What if…

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The cover of the book intrigued me, but even so it was such a chilling thought that I couldn’t pick it up to flip through it.  What if…the vision of the view from the open door on the boat on D-Day floated into my mind as I thought of the ones who fought and died in WWII and the freedom that I enjoy now.

I’ve never been a student of wars other than to know dates and significant events.  The horror and trauma in books and movies about war doesn’t leave me with pleasant thoughts and, honestly, I have other subjects I prefer.  But shortly after seeing this book I picked up another book followed by two more that surprisingly each had a section that gave me a little more insight into World War II and the events that led up to the United States’ involvement in it. The common thread was chilling:  Hilter came into power quickly and there was no stopping him as he marched across Europe.  He was ruthless and knew what he wanted; people feared him even as they obeyed.

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I’ve always enjoyed reading biographies and when I saw this book I realized that other than the basic story of King Edward VIII’s abdication of the throne for love I had never read anything about this couple. It was an interesting read and although an unauthorized biography the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson) was still alive at that time (early 1970’s) and had granted interviews to the author giving a first-hand perspective to many episodes in their lives. The book was kind to them overall, but did carefully develop their personalities to give a clear picture of the problems and difficulties of their life together after the Duke’s abdication from the throne.

Intertwined with their lives was their involvement with Hitler. The Duke and Duchess, like many notable figures of that time, were quite impressed with Hitler and failed to see him as any threat.  The Duke, being of German blood, loved Germany and the German people and enjoyed conversing in German. He was thrilled when they were invited to make an “unofficial” visit to Germany in late 1937 and while there the Fuhrer invited them to tea. When they parted Hitler gave the Nazi salute and the Duke returned it. The Windsors were captivated while Hitler very perceptively realized the weakness of the Duke and the power of his Duchess.

Hitler continued his well structured march across Europe; he knew what he wanted and pursued it with precision. He was in control. Through conversations between Hitler and his officers and British officials as well as details of the development of his plans the author provides a glimpse into the complexity of Hitler’s regime and the complete obedience it required.

Hitler had plans for England and for the Windsors.  He developed a complicated plan to kidnap them and hold them in isolation until he could overtake England and install them as a “puppet” king and queen.  Hitler felt they were both easy to manipulate and knew that British subjects had deeply regreted Edward VIII’s abdication. It took considerable influence by their trusted advisor, Walter Monckton, to persuade them of the danger to their lives and their need to leave Spain where they had fled after France was overtaken by Nazi Germany.

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I normally shy away from historical fiction as I feel it often gives a dramatic twist to events rather than truthful telling of the story.  I decided to give this one a try since it was a book club selection (and I do enjoy my book club) plus I had heard stories about Hedy Lamarr and her involvement with developing scientific technology.  In truth she may or may not have had contact with Hitler, but the book has her eavesdropping on a dinner conversation where her husband, Fritz Mandl, was entertaining the Fuhrer.  It was a chilling conversation where he agreed to sell arms and munitions to Hitler. As an Austrian Jew she knew all too well what was going on in Austria and the fear that gripped everyone. Soon after she would flee from her husband and Austria and come to America where she quickly became a star of the silver screen.

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The book does successfully portray the turmoil and uncertainty that gripped Austria before Hitler made his move.  People were cautious and fearful, they knew the power of the Fuhrer and the already weakness of their government. And, when he did move it was swift. After Lamarr achieved success in America she and other actors and actresses who had fled from Europe would meet to exchange news from home, the news they did not get from mainstream news sources.  It was through family that they heard of the atrocioties against the Jews, the detention camps, the cattle car rides to death and the terror that was upon everyone. A chilling picture of Hitler’s ruthlessness executed perfectly.

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This book appealed to me instantly because I’ve always found FDR and Eleanor interesting and inspiring in their service to America and to their fellow man. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth never wanted to be the head of the Monarchy, but when they were put there by Edward VIII’s abdication they came with strength and dignity. Their courage during the bombing of London always leaves me a little awed! These four leaders served their nations and their people during dark days.

I’ve just started reading it, but already know that it was the alliance of the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia that gave the Allies victory.  That alliance wasn’t easily formed and took much work to keep it on task, but grew one step at a time as leaders cooperated in a common cause: defeat Hitler.

Europe was ripe for Hitler.  WWI had left it devastated and rebuilding.  Citizens didn’t want another war and were quick to agree to appeasement.  We must remember how easy he made his first moves and how calculating he was in his plans.  First he took control of his own country and then built and strengthened the Nazi regime as he invaded others. We must be vigilant to protect our freedom as it can be taken quickly and silently.

 

 

 

 

Letters to Mamie

The first book I picked up at the used book sale was rather old looking and in the loosely defined section of biography/history. It appealed to me because I had just seen a picture of a young Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower during their brief time in my city, plus I love reading old letters. I flipped through the pages, but put it down.  After all I don’t like to read about war and times of war.  Before I checked out I went back to this section just to make sure I hadn’t overlooked a treasure that I needed.  I looked at the book again and decided that since it was only a dollar I should go ahead and give it a try.  I’m glad I did as it was a good read.

Between June 23, 1942 and October 28, 1952 Ike wrote 319 handwritten letters to Mamie; she kept every one of them.  In 1972 she gave them to her son, John S.D. Eisenhower, and told him to use them as he saw fit.  In 1977 Letters to Mamie was published with John’s commentary on the events of the war interspersed among them. John edited the letters some to avoid tedious salutations and farewells, but otherwise are just as Ike wrote them.  He was a “rigid censor” of his writings to Mamie even though because of his rank he could have written more details of his daily life and the events he was shaping as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces.  Even so, his letters convey his loneliness and frustration with the management of the war.  The reader also sees him grow from a newly promoted colonel with no combat experience to a confident leader who was much loved by military personnel and civilians.

Through his gently written letters a different picture of the war emerges.  Endless meetings that lasted long hours, phone calls, grueling trips on almost non-existent roads in freezing temperatures, exhaustion and sickness that have to be ignored, and waiting for news from the front when a major offensive was taking place. Of course, there was also the delicate negotiations required to keep peace among the different nations participating in the Allied force.Ike shied away from social obligations, leaving other officers to officiate in his place, but instead choosing to have a scotty pup and a few close officers as evening companions. He shared with Mamie that his greatest joy was reviewing the troops and being among them; often the troops had no idea he as coming and he delighted in their surprise at seeing him in the field with them.

John reminds the reader that at the time of the editing of the letters the world was just a little over 40 years from the end of World War II.  That really gave me a startling time-perspective jolt.  At that time I was just a young woman and it seemed that WWII had been a long time in the past, but in reality the world was still recovering. Now I know that 40 years wasn’t really that long ago. This 277 page book really isn’t as old as it looks, now is it?