Carol Baker was born in 1939, and grew up in Baltimore and Pasadena, Maryland. During World War II, she collected tin foil and her mother volunteered with the American Red Cross. Her family rented rooms to servicemen during the war. Two of her uncles served in World War II, one of whom liberated a concentration camp in Germany. After the war, her family became friends with people who had been both on the American and German sides of the conflict.
In this interview, Carol discusses her most vivid memories as a young girl growing up during World War II, including rationing and resource collection efforts. She speaks about the experiences family members and friends had during this time, and the celebrations as World War II concluded. Carol ends the interview by talking about post-war America and the ways in which she learned about the World War II after it ended.
The End of the War
SB: Okay, what’s your earliest memory of World War II?
When the war was over [in 1945].
SB: Can you please describe it?
The war was over. We knew we were having a war with Germany, and when they announced it was over on the radio, everybody was hanging around the radio, because there wasn’t any TV. And when they announced it was over, we got an old siren out and rang it, and then people on the river started shooting off, people that had fireworks or something. I don’t know how come they had fireworks because it wasn’t 4th of July, but they shot off fires and flares. And it was all exciting. The kids were all excited and we were, “There’s one over there going up, and there’s one here!”
Effects on Everyday Life
SB: How did World War II affect your everyday life, like your family life and school? As you’re walking around your home, did you know the effects of the war?
We knew we couldn’t get certain foods. They were rationed and you had a little book. And when you went shopping you could use one of your stamps to get more butter or flour. I understand that tinfoil on the back of gum drops and everything; they took that off and we saved that. So we’d bring it home and had a ball. And I understand they never even used the tinfoil for the war effort.
We also could buy bonds at school, bring them in. And you bring in a quarter or something and put it towards a bond. But I was sort of young, so you just remember there were certain things you couldn’t get, foods.
Uncle Liberating a Prison Camp
My two uncles went in the war.
SB: Did you lose them or did they come home?
No, they came home. One of them was there when they opened one of the prisoner camps, and they said they saw the people just were starving to death. They threw dynamite in the pond and the fish came up. And they just ate the fish raw, they were so hungry. He was driving a truck in the war, and I remember him telling that story. But that’s all I remember.
Parents’ Friends from the War
SB: Did you know anyone who, besides your uncles, who got involved with the war? Best friends, best friends’ parents?
After the war, my parents had some friends visit. [One said] that he was on a submarine and for the German side. He said he was over off of Los Angeles, and they actually could see the United States. And my father got these two friends together, one was German and one was American, for a day picnic on the beach, and introduced them. And they talked about what they did, one from one side and one from the other side. But I was interested in swimming. I wasn’t interested in listening to what they were saying, except that this is unusual to have two submariners, one on the American side and one on the German side.
Reaction to the End of the War
SB: So how did you react? Like you said your earliest memory of the war was of it ending. How did you react, how did your whole family react once the war was over?
Everybody was so excited. It was just, people didn’t want to stay in their houses. They just wanted to go out and talk about it, and how lucky we are. And people coming home—when they came home, they had parades and people were just so happy. It was just like winning the World Series, only bigger. [laughs]