I was six years old when the war ended in 1945, so my memories are few and arise in no particular order. I remember hearing news reports on the radio that were datelined "Moscow"-- but I confused Moscow with Bosco, a brand of chocolate syrup popular in the 1940s. I remember that the floor of our kitchen was disfigured with an infinite number of black marks -- there was a shortage of rubber and the improvised synthetic soles disintegrated and left nasty stains. My mother said, "We'll wait until the war is over to replace the linoleum." Many commodities were in short supply: instead of butter there was a white oleomargerine into which a packet of orange food color was mashed to simulate a credible yellow. There were ration books and ration stamps for gasoline and sugar and coffee and greens. My mother was furious that Mr. Lerner, who owned the fruit and vegetable shop on 18th Avenue, sold black-market lettuces from the back of his store. A bus driver was rude to a passenger; my mother said: "all the decent young men are overseas." We all saved our nickels and brought money to school to buy war bonds. Following government advice, my father dug up his carefully tended lawn and planted a "victory garden" of vegetables. There were frequent blackouts: my father's friend Jack Patent sported a white hard hat because he was a warden. My Uncle Dan, a major in the Army Air Corps, came home from the Burma border for a thirty-day furlough and showed me his captured German Luger. We received air mail letters from him and from other soldiers with details blacked out by military censors. I complained to my mother: "Mrs. Callery (my first grade teacher) isn't nice to me." My mother said, "You have to forgive her; she's lost four of her boys in the war." Lost? Four of her boys? I did not understand. On a sunny spring day in 1945, we heard on the radio that President Roosevelt was dead; my mother sat on the stoop and cried. And in August of that same year, when our family was visiting someone on a lake somewhere, all of a sudden the adults who had motor boats were zooming back and forth and shouting and laughing. I asked what was happening and my father said, "the war is over."
Uncle Jack's tank was demolished by German cannon fire and he was the crew's only survivor. He lived with shrapnel and with pain until the age of ninety-one. Cousin Saul's older brother was killed in New Guinea, but Sarah, his mother, "knew" that he was alive and waited for the knock on the door or the telephone call until the end of her days. Meanwhile, the poor fellow's bones lay bleaching at Buna or some other long-forgotten field of battle. Before the war, my mother told me, we used to receive mail from the old country -- from the many members of the Chafetz and Tomaszewski and Middlebank and Hessel families who had stayed behind. "But after the war, nothing."
Can we, even now, bear to imagine what became of all those Malkas and Rifkas and Levs and Mendels?