I listened closely to the radio every evening. 1944 was a year of major advances against the Nazis on all sides. Red armies drove them out of many parts of the Soviet Union, & swept thru Romania, the Allies advanced through Italy, and two days after my 8th birthday they took Rome, and two days later came the long awaited D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. I of course heard more about Soviet advances than Allied ones, but every day’s news was exciting and made me feel optimistic.
Sometimes too I found myself trying to draw portraits of that maniac with sleek straight black hair combed down across his forehead on one side of his face and his short, black, nose-wide mustache whose evil genius was behind this war, fascinated by something in this combination of features of this Fuehrer, which I knew only from photographs in newspapers. Of course I don’t have any of those drawings, but I do have some I did in a little black-bound drawing-bookseveral decades later. No date. Here are three of them:
I couldn’t get him to look evil, or even look anything like what I remember from pictures of Hitler, or what my childhood drawings that I don’t remember would probably have looked like. So I started playing with additions & then swastikas, but they too started getting away from me, with perhaps even smiles on their faces & then finally evolved into many-headed whatstikas.
As the war in Europe was drawing to a victorious close for the Allies, my father was in hospital dying. On his 40th birthday, May 1 1945, he had not a centimeter of skin left on his body. Now only the bandages and dressings separated between his raw flesh and the air. His bed was screened off from the other beds in the ward, and once when I came back quietly from a visit to the toilet I overheard him through the screen telling my mother in Polish that the changing of the dressings was the most painful of all. A week later Germany surrendered to the Allies.
At school there was jubilation, at the Soviet Youth Club there was another massive parade, with flags and marching songs over loudspeakers, and again I carried a red flag in the celebrations. At home I removed the last of my flags from the map on the wall, suddenly sorry the war was over. I knew there was still the war in Asia, but that was not one I could follow, because the Russian radio gave little information about it. But all the signs were that this war too would come to an end soon, and what would there be then? What news would there be for the radio, and the newspapers? I asked my mother these questions, and she said that there would always be politics. I didn’t understand, but I let it pass.
At the Soviet Youth Club people were saying that the Japanese would probably close the Club down soon, because the Soviets had made an agreement with the Allies to enter the war against Japan about two months after Germany was defeated. Most activities were being cancelled already and club members were asked to volunteer to help dismantle and pack all sorts of equipment that the Club didn’t want to lose. I came a couple of times to help, but it wasn’t much fun. There was an atmosphere of anxiety there which I didn’t like. And I had enough other things to keep me occupied. The Russian radio kept very quiet about plans to attack the Japanese. At the same time there were rumors of American advances in our general direction, and also stories that Chinese Nationalist Chungking government forces led by Chiang Kai-Shek were approaching Shanghai with American support.
One day I was crossing the Avenue Joffre when I heard the approaching deep rumble of low-flying planes, and before I got to the other side I saw four aeroplanes flying towards me from the direction of the river and several bombs dropping about ten blocks away from me and there were loud explosions and the planes kept coming and I looked up and saw the star surrounded by a circle and a stripe on their wingtips and then they were gone. I hadn’t had time to feel fear, and I imagined the bombs had been dropped on of the several Japanese headquarters in that part of the city but I didn’t go to check, I ran home. After this the Japanese came around with trucks and loudspeakers telling residents to black-out their windows at night-times. There were several more air-raids, the Russian radio was jammed, but then one day rumors spread that the Americans had dropped an amazingly powerful new bomb on a Japanese city, and many people had been killed, and the Japanese had surrendered.
I went out the next morning to visit Dicky Razon. The street, Rue de Cardinal Mercier, looked as I had never seen it before. Chinese flags, Nationalist ones, white sun on black ground in left top quarter, the rest of the flag red, were flying brazenly from many windows. There was no sign of the Japanese. When I came home from Dicky’s there were even more flags hanging from windows, but the streets were strangely empty. The next day the scene was the same. There was something dream-like or unreal about it, as if everything was in waiting for something. The day after that, as I was walking back from the restaurant where my mother sometimes sent me to eat alone because she didn’t want to eat, I heard the sound of loud motors behind me. I turned around and saw three Japanese armored cars pull up outside a house on the corner where about six Chinese flags were hanging. I stepped into a doorway so as not to be seen, and watched. There was a brief announcement, an officer calling something out on a megaphone, a pause, and then I saw soldiers standing up in the armored cars and shooting with machine guns into the house. The Chinese flags soon disappeared, not only from that house but from all the houses I could see. But a day or two later came news of Nagasaki. Then the Japanese disappeared, the flags returned, and then one day the Americans were there.