Now 75 years of age, I can only remember WWII from a child's perspective. I don't recall the war's beginning; I was in kindergarten at the time. Yet, it seemed to me as I was growing up that the war was always with us. I experienced the war in several ways. I saved the silver papers of gum wrappers and cigarette packs I found on the city streets, and wound rubber bands into balls, all to help the war effort, whatever that meant. We used ration stamps to buy our food and observed meatless days. I was too young to really understand.
I did however know that my uncle was serving on an oil tanker in the Pacific. Grandma hung a blue starred flag from our kitchen window on the fifth floor. We tracked his travels as best we could from the hidden information we could discern from the censored letters we received, written on pale blue paper made of the thinnest material, folded closed to save the weight of an envelope. A map hung on the wall outside of the kitchen displaying the Pacific theater of war. An odd name, theater, for this. It surely was not a show.
The end of the war looms largest in my memory. Uncle Aaron was coming home. He had lived with us prior to the war; he was only seventeen years old when I was born. More my older brother ti seemed than an uncle, he deserved a big party. Grandma, my mother in situ, and Mom, who worked outside the home and was Aaron's sister, made a huge party, inviting all the families in our six story apartment house. But this was the little party. I had experienced the street party our neighborhood had when the war in Europe ended, but it held no candle to the party that was celebrated on VJ Day. Victory in Japan was greeted with joy. Streets were blocked off; music played; food and drink emerged from all the apartments; people wept and laughed.
It was only after the war that I recognized what had happened. The concentration camps were closed; the pictures were beyond my ability to view or comprehend. Our relatives who survived the holocaust came to live in New York. My childhood friend, a teen who worked in Dad's pharmacy before the war, and who played with me when work was slow, came home from the Battle of the Bulge, his face lined, and all smiles gone. All this that makes sense to me now was slow for me to grasp then. Somehow, my childish ignorance saved me from the anguish that most others experienced during that period. I suppose I should be grateful.