The Years Before World War II

The enthusiasm for Ken Burns' television show "The War" has reminded me of incidents from my Tufts years. In my freshman year 1930-31 when I was rooming in West Hall, I recall a bull session which included a young man from Germany, Konrad Fleischer, Class of '34 from the Engineering School of the college. He was a short, stocky blond boy who told us about a new head of government in Germany who was pulling the country out of the miserable 1920s when economically Germany was deep in poverty. Now one could leave one's bicycle without locking it and it wouldn't be stolen. We innocent Americans believed all that he told us; however, we began to wonder about his clothes. Around the campus, he wore a tan shirt with an armband on his left sleeve that had a strange sign called a swastika. We had never seen one before and did not know what it meant. When we returned for our fiftieth reunion we were told he might attend, but he failed to arrive.

At about this same time, my father, President Guy Winslow, hired a new German teacher for Lasell, the school he had purchased in Auburndale, Massachusetts, in 1908. Ina Gotthelf was one of two sisters, both highly educated in famous German universities. They did not look like sisters. Ina was small and dark, while her sister was a tall, blonde, real Valkyrian figure. My younger sister who was still in school at Lasell , was taking a beginning German class, and Ina Gotthelf told the young girls that they must learn a certain German song because some day there was going to be a big parade in Boston and they would have to sing it. Later it was learned that Ina frequently went to the Boston docks whenever a ship arrived from Germany. By the time of the war, government agents took her away.

Of course, having been born on the Winter Solstice (December 21) in 1911, I can remember World War I. I had no close relatives in the service, but our daily lives were affected. Grassy lawns, including ours at Lasell's Karandon House. in Auburndale, were used for growing potatoes. Our dining room table had at each place a glass covered by a tin cup with just enough sugar for us to use for a specified amount of time. We were told to save peach stones, though I did not learn the reason until sixty years later: they were ground up to be used as filters in gas masks. Kaiser Wilhelm with his mustaches and spiked helmet was considered an icon of evil. We had an old record player and a record of "The Watch on the Rhine." We children used to play it until our father caught us and smashed the record to bits.

In 1917 when the United States joined with Britain against Germany, a little parade was held at Norumbega Park and I appeared as George Washington with a classmate dressed as Martha Washington. We won "silver" cups as prizes. Then on November 11, 1918, all the grade school children celebrated by going down to Lasell's lower field beating pans and kettles, and then to the tower in the Congregational Church to help pull the ropes to ring the bells. Later there was a great parade of returning troops in Boston and we were taken in to view it from the upper window of the Russell-Houston Law Office. Two or three years after that we saw, from the entrance to Boston College, the great French General Foch in another parade along Commonwealth Avenue. I never forgot World War I. Certainly, none of us anticipated there would ever be a World War II or the possibility there might some day even be a World War III.

Written by Donald Winslow in 2007.