This is a place to reflect on history's greatest conflict. You'll see stories about soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and civilians, people I've been privileged to meet as a reporter for Louisiana's largest daily newspaper, The Advocate. You're welcome to share stories of your own by posting a comment or emailing the author at email@example.com.
Marthe Cohn speaks about her World War II experiences. (Photo by Raegan Labat, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
By George Morris
For four years in France during World War II, Marthe Cohn tried to avoid German forces while helping fellow Jews do the same. Her sister, Stephanie, was unable to avoid the Nazis and died in Auschwitz.
Once Allied forces liberated Paris, however, Cohn was more than a survivor. She became a heroine.
Blonde, blue-eyed and fair-skinned, Cohn became a spy inside Germany and uncovered information credited for saving lives and speeding the war’s end.
Siblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerald Jorda saw their country, France, occupied then liberated during World War II. (Photo by Travis Spradling, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana)
By George Morris
When anniversaries of the end of World War II in Europe — or V-E Day — come around, it’s an abstraction for most Americans. Not for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, siblings Marie Jorda Jones and Gerard Jorda.
Both were teens in northern France when the war came to their country in 1940. By the time it ended, Marie was engaged to an American. In between, they endured an occupation that turned them into refugees for more than two years.
Most Americans remember World War II through the eyes of veterans who fought, families who awaited their return, or from movies produced from the victors’ point of view.
Eva Rieseler Bardsley had a different vantage point.
Bardsley grew up in Berlin and was 12 years old when Germany’s surrender in 1945 ended the war in Europe. She saw her city turned to rubble, was bombed out of her home three times and separated from her family for more than a year. She struggled to avoid starvation and rape in the chaos of war’s end.
“I should have folded up,” said Bardsley, a longtime Watson, Louisiana, resident. “But I really had a good outlook on life, and even those times as a little girl, I always hoped and prayed there was a better time coming.”
Conrad Meijer was a Dutch civilian teenager who spent much of World War II as a prisoner of the Japanese. (Photo by Patrick Dennis, used by permission of The Advocate, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.)
By George Morris
As a Dutch teenager who never took up arms in World War II, Conrad Meijer seemed unlikely to end up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Meijer, however, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Meijer grew up in India, where his father, Johan, built sugar refineries. In 1938, his parents sent him to a boarding school in Indonesia, which then was a Dutch colony. Meijer was at the school when they heard radio reports of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
Java, Indonesia’s most populous island, is a long way from Hawaii, but it didn’t take long for World War II to arrive. Within hours of its strike on Pearl Harbor, Japan attacked the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Singapore was captured on Feb. 15, 1942, and Japanese forces moved into Sumatra and Java.
Meijer (pronounced MY-er) later learned his father had sent money to the school to pay for his evacuation, but it didn’t arrive in time.
This is a horrific account of eastern German civilians, either in fear of or response to the Soviet conquest of their towns, killing themselves and their children. Given how Soviet soldiers treated the Germans, it is understandable, but no less terrible. H/T to Dirk de Klein.