Love In Wartime

We are never “unanchored” from the past. All that makes us unique is we are those who are alive. After we are gone, we will be the history future generations will look back on – such as the likes of this from 1940-1945:

[Marie Vassiltchikov, Berlin Diaries 1940-1945. (1985, 1988.) Photo by me, 2023.]

Within Marie Vassiltchikov’s (1917-1978) posthumously published diary above, she writes several times of a friend (given a pseudonym) about the same age who is half-German/half-American. Through her, she also knows her mother, an American woman (also given a pseudonym), who is married to a German businessman (never named at all). The family has evidently long-resided in Germany or never lived in the U.S. as a group. In her first mention of them, Marie reveals the American and her German husband also have a son who had left his American wife and children in California in 1939 to return to Nazi Germany to join the German army.

Marie writes that once within a packed (very slow-moving) train heading from a heavily-bombed Berlin for Leipzig in 1943, standing and separated from her husband within the carriage, that American woman keeps calling out loudly in English to her husband (and he responds much the same in English), “Honey!” – “Yes, lovey! Are you all right?” On another occasion, during an air raid and sheltering in a cellar (with U.S. planes likely dropping the bombs), the American blurts out: “We can be proud of one thing… We have just witnessed one of the greatest disasters in modern history!” again seemingly oblivious to the Germans around.

Aside from those and a few other references, that American woman, her German husband, and Marie’s friend their daughter, are last mentioned in a September 1945 entry as arrested by the Czechs (where they are staying just inside liberated Czechoslovakia) and charged with espionage. We learn nothing more. A historical curiosity, that American woman then vanishes, it seems, from history.

Her son’s military fate is also unshared. In a January 1944 entry, Marie writes that she has encountered him at his parents’ apartment in Berlin while he is “on leave from Guernsey.” (Guernsey is the second-largest of the Channel Islands – a British-dependency not far off Normandy, which was basically indefensible once the Germans had conquered the nearby mainland; the few British forces there hurriedly retreated from the islands back to England and Guernsey was occupied by German troops from June 30, 1940 until May 8, 1945. Presumably, his fluent English was put to use there.) As with his parents and his sister, nothing more is written of him after that. Another historical curiosity.

[William L. Shirer, Broadcasters for the Axis: The American Radio Traitors. Library of America: Reporting World War II, Part One, American Journalism 1938-1944. Photo by me, 2023. He refers there to one Norman Baillie-Stewart.]

More important in terms of wider impact, that 1943 article on U.S. citizens indicted for treason by a grand jury in Washington due to their broadcasting radio propaganda for the enemy German and Italian governments. In it, CBS News American journalist William L. Shirer (whose wife was Austria-born) also mentions a British officer he had met in Berlin who had joined the Nazi enemy. Shirer believes that man’s traitorous motivation was primarily love for a German woman.

Why do I bring that all up? Those individuals’ personal stories may be intriguing. However, much more important is our need always to determine and to prioritize what is actually important knowledge for us to have as opposed to what is merely another “historical curiosity” of no wider consequence to anyone beyond those individuals immediately involved.

One example, now we fast-forward to 2023:

The Associated Press’s “Beat the odds,” “eHarmony,” reporting style here provides no broader explanation for why that “love story” is in any way relevant to us; it is merely a story of two isolated people. Moreover, as a “news” report making them both look like “victims” – “She moved to Czechia soon after the war started while he stayed at home in Russia. But they didn’t give up.” – it in its way also propagandizes for Putinists in “supporting” the assertion that both sides are “equally” burdened by this war (when they are clearly not). Also the “news” space wasted on it pushes aside a further possible report of new murder and mayhem in Ukraine: As AP news consumers, we might well reasonably ask what building was blown up and how many died whom we did not read about, and will never know their names, so the AP could devote space to this?

What may have made it somewhat worthwhile for us would have been positioning it within the bigger war context in terms of delving into, say, why he, age 23 (and thus prime military age), is not in the Russian army when hundreds of thousands of often much older and even married men with children have been called up. Despite the definition of “news” including there being wider social/policy consequences flowing from that which is being reported about individuals, that “report” offers us nothing but silence on that rather obvious wartime question. Note especially in comparison that Shirer’s 1943 mention of that British officer and a German woman is shared within a much broader piece about traitors: it is the officer’s traitorous behavior, made worse by him having been a military officer, both of which are issues that fall into realm of the wider public interest, that is newsworthy, and NOT, in itself, their “love story.” Like those tales of American/German and German/American married couples shared by Vassiltchikov, during World War II there were assuredly, somewheres, also a Pole and a German couple, or a Russian and a German, or a Chinese and a Japanese, and the list could go on – but NONE of their “love circumstances” in themselves were relevant in the broader war situation coverage any more than that Russian and Ukrainian pairing above is now. Terming that last even a “footnote” is indeed to give it far too much importance.

Marie Vassiltchikov, who had lived in Nazi Germany as a “White Russian” refugee since early 1940, had worked for the Nazi government in the department of foreign affairs as a translator and secretary, and who had dined with German soldiers – like that German soldier who had been stationed on Guernsey – who given the chance would have just months before killed a U.S. soldier on sight, married U.S. army Captain Peter Harnden in early 1946. Also, one of Harnden’s wedding ushers was a former German officer. However, by then the war was over (and he and Marie would remain married until his death in 1971).

So that Russian/Ukrainian romance might perhaps serve as the basis for some “uplifting” novel or even an “inspirational” Netflix film maybe in a few years – AFTER the war ends and the goal is reconciliation (hopefully). Currently, though, the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine is ongoing. It is NOT the time (yet) for Russian/Ukrainian “love” stuff.

[Kyiv, Ukraine, March 18, 2022. Photo by u0410u043bu0435u0441u044c u0423u0441u0446u0456u043du0430u045e on]

The Associated Press really should delete that piece – or at least greatly reduce its prominence to much better reflect its lack of substantive news value, but the “news” service will almost certainly leave it up… and if it has to be there it at least serves as an unwitting example of journalism having gone off the rails.

William L. Shirer would be appalled.