The letter I just transcribed made me gasp aloud as I was typing.
I haven’t read these letters in years. As I transcribe them, I’m coming to most of it cold. And I had obviously forgotten about this passage in one of Babe’s May 1943 letters: “I hope that when I leave here, I stay with all of these fellows, with the exception of one or two stinking Jews.”
I had not anticipated confronting such an ugly remark when I started this project. It didn’t occur to me to censor it or edit it out; it’s an ugly display of antisemitism and it’s the reality of Babe’s life, as disappointing and disturbing as that is.
It’s doubly disturbing because it is an attitude that must have been tolerated by his parents; why else would he have felt free to say such a thing in a letter to them? Further, my grandparents were Italian, first-generation immigrants to the United States. They had experienced bigotry and discrimination for their own heritage.
For heaven’s sake, Babe was an Italian-American, and a tyrant in the land of his ancestors was one of the reasons Americans were at war. If that wasn’t cause for anti-Italian sentiment, what was!
And yet, the family was willing to perpetuate such an attitude again the Jews.
It makes me wonder whether Babe’s attitudes changed as he served next to others of different faiths and backgrounds.
It makes me wonder if Babe ever became aware of the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany? Or, beyond that, the atrocities the Nazis committed in the death camps, gas chambers and incinerators? Did he ever know about the Holocaust before he was killed? It is unlikely that he did; but if he had, would it have changed his attitudes in any way?