I was long overdue to read this important and relevant book by Jean Rodenbough, published by All Things That Matter Press in 2010.
I give it 5 Stars!
Rachel’s Children: Surviving the Second World War is a powerful collection of essays recalling World War II from the global viewpoint of children and young adults who lived through the upheavals, separations, uncertainties, adjustments, fear, devastation, inhumanity, and loss inflicted on all who found themselves, directly and indirectly, in its path. Even without the statistic noted in its opening pages, that in today’s conflicts 95 – 98% of the casualties are civilians, reading these very personal accounts of growing up through the war to end all wars made it all the more horrendous that as a result of adult megalomania, greed, hatred, and divisiveness, children are still dying, disabled, scared and scarred, displaced by the destruction of their homes, and otherwise exiled from life by the dissolution of their possibilities.
Despite the despair any reminder of this ongoing consequence of violence effects, I felt that inherent in Ms. Rodenbough’s purpose for this book was a desire to touch hearts and consciences through the hope and promise of war’s smallest and most blameless casualties and witnesses.
Reading this book reminded me of how personal lives, social conditions, cultural and religious distinctions, but also the commonalities of the human experience, are vital in any historical narrative. We cannot realize and learn from history if it doesn’t breathe fragilely and resiliently. Ken Burns has done this with his filmed documentaries, which offer discourses of history that are informative and emotive, recognize the significance of the seemingly insignificant, enlarge understanding, and bridge divides. Ms. Rodenbough has achieved something similarly effective through the gathering and presenting of these real-life stories, including her own as a child living in very close proximity to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, at the time her father a pathologist serving at the Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu. It was a very wise decision to let the reminiscences in this volume speak for themselves as they happened and in retrospection, and embrace them with the wisdom, spirituality, and compassion in her poetic voice.
We can always increase our knowledge of history, even when we think we know. When I went to England in the 1970s, I thought I had learned all I needed to about World War II through school, the stories of my father who had served in the Aleutian islands, my mother who had friends who lost brothers and fathers, and, of course, various film depictions. Then my British in-laws, as well as friends and colleagues described their experiences of German planes flying over, of seeing the sky light up when Coventry Cathedral was bombed, and of running for their lives into air raid shelters. I even lived in a Georgian house enlarged to lodge children evacuated from the bombings in London. I felt the energy of homesickness and uncertainty and, yes, even adventure, and couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for children to face separation from family and friends, familiar schools and streets, all the time worrying about those they had left behind in harm’s way and wondering when and if they would return to life as they once knew it.
Rachel’s Children has now given me an even wider perspective on the effect World War II in particular and all wars have on children. It took me on a rollercoaster of condemnation and admiration, heartache and hope, and made me feel even stronger that the travesties of war have the most chance of being ended not by the oldest and most militarily and politically powerful, but by the youngest and most present and farsighted among us.
“Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” ~ John F. Kennedy
Rachel’s Children: Surviving the Second World War is available in Paperback and Kindle Editions.
Jean Rodenbough is a retired Presbyterian minister, active in church and community, and in writers’ organizations. She lives in North Carolina with husband Charles, who is also a writer. Their four children and families all live in nearby. They have a Beagle-Jack Russell, Katie, who gives them a hard time.
Please visit her blog: jeansblender
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