oh, sure.
E: Nylon hose, we had to wear a new pair once in a while. Coffee, they had coffee rations…
R: What are they, silk? Not nylon.
E: Silk, yeah. And gas, gasoline- we had to save up coupons to get gas for the car.
R: And sugar was rationed and meat was rationed…
M: What was it like for you, especially because your parents owned a store…
M: And what was it like- people coming in with their rations…did the store have rations of their own? How did that system work?
R: My father was allowed to buy just given amounts and he was allocated a number of pounds of sugar, for instance, or meats. And then people came in and bought with their coupons.
M: And was that weird at that time?
R: Well, no because they knew it was accepted, I mean, it was the war effort, it wasn’t like anyone was trying to harm people, they had to do it to conserve the food supply and they had...
(there is a ten-minute interruption, Eleanor’s son is talking to her)
M: Ok, so we were talking about rations…did you guys have any close guy friends at that time who were going off to war?
M: What was the general feeling among them? Were they as patriotic as the rest of the nation? Afraid at all?
R: They were afraid of course, but they were doing it for their country.
E: There were songs we used to sing, patriotic songs. And the sailors would come into town and we’d go out and go dancing with them. On Sunday afternoons the ROTC from the university (of Toledo) would come and we would go out and dance…they were all over, it was great (laughs).
M: Do you guys remember any songs like "The Marine’s Hymn", "Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans", "There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere", "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition"…
R & E: (laughing) Oh, sure…
M: "I Don’t Want to Walk Without You, Baby"…
R: Oh, yeah (laughs), every one…we knew those songs, we sang all of those songs. The Marine songs, the Navy songs….
E: They would come home and we would sing…especially the Andrews Sisters…
R: And Frank Sinatra… I was at the university then and like Cook (Eleanor) mentioned, they had ROTC, but we called them cadets. They were in officer training…the cadets, they were so cute…they were all over…it was fun…
M: (laughing) What was it like, having all of these men in uniform all over?
R: It was great…
E: I remember one time I went downtown, and there were three of us, and we went to this one hotel to get in the bar and they wouldn’t let us in unescorted, so we went outside and on the corner there were three sailors (laughing hysterically) and so we had them come to the bar. They were cute; they were all real nice kids. They were real lonesome, being away from home…
R: (shaking her head) It was a totally different world Mandi, you would not believe the difference in everything. Morality, everything…
E: Absolutely nothing was negative, everything was positive. Everything was "We’re gonna go get ‘em", ya know? A lot of patriotism, very much so.
R: And I think standards were different, morals were different…it was unbelievable.
M: That’s what it seems like, in the movies we watch, it’s all the same basic idea- this is America, we’re all united, we’re all for the war, and all the women will work in the factories, but when the men come home, they know that their place is in the house. Is that basically how it was?
E: I dunno, do you remember that to be true when they came back?
R: I think so, I think a lot of gals…
E: Well, a lot of women didn’t want to work. A lot wanted to stay home and be with the children…
R: Well, yeah, that’s when the kids came.
E: A lot of women wanted to go back to their families…
R: But a lot of women got used to making money and having their own money and being more independent.
M: Do you think that the war was a liberation for women, in a way?
R: I think so…
M: Because they got to get outside of the house and work…
M: And do you think that was a positive thing?
R: Sure…to some extent…to a great extent, sure.
M: And do you guys remember any issues regarding class or race? I know that on the West Coast especially, they put a lot of Japanese American in concentration camps, actually they called them relocation camps; do you remember anything like that?
E: They did have that, um, what was that armory? They had German prisoners. What was that called, where they have the shootings now?
R: Camp Perry.
E: Yeah, they had German soldiers. I know we’d go up there and we’d see them behind the fence…
M: And how did you feel about that? How did you guys feel about the whole Japanese relocation thing?
R: (shrugs) I don’t think that I really thought about it too much.
E: (her voice raising) We just figured that that was the way it was supposed to be. We were at war with them and we didn’t have any personal contact with any Japanese. If you knew them, then you knew what was going on and you would feel for them, but us, there weren’t many foreigners around.
M: Did you guys notice any trends from coast to coast, or was it all
E: We weren’t exposed to that that much…. there wasn’t that much news.
M: Do you remember any propaganda? Posters, flyers…
R: Pro or con?
M: Anything, you know "Support the War Effort", Uncle Sam, big militant posters pointing at you…
R: "I Want You". I remember that, "I Want You".
E: Yup, there were the Bond programs that urged people to buy Safety Bonds, War Bonds…People were all-out for that…
R: Oh, sure, and we had savings stamps too, if you couldn’t afford the bond you could buy stamps and when you had enough it transferred.
M: Did you guys have bonds?
R: Oh yes. I remember I had stamps in my purse and I lost my purse, someone stole it, I had two dollars, all in stamps, I was so mad.
M: Do you guys have any distinct memories of violence? I don’t know how graphic or involved the newspapers were; nowadays you can see dead bodies. Was it like that or was it all script, no pictures?
R: Mainly all script, there were scenes of buildings all bombed out.
M: What was your idea about how much violence was actually out there?
E: It was all like, it was something unbelievable. You couldn’t see it, you didn’t read that much about it, it was whatever you imagined. We really didn’t see any pictures.
R: Yeah, I remember bombed out buildings and I think the thing that I was just absolutely amazed by most was the atomic bomb….
M: I was just gonna ask, how did you…
E: Oh, god…
R: Horrible, horrible. I didn’t know that such force could be created by man.
M: Were you happy that it was the US?
R: Well, we were happy that it ended the war, of course. But you think
In the future what exactly this thing can do…
M: Back then it was the bomb that was going to end all wars…
R: All was- bologna…
M: Do remember the day in 1945?
E: You had mixed feelings, you know, about being responsible for so many people dying, but it had to be done- we had to end the war and it seemed like that was the answer.
M: Did people (Americans) see it as just a bunch of other people dying or did they see Japanese people, our enemy?
E: Well, that’s hat it was, you felt sorry for them, but it had to happen.
M: Did you see it as a payback for Pearl Harbor, not that that’s what it was…
R: Not really, it was just the end. It was the ending to a horrible, horrible war.
M: Did you guys see any pictures from the bombings? I know that everyone knows about the mushroom cloud. I mean, the bomb was pretty high tech back then…
R: I remember the pictures of people, they were disfigured, it was horrible…and land, trees just shriveled…
E: Everything was gone, and I did see pictures of the people and how it burned the people, their faces, how terrible their feet were…
M: Ok, I think that we’ve gone all through the war, but are there any specific instances that you remember, any anecdotes?
R: Oh yeah, I remember when the letter came to my parents, telling them
that my brother was missing in action. It was 1944. I was sleeping- I will
never forget it, I was sleeping in a pair of pajamas that he sent me, with
green and white stripes, and I heard my mother screaming, just screaming
at the top of her lungs. And screaming…screaming…and I got out of bed and
ran down stairs and she was sitting at the bottom of the stairs and holding
this telegram. And it was delivered, hand delivered by this neighbor, Mr.
Machanszki, and he was just standing there, what could he do? Anyways,
she showed me the telegram, and my father had gone shopping to get produce
and things for the grocery store, and on his way home my Uncle Steve waited
for him to drive by, and when he saw him he stopped him and told him about
my brother. And he came home and they just cried and cried, we all cried.
M: How long after the telegram…
R: Well, he was declared dead a year later and then five years later his body was shipped- his skeleton. I’ll never forget this, I don’t know if my mother insisted…yes she did; she had a court order to open the casket. And so they did and it was just the skeleton wrapped in a brown wool blanket and it smelled of camphor. I’ll never forget it, never…I just smelled camphor. And my father said to the mortician, " Where is his right hand?" His right hand was missing.
M: Grandma said that your father knew that it was him by his teeth?
R: It was my mother who said, it was she who identified him by his teeth. It was horrible, horrible, horrible. Anyway, he had a huge funeral…
M: How did he die? I know he flew a plane…
R: A fighter, he flew a fighter. Evidently anti-aircraft fire hit him. There were all kinds of reports. Someone said that they saw his plane go into the ocean; somebody else said that they saw it explode in the air. There were all kinds of stories, no one ever really knew. And we never really knew where they found his remains.
M: Do you think his death was justified through the war?
R: I don’t, no. No. To me it was a lost cause because now, well not now, we’re not fighting now. We’ve had a few wars since. And maybe I have the wrong attitude, but I think that it was just dumb. Sure do...at least in his case- he had so much to offer, his life was so short. He was only twenty-four. It’s just sick.
M: So are you more disturbed when you think of all the other kids who had a lot to offer?
R: Of course…
M: In retrospect, do you think that it was a worthy cause at all?
R: If it ended all wars, I would say yes, it would have been worthy, but it didn’t. It didn’t end all wars. I’m really bitter about it, I really am. I lost a brother I never really got to know.
M: Was he drafted?
R: No, he enlisted when Germany invaded Poland in ’39.
M: Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. Your parents came overseas…
E: It was scary when they did that. There were a lot of Polish people in the vicinity, the Polish village, and they felt…like it was directed to them too because they had relations there…
R: Yeah, like it was personal. A personal affront…
E: …they were worried about people there. It was a horrible thing, the way they (Germany) went about it.
R: When that happened my brother, I’ll never forget it- I was what, thirteen, fourteen? - anyway I remember hearing him distinctly say that we are going to war. And he kept saying, "We’re going to war, we’re going to war." And we sure did go to war.
M: So in the Polish village was there more hatred and animosity towards the Germans for invading Poland, or was it fueled by American patriotism?
R: Oh, it was just angst against Germany.
M: In circles of conversation was there a lot of anti-German sentiment?
R: You bet. There was a German club that was considered an anti-American organization.
E: We were suspicious of all Germans, I mean, that happens. You know,
it seemed like there was animosity…and there was.