Showing posts with label Dorothy H. Schwartz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dorothy H. Schwartz. Show all posts

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Genealogy, Free or Fee: Ask an Archivist!






































In a recent entry, I told how I discovered that a letter written by my Aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was included in With Love, Jane, a compilation of correspondence from WWII servicewomen edited by Alma Lutz.

As shown in the table of contents at right, Sgt. Schwartz's letter was on p. 104, one of more than a dozen contributed by "Indispensable WACS."

My aunt's letter began with the salutation: "Dear ____" and had a vague date ("1943").

Who, I wondered, was my Auntie writing to? And when did she actually write the letter that wound up being printed?

I did an online search to find out more about Alma Lutz, and learned that her literary notes and other papers were in the archives of her alma mater, Vassar.

You know what I did next, right? I picked up the phone and called the archives, leaving word about my request for more information about the author's contact with my aunt.

An hour later, I had a return call from the archives! They were delighted to do a quick search for materials from my aunt. And an hour after that, I received an email from the archivist, attaching the pdfs of two V-mail letters from my aunt to Alma Lutz. (Thank you, wonderful archivist! No lengthy wait, no fee.)

You can see the second of the letters to Alma Lutz at top, in which my aunt claims not to remember who she was writing to, not even the approximate date of that letter.

As the archivist said in his email to me: "So, while I can't solve the mystery of 'Dear Blank,' I hope that I can at least provide a little context for its inclusion in the final volume."

The V-mails did indeed give me more background about my aunt and her wartime activities. Now you know why I suggest that researchers go ahead and "ask an archivist."

NOTE: For more "Free or Fee" tips for genealogy, please see my special page here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Family History Month: Sgt. Schwartz, "The Woman Behind the Man Behind the Gun"

Excerpt from my aunt's published letter in With Love, Jane by Alma Lutz
The year was 1943, and my aunt Dorothy H. Schwartz (1919-2001) was only 23 years old when she arrived in England as a WAC. She wrote home to a friend about her feelings as a servicewoman and her satisfaction at having a meaningful role in the war effort.

Auntie Dorothy's letter was one of several dozen included in With Love, Jane, a compilation edited by Alma Lutz, a "leader in the fight for woman suffrage and equal rights" (quoting Vassar College's biographical note).

Happily for me, the interlibrary loan system enabled me to put my hands on a copy of this 199-page book, published in 1945.

Carefully turning the pages, because the binding is a little wobbly after 72 years, I read my aunt's thoughts about being in the Army during WWII and her pride at being "the woman behind the man behind the gun." 

Here an excerpt from the first half of Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz's letter as printed in Alma Lutz's volume. And to borrow my aunt's words--you're darn right I'm proud!

Dear ___,

It is close to 0400, Army time; in anybody's time, when life is at its lowest ebb. I'm not writing because I'm unable to sleep. I'm writing during a pause in my work, for my shift is from midnight to 0730, and I'm writing because of a real desire to talk to you. This is the only way it can be done, for we are thousands of miles apart and I can't call you over the phone and hear your low, clear voice reaching me across the miles . . . But I can see you so well in your letters, I know you can read into these lines my own facial expressions, my movements, my very tones, and that you will understand full well what I am trying to say.

I don't know what it is like outside since I came on duty, for my job is to stick at this desk no matter what happens and not leave it. But probably it is deep, dark night with heavy, low clouds, and the thick mist which obscured everything more than a foot away is burdening the earth. You can believe everything you read or see in the movies about English mist and fog and rain--none of it can be exaggerated. It isn't always like this. I guess I've seen every kind of weather at every hour of the day or night by this time, and England would be beautiful to me whatever the weather.

England! Even now, when the initial excitement has long since passed off, when we have been here long enough to have settled down completely--even now, I say, to use "England" as a return address is still startling at times. And how I revel in this piece of fortune! To be able to visualize myself finally and easily as the woman behind the man behind the gun--could any dream come true be more satisfying? You're darn right I'm proud.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Family History Month: Auntie Dorothy in "With Love, Jane"

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz (1919-2001) was a WAC in WWII, as I've written before. She enlisted on September 11, 1942, the only female member of the family to serve in the military. She finally returned from overseas postings three years after enlisting.

During my Gen Go-Over, I've been searching newspapers for mentions of my ancestors, including Auntie Dorothy. Eureka!

I discovered my aunt's name at the end of a book review printed in The New York Times on Sunday, November 18, 1945. Her letter home was included in a compilation of letters written by 37 female service members. The volume, edited by Alma Lutz, is titled: "With Love, Jane." I've requested that my local library obtain this via inter-library loan so I can see the letter in its entirety.

The brief quote from Dorothy's letter, as excerpted in this book review, reads:
"There is no advantage in war except what the individual makes for himself. In the army we lose eccentricities, prejudices, pettiness, because they cannot survive in the face of matter-of-fact and non-luxurious living." - Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz, WAC

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Amanuensis Monday: My Family in WWII, for Veteran's Day

Moritz Farkas and his wife, Lena Kunstler Farkas, had 18 grandchildren. When WWII started, some of Moritz and Lena's grandchildren were of age to serve in the military. My Uncle Fred and Auntie Dorothy (at left) served, along with their first cousins Harry, George, and Robert and cousin-in-law Abe.

For Veteran's Day, I looked back at what the records of the Farkas Family Tree had to say about our relatives in WWII. This family association, formed in 1933 and active for 31 years, was a key element in keeping up the morale of our service members and supporting the parents, siblings, and children who missed them and worried about them. Often the relatives in the service would write one long letter to "the tree" and have it read at the monthly meetings. And tree members would write to relatives in the service to pass along family news and keep up their spirits.

Luckily for me, the tree secretary took minutes at every meeting and prepared a yearend summary of who did what every year in a historian's report, mixing real news with a hefty dose of humor to dispel the worry.

Excerpts from Farkas Family Tree historian's reports from the WWII years:
  • From December, 1942: "George, who volunteered for the Army Air Corps early in the year, began his training in April. He is now studying at the Bombardier-Navigator School in Louisiana and, according to his letters is making an intensive survey of the southern accent. For excellence in the art of peeling potatoes, he was promoted to the rank of corporal...Abe is now enjoying a vacation at an exclusive hotel in Florida, managed by US Army. Not to be outdone by the boys, Dorothy decided to become a WAAC. She writes that life in the Army is simply thrilling and that she is having many interesting (?) new experiences."
  • From December, 1943: "Uncle Sam decided he needed Fred more than we do, sent him 'Greetings,' and carried him off...This was not the only change which Uncle Sam caused to be made. Earlier in the year, Harry had been inducted...The war has brought a myriad of changes in our lives. Due to gas and tire shortages, we no longer go on our annual picnics and outings...Those are the events of the past year. For the coming year, the earnest hope of all is that 1944 will find the Axis vanquished and our boys home."
  • From December, 1944: "Fred was in basic training at Camp Shelby, Dorothy studied at Oxford, Harry trained at Lawson General Hospital to become an X-Ray technician...George served in Africa and Italy...Dorothy received the Europe-Middle East-Africa Theatre ribbon with combat star...Abe arrived in New Guinea...Robert went overseas with the 78th Division to England, France, and Germany...Fred became an MP and later went to the Separation Classification School at Ft. Dix." 
  • From December, 1945: "Dorothy was discharged on August 31st, having moved with the 9th Air Force from France to Belgium, returning home with the Bronze Star and 6 battle stars...Harry was stationed at Camp Upton, also Tacoma, Ft. Jackson, S.C., and France...Abe crossed the waters to New Guinea, described by him in vivid colors. When he was moved to Manila, he became a s/sgt... Fred was in Camp Shelby, Camp Blanding, and was promoted to s/sgt... Bob was in England and France, where he had a tough life liberating champagne and women. His last stop was Germany, returning with 3 battle stars."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Military Monday: "650 WACs Defy the Subs"

My aunt Dorothy Schwartz was one of 650 WACs in WWII who sailed aboard the RMS Aquitania from New York City on July 8, 1943, arriving at dusk a week later in Gourock, Scotland. It was a risky voyage because the ship sailed alone, without a convoy, under absolute secrecy. They never knew when a German submarine might follow or attack.

RMS Aquitania in Southampton, England
Before the trip, the WACs were held incommunicado at Camp Shanks in New Jersey (guarded by MPs) until they were taken by train to the ship. As historian of the WAC Detachment of the 9th Air Force, Auntie wrote that the WACs "enacted an Ellery Queen radio mystery drama concerning the importance of being security-minded."



Doris Fleeson's article is the cover story


Famed war correspondent Doris Fleeson sailed along with Auntie and her fellow WACs, as well as hundreds of British military personnel. Later that year, Fleeson's long article about the voyage was published in Women's Home Companion as "650 WACs Defy the Subs."

In reading Fleeson's article, I was struck by her mention of "gangplankitis," which she says is "the fear of boarding a ship that might be attacked. Men soldiers have succumbed to it. Sometimes they are hospitalized. Sometimes they are carried aboard. The Wacs entirely escaped gangplankitis."

Once the Aquitania docked and the WACs disembarked, they were met by dignitaries including US Army Captain Sherman, who told them: "You are here safely. The safety of the troops to come depends upon your discretion." Quite a solemn welcome to WACs who would help the Air Force coordinate bombing of enemy targets.

The oral history of Mary Williams Elder was another good source of info about what it was like to be aboard the Aquitania as one of the 650 WACs.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Matrilineal Monday: 1920s School Days in the Bronx

Late in 1984, my aunt Dorothy Schwartz wrote my sis a letter enclosing a newspaper article about her alma mater P.S. 62 at 660 Fox Street, which at the time was "an island of stability in a crumbling neighborhood" of the Bronx, according to the New York Times. P.S. 62 served students in K-4 in 1984 and K-5 today (left), but then it had one of the highest student turnover rates in the city.

My aunt's comments:
P.S. 62 was the elementary school we attended, only then it ran to the 6th grade. I never knew the area was in the South Bronx; I did know it had been renamed Fort Apache. To me, the South Bronx was below 149th St.!
Auntie Dorothy, her twin Daisy (my mom), and their older brother Fred were born in the apartment building across the street from P.S. 62, at 651 Fox Street. Their parents, Minnie Farkas Schwartz and Teddy Schwartz, moved every few years during the 1920s, but always stayed in the neighborhood.

My aunt remembers that after 651 Fox, they lived on Leggett Ave., a few steps away from Teddy's Dairy (my Grandpa's grocery store), which today is a hop, skip, and jump from Bruckner Blvd. Later, the family moved to 712 Fox Street. Finally, they settled at 672 Beck Street, around the corner from Teddy's Dairy store, where they stayed for many years until everyone was grown and my grandparents retired.

Now for some class photos of Daisy and Dorothy at P.S. 62 during the 1920s. Sorry, no notes about which twin is which. Note that the kindergarten class, in a photo taken around Halloween, has more than 30 students. Looking at the other photos, the classes are even larger!
Kindergarten: Daisy and Dorothy are in identical outfits and haircuts with bangs, center of 2d row, with a jack o'lantern between them

Second grade: Daisy and Dorothy at left of center, in matching outfits and haircuts again. Poster at far right is for American Junior Red Cross.
The twins were apparently separated during fourth grade. This is class 413--the twin is in closeup, below.
Dorothy or Daisy in class 413

Class 407, with the other Schwartz twin (along left wall, see closeup below).
Daisy or Dorothy in class 407

Friday, May 18, 2012

Citizens of London: Sgt. Schwartz and WWII

Sgt. Dorothy H. Schwartz, my mother's twin sister, was a  member of the WAC (Women's Army Corps) Detachment of the 9th Air Division (and its historian). She joined the detachment on April 23, 1943 and left it on August 21, 1945.

Auntie Dorothy was one of four stenographers who worked in shifts 24/7 to take notes about changes in aircraft movements and other operational activities vital to the air war. For her support during the period leading up to V-E Day, she received a Bronze Star Medal!

Dorothy was in England for much of her service, following intensive stateside training. So I was very interested in reading the lively, well-written book Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, all about the Americans who "stood with Britain in its darkest, finest hour" (as the cover says). Prominent people like Averell Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and John Gilbert Winant formed close ties to the people of England before and during WWII, staying in or near London as the war progressed and letting America and the world know about the danger and the courage. Not dull, not dry, and very relevant to folks like me who had family members in the war and in Britain.

Olson conveys a wonderful sense of the ups and downs of daily life in London and beyond: What it was like to live in cities under nightly attack from bombs...how American military personnel swarmed in as D-Day approached and turned rural villages into bustling depots for supplies and training...the feeling of "live for today" because tomorrow was very uncertain...the joy of eating an orange after not seeing one for two years...and finally, the strong and enduring "special relationship" between the British and the Americans, personal as well as political.

My aunt was befriended by a family in the British countryside, an experience very much like what Olson describes happening to U.S. GIs and pilots during 1944-5. I have several letters from the family, who wrote to my grandparents (Hermina Farkas Schwartz and Theodore Schwartz) to rave about my aunt and offer reassurances that she looked well and she was being taken care of. Did my aunt stay in touch after the war? I don't know, but I'm grateful that she had caring people around her while she was so far from home for the very first time, in her mid-20s.

Note: One of the comments below is from the VOGW, a group that is honoring Allied troops from WWII who are buried in Waalwijk and compiling information about the role of women in WWII. Visit their site here.