Learning About the War

Education was incorporated into civilian mobilization on the Homefront, and children participated in air raid drills and the sale of war bonds in schools across the country. Both film and radio played an important role in disseminating news about the war, as Mickey Elsberg recalls viewing MovieTone newsreels in the theatre and Lew Halin ingeniously constructed his own radio to tune in to the KDKA station in Pittsburgh. After the dust of V-E Day had settled, Elsberg was exposed to another dimension of the war at Temple services, where his rabbi delivered sermons describing the horrors of life in concentration camps.


The War at School—Joan Rosenberg Kovachi

Well, when we were at school, we had to practice what they called air raid drills. A siren would sound, and we would have to crouch under our desks and wait until we heard the all-clear.

We were also encouraged to give money for war bonds. They gave you a book and when you donated money, you got a stamp for the book. And when the book—I guess, if I can remember—was filled up, you got a war bond. It was something that you really, really wanted to do.

MovieTone News—Mickey Elsberg

When you would go to the movies which we did, there was a local movie theater. And in those days, you bought a ticket, and you went into the movie theater, and you sat until essentially you started seeing again what you had seen when you first got there. And so you knew that it was time to leave because you had been there for the full cycle. It wasn’t like today where you go in at an appointed time. And kids, especially in the winter and all, all the kids would be shunted off to the movies on Saturday ’cause it gave parents some free time. And I remember MovieTone News, which was part of the newsreels that would come on, and seeing pictures of naval battles and other things as part of the news. So, we saw those. I guess they didn’t figure that it was X-rated, and the kids shouldn’t see violence so we saw it. It was interesting. I mean, at home we built forts out of spare lumber, and instead of cowboys and Indians, we played Americans and Japanese or Americans and Germans just because we’d heard.

Crystal Radios—Lew Halin

We also built crystal radios so we could listen to the news, you know, when we had to go to bed, at night. There is a certain kind of natural crystal that will collect radio waves and rectify them. So if you have a little thing, it’s called a whisker — a little, bare wire — you could put that down, and you went through a coil. And we used to take the oatmeal cartons, the Quaker Oat cartons, and we would wind a coil on the Quaker Oat cartons. You had to scrounge wire, ’cause there was no wire around, and you would wind this crystal and then — everybody had earphones cause you used to listen to the radios with earphones — and you could hook this up to your earphones, and you could actually hear AM radio stations. And I remember the challenge was to make one that could get KDKA in Pittsburg, ’cause KDKA was, I think, the only clear channel radio station in the United States. You could hear all over the United States, 50,000 watts, I can still remember that.

Hearing About the Holocaust at Temple Services—Mickey Elsberg

Probably it was after the war when some of the war stories started coming back about concentration camps. I do have this vivid recollection because of my father’s working schedule, he wouldn’t go to High Holiday services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We didn’t go every week. So my mother would take me to temple, to services, and the Rabbi’s sermons. I distinctly remember those sermons describing what went on in the concentration camps and elsewhere, the pits that people were forced to dig, and they were all machine gunned and thrown into the pits. I was probably about seven or eight at that point, but I may have had some nightmares after that.