The World War II and other historical wars


The Shawl is a historical short story that was first published in The New Yorker by Cynthia Ozick. The story is based on the World War II and is based on three female characters; Stella, Rosa and Magda and the occurrences that surround their shift to a Nazi concentration camp where they were interned. Magda is Rosa’s baby while Stella is her niece. The story narrates the trio’s march to the concentration camp. It is a terrible experience as they have nothing to eat and are too weak to walk. Stella is so feeble; the author describes her knees as tumors on sticks to depict the graveness of her state. Rosa has to carry Magda constantly, wrapped in a shawl and held close to her chest. The author refers to her as a walking cradle for this. At some Rosa thinks of giving up Magda to one of the guards watching them but decides against it immediately as she knows that the guard would probably just shoot both of them dead. The shawl is somewhat magical to Rosa because Magda is able to live through three days and nights with no food just from sucking on it. Stella tells Rosa that she thinks that Magda looks Aryan. This worries Rosa because she knows that Magda could get killed for it. They finally arrive at the concentration camp and Rosa continues hiding Magda as she lives in constant fear that one of the guards will discover her and kill her. It is very cold at the camp and one day Stella decides to use Magda’s shawl to keep warm. The shawl seems to have been a source of comfort for Magda because she immediately starts to cry out for her mother, something she had not done throughout the march to the camp. Rosa, in spite of hearing the screams cannot go to Magda because then, the guards would kill them both. So she grabs the shawl from Stella and begins waving it at Magda hoping to calm her before the guards discover her. She is however too late as the guards have already seen her. They grab Magda and haul her into an electric fence, and she dies. Rosa is unable to stop screaming and has to stuff the shawl into her mouth to stop herself.

Reading The Shawl gives the reader a chance to understand the horror that was the Holocaust. As is depicted in the story, the Holocaust remains one of the bloodiest wars to have taken place. It took place during the reign of Adolf Hitler and over 6 million European Jews, including children, were killed. Records to find Jews were sought with the help of Bureaucrats. Their property was confiscated and a large number of them deported. Companies that had Jewish employees fired them. They were later taken up as slave workers. Those who were in universities were also dismissed. They were then taken as prisoners in Nazi Concentration Camps or what was commonly known as the death camps. Before being taken into the camp, all their property was taken away. The camps were horrible with not food, water or proper sanitation. Some of the prisoners died from starvation or diseases contracted, others from the injuries sustained from the torture while the rest were killed by the Nazi guards.

Film: Holocaust (TV Mini-Series 1978)

Holocaust. Dir.  Marvin J. Chomsky.   Prod. Robert Berger and Herbert Brodkin. By Gerald Green. Perf. Joseph Bott, Tovah Felds, Rosemary H., Tony Haygarth et al. National Broadcasting Company.  April 19, 1978.

Holocaust is a 4 part American Television series that focuses on the tale of a Jewish family in the struggle to ensure that they make it through the ruthless Nazi extermination of the Jewish community. Joseph Weiss, one of the main actors, is a Polish emigrant and a seasoned medical practitioner. He practices in Berlin where he also lives with his wife, three children and his wife’s parents. Karl, the oldest son of the family, marries an Aryan and is consequently faced by anti-Semitism. His family decides to remain in Berlin in spite of being forced to move. One of the doctor’s German patients is married to Eric Dorf, who joins the Nazi Party because he is struggling with his career as an attorney. In three years so much change occurs in Germany. At first, the doctor is forbidden from treating Aryan patients and eventually his practice is shut down and taken over by a German doctor. His home is raided and valuables, including Berta’s piano, are confiscated. His son Karl is also arrested. The doctor pleads with Dorf to help him get his son released but he is turned down. He is also deported to Poland where he reunites with Moses, his brother. He leaves his wife Berta, his son Rudy and daughter Anna behind. They have to live in horrible condition in a single room given to them by Karl’s wife’s family. Rudy, overcome by frustrations joins a movement resisting Nazi rule. Anna is raped by German soldiers, an ordeal that gets her into a state of depression and she no longer communicates with anybody. She is sent to a mental institution in accordance with Nazi laws. Here, she is killed through carbon monoxide poisoning and her family lied to that she died of pneumonia. Berta is also deported and she reunites with her husband. Karl ends up working in an art studio where he and other artists make portraits showing the reality of life in the Ghetto. The artists are tortured because of this and all of them die except Karl. He is transferred to Auschwitz where he later dies. Rudi ends up in Czechoslovakia where he meets Helena and together they fight with other Jewish partisans. They are captured and Helena is killed. Rudi eventually travels to Europe to find his family. At the end of the war, Dorf is arrested and is awaiting trial for war crimes. He commits suicide, like other Nazi officials by swallowing a cyanide pill.

Holocaust is similar to The Shawl in the sense that it relates the experiences of the World War II with particular reference to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi Germans. Throughout the series, we get to see the pain and suffering that Jews are put through during the Holocaust.  The doctor’s practice is brought down, his property taken away and he is also deported. His family remains behind and faces the tribulations; Anna is raped and eventually killed in the mental institution she is taken to. Karl is taken prisoner, separated from his wife and he eventually succumbs to illness obviously contracted while in detention. Watching this movie is very eye-opening on the Holocaust. It is undoubtedly one of the bloodiest genocides to have occurred in the history of Germany.

Music: “One” by Metallica

Metallica. “One”. And Justice for All, 1989.  CD.

One is a thrash metal song done by Metallica, a heavy metal band based in America. The song was released in 1989 and is the final single in the album dubbed And Justice for All. The song was written by band members and hit as an anti-war song. The song is based on the experiences of a soldier in the World War. He gets hit badly in combat, loses his arms and legs following the explosion of a landmine and therefore cannot move. He also loses his sight, hearing and speech. He also seems to be suffering from trauma as he says that all that he can see is absolute horror, definitely due to the terrible experiences he had in the war. He now lives in constant pain and begs God to take his life as it has now completely lost meaning. His situation is disheartening. He cannot even communicate with the hospital staff and this makes it difficult for him to get any help with his pain. The hook of the song has him pleading with God to help him hold his breath so he dies “Hold my breath as I wish for death/ oh please, God, wake me”.

Wars leave their victims with permanent scars, both physical and emotional as is depicted by the song One. The soldier sustains very serious injuries during the war. He loses his limbs and senses of sight, hearing and speech. He is constantly in pain, so much that he pleads with God to take his life.  The war also leaves him traumatized.  The story of this soldier represents the suffering that the victims of war go through. The loss of limbs and his senses symbolizes the losses that victims of war incur. They suffer bodily harm and sometimes even death; lose their family, friends and property. Even when the war is over, victims of war can never have a normal life again.

Lyrics of One:

I can’t remember anything
Can’t tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel to scream
This terrible silence stops me

Now that the war is through with me
I’m waking up, I cannot see
That there is not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Back to the world that’s much too real
In pumps life that I must feel
But can’t look forward to reveal
Look to the time when I’ll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me

Now the world is gone, I’m just one
Oh God, help me
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, help me

Darkness imprisoning me
All that I see
Absolute horror
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell

Landmine has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell

Art: Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

Pablo Picasso. Guernica. 1937. Pablo Picasso. Web.

Guernica is a famous war portrait that was made by Pablo Picasso in 1937, a time when there was a wave of unrest not only in Spain but in the rest of the world as well. The Second World War began few years after this. It was named after the Spanish city Guernica that was bombed during the Spanish Civil War by Nazi soldiers. The portrait gave a visual account of the impacts he war had on its victims; both men and women, and the communities in which these people lived. In the portrait, one sees victims of the Guernica bombing. Some of them are still alive while others are already dead. The figure of a man who appears to be dead is sprawled in the front of the portrait. In the background of this figure are other victims who are still alive. They are wailing in pain with their heads reclining to their backs. To the left is a mother who holds on to the body of her dead child, who succumbed to the bombing. An enraged bull and a horse can also be seen in the portrait. A man holding a sword is on the horse’s back.

Guernica, as is the case with the other works of art discussed earlier in the essay, is a depiction of the effects of war on its victims. War, as seen in Guernica, leaves the land in chaos and confusion as everyone is trying to escape to safety. Death of victims is also an inevitable in any war and this is shown in the portrait by the man who lies lifeless in the front and the dead child being held by its mother to the left. The pain of losing family, friends and possessions is also part of what victims of war have to bear. This is depicted by the figures in the portrait that have their heads thrown back in grief as they wail. The portrait tells the sad story of the effects of wars on its victims in more details than words would ever give.

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Literature:  The First Year of my Life by Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark. The First Year of My Life. New York: E.P. Dutton. 1985.

The First Year of My Life is a war short story that is told by narrator born in the second month of the First World War. She begins by saying that she did not smile all through the first year of her life because she was aware of what was going on around her. The narrator is of the theory that babies are omniscient in their early years of life. They can also listen to any conversation they want to listen to and be anywhere they want to be. This power is however lost when they grow older. The narrator recalls having to sleep twenty hours a day so as to ensure that she got enough strength to take her through the four hours that she stayed awake. All around her was the horrific sight of blood, dismembered bodies, explosions and flashing lights in the skies. She goes ahead to describe the effects the war had on the economical wellbeing of all persons regardless of their social classes. Commodities such as sugar, butter, meat and other food stuffs were rationed as they were being shipped off to the soldiers in Europe, where the war was taking place. In Berlin and Vienna there was unrest as the people were freezing and starved and were therefore rioting and causing chaos in the streets. Men were forcefully being recruited to go to war and this meant that there would be no labor for the factories. As such, women had to take over the jobs in the farms and factories.

The First Day of My Life is similar to all other works of art discussed in this essay because it also talks about the effects of war. Victims of the war have to live in unending sorrow and grief as is characterized by the narrator when she confesses not smiling all through her first year of life. Death, another effect of the war is also mentioned in the short story where the narrator talks about the conscripted soldiers in France who leapfrogged over the bodies of the people who had succumbed to the war. As is characteristic of wars, there was a rationing of essential commodities and this resulted in starvation. People also contracted diseases from the war and did not recover from them. This is depicted by the narrator’s uncle who develops a lung infection following a poison-gassing incident in the trenches. Forced labor was also an effect of the war and in this story, women fell victim as they were forced to work in factories and farms since their male counterparts had been picked to go into war. Although The First Day of My Life does not give a lot of the grueling details of the war that are given in the other works of arts, it still is a great read on the effects of war to its victims.

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