WWII, Holocaust stories
Dr. Lowell Peterson remembers hearing about World War II as a child from conversations among his parents and neighbors and over the radio.
“This war touched every land mass, every ocean in the world,” Peterson said. “Fifty-five million people died as a result of World War II. At the end of the war in Europe there were 12 million refugees. In America, 15 million men served during the war.”
Peterson, a retired cardiologist with lifelong roots in Waupaca County, is the author of several books, including The Birds Were Silver Then, in which he recounts his own experiences during the Vietnam War.
In December, Peterson released the second edition of The Sun Rose Clear: Stories of WWII and the Holocaust.
Originally published in 2002, The Sun Rose Clear presents first-hand accounts of area WWII veterans and essays by Peterson on the history of the war. Some of the accounts first appeared as a series in the Waupaca County Post.
The second edition includes new accounts, not only by veterans but from Holocaust survivors. It also has more chapters on the history of the war.
“I like to write the background so the reader can understand why these battles were important and why they were critical in our victories,” Peterson said.
Among the Holocaust survivors Peterson interviewed are Henry Golde and Fela Warschau, both of whom have shared their personal experiences at Nazi concentration camps with audiences at area schools and libraries.
Warschau was 13 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. She remembered the reign of terror, the beatings, shootings and burning of synagogues.
Her 80-year-old grandmother was killed in the back of a sealed truck by a hose attached to the exhaust during an early experiment with gassing Jews.
Warschau survived more than two years in a ghetto, 10 days in Auschwitz, a work camp in Hamburg and the death camp at Bergen-Belsen, where she and other survivors were liberated by British soldiers at the end of the war.
Peterson relates Warschau saying, “Hate breeds hate. It does not breed anything good in the world. God created us all, no matter what our color, no matter what the shape of our eyes, no matter what our ethnic origins are. We should love one another, not hate one another.”
Another first-hand account was from Anne Vanherwynen, who was 13 when Germany invaded her home country of Holland in 1940. She describes the many acts of bravery as Dutch families attempted to save their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis by hiding them in their homes.
At one point, a regiment of German soldiers moved into the small town where Vanherwynen lived. The Dutch residents, including Vanherwynen’s grandparents, were required to provide rooms for the soldiers.
“The German officer looked the room over and saw a picture of Queen Wilhelmina hanging on the wall. He looked at Grandma and said, ‘That picture is coming down,’” Vanherwynen recalled, noting her grandmother refused to take down the picture.
“So, for three months, the SS slept in that room under the picture of the Quenn of Netherlands,” she said.
Although he worked with Vanherwynen for nearly 30 years, Peterson said he did not learn of her experiences with the Underground until after the first edition of The Sun Also Rises came out.
A key difference between the first and second edition comes from his own recognition of the prejudice “not only against the Jews, but against blacks in our military because the armed services were totally segregated in World War II,” Peterson said.
“I did a self-examination and wondered how I would have reacted if I had lived in Germany. Would I have jumped on Hitler’s bandwagon?” he said.
Peterson points to a quote on the back of the second edition of his book. It comes from Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn, a chaplain who spoke at the dedication of the Marine Cemetery at Iwo Jima in 1945.
“Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor – together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews – together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color,” the rabbi said. “Among these men, there is no discrimination. No prejudices. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.”
Peterson said World War II was a war against the evil of prejudice.
“In many countries, World War II was paramount in breaking down prejudice,” Peterson said. “In America, it led to the civil rights movement and to much more tolerance of minorities, including Jews.”
The Sun Rose Clear is available at Book World in Waupaca. It may also be ordered directly from the author: Lowell Peterson, 2627 Beechwood Court, Appleton, WI 54911. The cost is $18.95 plus tax.