A WW2 Oral History

My grandmother, Barbara Barsky, was born on March 7, 1936 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a freezing cold city in the center of Canada. As she grew up, she attended San Diego

3 years ago

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My grandmother, Barbara Barsky, was born on March 7, 1936 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, a freezing cold city in the center of Canada. As she grew up, she attended San Diego State University to study sociology and then attended USD for a graduate degree in law, ultimately paving the way for where I am so fortunate to live today. She has been many things throughout her career, from a tax lawyer to a criminal defense attorney and finally to a real estate developer, but most importantly, her stories are timeless and a relic of the past.

Throughout her entire youth, family was the single most important aspect of her life, instilled in her deeply by her 8 aunts and uncles and her jewish identity. Yet, these identifiers are exactly what made my grandmother so prone to the atrocities and consequences of World War II, as so tragically seen in the death of her uncle Morris Soronow.

Morris was the star of the family—bright, handsome, and driven—and yet all that was taken away without a moment's notice on the beaches of Normandy, where he is still buried today. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the impact his death had on my grandmother’s family back home in Canada, just like it was for millions of other mothers and fathers waiting for their boy to come home.  Despite being just six years old at the time, she describes the war as “a time I've never forgotten.. we couldn’t even bear to talk about it”. For Barbara, the trauma didn’t end with Germany’s surrender: “we didn’t turn music on for like three months and my grandmother and grandfather really never got over it”.

This story is one among countless other narratives that reveal the totality of the war effort like never seen before in history and the way that WW2 changed identities across the globe. For my grandmother, this is clearly displayed in both her jewish heritage and her role as a woman. Before the war, her father was practicing in a situation where jews were very discriminated against and this manifested itself during The Holocaust as a fierce anger, horror and newfound determination for a jewish state.

On the other hand, the war also changed things for women. As my grandmother eloquently describes, “the way people thought of women and the way women thought of themselves shifted dramatically” as women like her mother began to get involved in political organizations to help the war effort or volunteering in hospitals as nurses. And yet, I think most shocking to me is the way my grandmother describes the fervor, passion, and righteousness surrounding the conflict. For example, her brother was in a youth army at age 12; people wanted to go into the army and fight! At the same time that it “invaded every aspect of our lives”, everyone also “fought in their own way”. This was a war without doubt or regret, she says, when I asked about possible anti-german sentiment at the time. There was tremendous agreement for who we were fighting and why.

This was a war, in my grandmother’s eyes, that we simply had to win, that “only ended when we finally triumphed”. My main takeaway from this oral history and a glimpse into the past is just how all-encompassing World War II was, in a way that could never be represented through textbooks. For my grandmother, most people she knew had somebody fighting in the war and she herself was closely connected to the death happening overseas. For me, peacetime is all I know and I’ve rarely felt personally the impacts of war and global conflict thus far.

Hearing my grandmother’s story makes me appreciate the comfort in which I live and the brave soldiers who risked their lives protecting our American ideal.

Lucas Bernicker

Published 3 years ago