Tag Archives: World War II

Auden’s “Refugee Blues”

A powerful poem, written in 1939, about the plight of European Jews.

REFUGEE BLUES

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
“If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”:
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, “They must die”:
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.

Vel D’Hiv

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the Rafle du Vel d’Hiv in Paris. It took the French over 50 years to admit their very proactive role in this tragedy, and Jacques Chirac was the one to finally tell the truth. For this reason, I will always have respect for him, in spite of his being — in my view – politically objectionable on other matters. There was absolutely nothing for him to gain from this in terms of votes. It was simply the right thing to do.

The Versailles Treaty

When I was in high school, I had a history teacher named Mr. McGrahan. He was mean to me. He was always mystified when I did fabulously well on a test, which was EVERY TIME I WROTE A TEST. He just did not like me. But he said one thing that was useful – he told us that the Versailles Treaty was not unjust, that it was not a cause of World War II, that the Germans had no justification to whinge about it. As I went on to study history at university and on my own time, I came to the conclusion that he was correct, though the received wisdom was always that the Versailles Treaty was unfair to Germany and a cause of the war. This is my very long-winded way of saying that I was thrilled to come upon this column in the Wall Street Journal, written by Joseph Loconte: The Versailles Treaty Gets a Bum Rap. 

I think you should read it!

Another D-Day Story

I found this story particularly poignant.

D-Day veterans have returned to the beaches where they landed 75 years ago to lay crosses and remember their fallen comrades.

Trooper Albert Price, 93, was an 18-year-old gunner with the Royal Dragoon Guards when he landed on Gold beach on D-Day.

He took Betty – his wife of 67 years – by the hand and walked with her on to the historic beach for the first time today.

Read the whole thing and enjoy the pictures. As the kids say, “relationship goals.”

D-Day 75: the Second Front

My uncle’s letter to my grandfather on June 8th, 1944, mentions DDay. He and his Algonquin Regiment comrades were still in England training, and would join the battle in July. But you can see from this letter that the invasion had quite an impact on morale – a positive one. Excerpts:

I am well, of course, and quite happy. Also, of course, excited, for the Second Front is still in the process of being established. You have only a small idea of what it has done to our morale over here. It’s given everything a new meaning, and at day time we watch planes going south, and say, “Ahha!”, see them coming north and nod at one another, watch them going east & west, and murmur excitedly. We see huge convoys going in all directions and wink. We see the Higher Paid Help riding by in their command vehicles and say, “I’ll bet….”

But for the last few weeks you couldn’t imagine the air activity that was going on. Absolutely terrific, and something Canada has still to see. Every sort of plane has gone over us, in all sorts of combinations, by day and by night. We’ve been awakened at night by them, prevented from lecturing by the noise of them, and kept dizzy counting them.

At this date everything seems to be going well on the beachhead, tho’ it’s hard to say from here – just as hard, if not harder, here as it is at home. We get hourly reports, newspapers, radio reports, and all the latest rumors. All of which also make us dizzy.

Read the whole thing and other letters here. 

D-Day 75, a Few Stories

Impossible to overstate the significance of this date. I have a few links about soldiers – all but the last D-Day veterans, all men who served with honour: Windsor veteran going to the commemorations, likely his last; Ninety-nine-year-old veteran reflects on D-Day;  the D-Day experiences of the recently deceased fighter pilot Jack Henry Hilton, via The Memory Project (these folks do wonderful work); Louis Levi Oakes, last of the Mohawk code talkers, dies.