It may seem odd to describe a collection of letters home from war-torn Europe as cheerfully high-spirited, but Mollie Weinstein Schaffer, born in Detroit in 1916, belongs to a zesty, can-do generation. Enlisting in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Schaffer faithfully wrote home to her family from 1943 through 1945, in letters now edited by her daughter Cyndee Schaffer as “Mollie’s War: The Letters of a World War II WAC in Europe,” out from McFarland & Company Publishers.
From basic training in Florida to service in wartime England, France, and Germany, Schaffer had somber duties to perform as a medical stenographer; among her assignments was to evaluate whether Nazi medical experiments had genuine research value (it was decided they did not). Yet attention is also paid to lighter matters such as makeup, perfume, and dating fellow Jewish soldiers whom Schaffer jauntily terms “M.O.T.’s” (Members of the Tribe).
Her attitude is so ebullient that in 1944, Danny Raskin, a young columnist for the Detroit Jewish News, pleads with Schaffer to file dispatches to inform hometown readers. Schaffer is too busy to comply, but Raskin might belatedly review “Mollie’s War” for the Detroit Jewish News, to which he still contributes.
One stunning moment which Schaffer describes is the 1945 rededication of the only synagogue in Frankfurt to survive 1938’s Kristallnacht. Schaffer notes that “very few local” Jews had survived the war “from this once large community of 34,000 Jews.” She adds:
These Jews were not dramatic, nor did they carry-on, but one could discern readily the untold suffering they had experienced these many years. They held their heads high – and we were all proud to be a part of them. Yes, the Germans watched us walking in the synagogue and out – they were hanging out of their windows eyeing us carefully. Not one remark was passed; nor did they even speak amongst themselves, that is, while we stared back at them.
Equally eye-opening is the graffiti which Schaffer discerns on a wall in Versailles in 1945: “Vive Pétain… Mort aux juifs” (“Long Live Pétain; death to the Jews”), which as the editor notes, “indicates that not all the French welcomed the liberation of their territory by the Allied forces.”
Whether jokingly asking her mother to send kreplach via the army mail or expressing concern for wounded relatives in the armed forces, Schaffer, now living in Illinois, has given us a document of inestimable value.