by Aaron Alhadeff
Charles Abrams was born in Montreal and fought for Canada in World War II. He is now retired and lives with my grandmother in Scotsdale, Arizona.
AA: Where were you at the start of WW2?
CA: Well, letís see, I was living at home with my family in Montreal, Canada.
AA: Did you get involved in any way?
CA: Yeah, I fought for over two years.
AA: Where did you fight?
CA: All over Europe.
AA: Tell me about how you got drafted?
CA: What do you mean(smiling).
AA: Well explain how you were notified by the Canadian government that you had to fight for them?
CA: I was not drafted I volunteered at age 19.
CA: I really have not thought about that much. I guess that I felt that it was my duty to fight for my country. Several of my friends at the time were signing up as well and I really did not know what I wanted to do at the time so I joined.
AA: Was the United States in the war at the time?
CA: No, Canada had been fighting for two years.
AA:Why did you have such a sense of patriotism. Did you think that you were fighting for a just cause.
CA: What do you mean.
AA: I mean why did you feel so obligated to fight. I know that if it were me I would do whatever I could to get out of it.
CA: Aaron what you have to understand is that people were different back then. They did not question like you kids do today. I fought because it was my country. I did not need any more or a reason then that.
AA: Well, did you know what you were fighting for?
CA: I knew that we were trying to protect our country and that Hitler was trying to take over the world.
AA: What about movies? Did you ever see any war time films.
CA: What type of films do you mean?
AA: Any type. Uhh, did you see any movies during war time that were big motion pictures that were designed purely for entertainment.
CA: Yes, I canít remember the names but I saw a few. When I had joined the army but was not yet station I saw some with some of my buddies. Just like you guys see films today.
AA: Do you remember anything about them at all.
CA: Well, usually there was a big name or two and most of them had to deal with some sort of love story.
AA: What was you reaction after watching one of those movies.
CA: I can't remember exactly but I know that I enjoyed them.
AA: Would you say that they made you feel pride for you country?
CA: Most of what we say were American films but we were on the same side so I guess you could say so. Like I said earlier I had a very strong allegiance to my country and would have fought for any reasons if they told me so. At that time there was nothing that I wanted to do more than help my country.
AA: Aside from entertainment based films did you see any other? You know, like ones which helped you for combat or ones that told you how bad the enemy was in an attempt to motivate you.
CA: You mean propaganda?
CA: Sure on both radio and movies. I remember the radio more we listen to a broadcast called Tokyo Rose but I do seem to recall seeing a few movies while away.
AA: Like what?
CA: Most of them were being shown to us from the other side. They would say that all of the people where at home making money and taking our jobs while we were out risking our life for the country.
AA. Did you believe it?
CA: No, I knew that it was all propaganda but I am sure that a lot of people did. There were a lot of ignorant people at the time and several people who did not want to keep fighting. Some of them used this as an excuse to try to go home and get out of the war all together.
AA: What about instruction films
CA: What do you mean?
AA: You know films that told you how to fight?
CA: Well I remember one in particular that told us what to do if we heard a loud noise.
AA: You mean a bomb?
CA: Yes, the movie told us that we should keep on fighting. If we heard a noise that meant that it did not hit us and that we should just keep on going. They told us to never strop because if we did we would be killed.
AA: What about any movies that showed you how to use weaponry or about your fighting strategy.
CA: Not really we had training camp for that?
AA: Where did you go for the camp.
CA: I went to Vancouver.
AA: How far was that away from home?
CA: Very far, you know that I grew up in Montreal.
AA: Vancouver has a lot of Asians living around that area doesn't it?
CA: Yes in fact one of those internment camps was real close to where we were originally stationed.
AA: Did you ever talk to any of them
CA: No we were not allowed to.
AA: What did you think of them?
CA: Well I did not trust them. I did not hate them nearly as much as I did Hitler and the Germanís.
AA: Why is that?
CA: Well we were really fighting the Germans primarily. I was more interested in freeing all of the Jew then dealing with the Japanese.
AA: What did you think about Pearl Harbor?
CA: Well, I was shocked, naturally. I did not expect it. But you have to understand that I was fighting for Canada not the United States.
AA: How did you hear about Pear Harbor being bombed by the Japanese.
CA: Radio, most of the information that we were able to receive came from the radio because that is what we had.
AA: I know that your main enemy was the Germans but being so close to the Japanese in Vancouver must have been a weird experience.
CA: Yes is was but they were actually Americans who lived close to the Canadian border and were sent up there. I did not fear them because for one I never interacted with them I also knew that we had a lot of weapons and organization so I was really comfortable with my safety.
AA: Then why was it a weird experience?
CA: Aaron you have to understand that when I lived in Montreal I had never seen an Asian in my life. All of the Asians lived on the West Coast and I was on the East.
AA: How did you feel about the internment camps then and looking back on it how do you feel now.
CA: Well I never thought that there was anything wrong with them. It was a time when people were scared and safety was very important. If people were not safe in their own country then there was a big problem. I do think that more than the Japanese going to the camps the Germans should have gone after all there were more Germanís then there were Japanese and Hitler was a crazy man.
AA: What exactly did you think of Hitler?
CA: I thought that he was an absolute animal who would do whatever he needed to kill as many Jews as he could.
AA: You being Jewish do you think that this affected you more than most people who were fighting in the war.
CA: Well I can not really say because everyone was extremely patriotic especially people who volunteered to fight. I do know that I had relatives in Germany so I was willing to do whatever I could to take Hitler down.
AA: You mentioned that all people who volunteered were extremely patriotic and very dedicated to fight what about those who were in the war but did not volunteer but were instead drafted?
CA: You mean the zombies?
AA: What is that?
CA: We called any guy who did not volunteer a zombie because he was acting like a person who was doing what he had to do instead of deciding that he wanted to fight and volunteering himself.
AA: Tell me about your actual experience in the war.
CA: What do you mean?
AA: Well, when did you actually start to fight?
CA: In the middle of 1944, I was sent to Germany.
AA: What did you do in the army?
CA: I was a machine gunner.
AA: Did you ever kill anyone?
CA: I am sure that I did I often shot the machine gun into a large group of German soldiers until they were all dead. I never actually saw that I hit anyone but I must have.
AA: How did you feel about that?
CA: I did not think about it at all I just kept on going I knew that if I stopped to think I might have got killed my self.
AA: Where you ever shot at?
CA: Oh,yeah a bunch of times usually I would use a rock for shelter and I would hear bullets bouncing off of it.
AA: Where you ever scared?
CA: I did not have the time I just did what I had to do.
AA: Looking back now do you regret anything that you did during the war?
CA: No absolutely not. I knew that Hitler was an awful ruler and if we did not stand up to him there is no telling what would have happened.
AA: Did you get to have any contact with anyone at home during the war.
CA: Very little, I got to write letters to your grandmother once in a while but I never got to call her or talk to my parentís.
AA: Was this tough, did it ever make you second guess what you were doing or make you think that you might want to go home early.
CA: Yes it was tough but I knew that I was fighting for a good cause. I knew that the people at home were supporting us and it never occurred to me to try and go home before they told me that my time was up.
AA: You said that you knew that the people at home were supporting you how is this so?
CA: We often had new men coming in from home and they would tell us also we got to hear some radio which expresses the Allies support of its troops.
AA: Did you ever have any time while in Europe when you were not fighting?
CA: Sure they came to get us when it was time to sleep or take a shower.
AA: No. I mean did you ever get to go away for a little while and have some time on your own to have some sort of entertainment?
CA: No it wasn't like that (smiling).
AA: Well did you have some friends who you were fighting along side?
CA: You made friends real quick because you were often sticking your neck out for another guy. I came to realize after fighting for a while that one of the guys in my unit was actually from Montreal as well and lived just down the street from me.
AA: Did you ever see any of these men die and if so what was it like?
CA: Yeah a couple of times, but I tried not to think about it because I knew that if I did I might end up in the same way that they were.
AA: I know that you did not see many of the movies at the time of the war but after did you see any?
CA: Right after I saw a few but don't remember much about them except that I went with a few of my buddies.
AA: The films that you do remember seeing what were they dealing with?
CA: Mostly I saw United States movies which showed the US soldier coming home after he defeated the Germans and the Japanese.
AA: Tell me how you got home from the war?
CA: Well we won the war and it was time to go home in fact I was one of the first people to go. I am not sure why but I was home very early.
AA: What was it like when you found out that you were going home for good?
CA: I was in shock I did not think that it would ever happen I thought I would be there forever.
AA: Do you ever think or talk the war now?
CA: Very rarely this is the first time that I have spent any length of time on it in a long while.
AA: If you could express anything to me about the war what would it be?
CA: Well I think like I said earlier it was just a different time. What happened in Vietnam would have never happened in my time. People did not question they just did what they were told to do. I guess that is kind of good and kind of bad.
AA: Thank you!