In a few days it will be the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II. On September first, 1939, Adolph Hitler invaded the free state of Danzig which he had long coveted. This event had been expected and yet hoped against. Neville Chamberlain's hesitancy and weakness in his dealings with "Der Fuhrer" got much of the blame as I recall, but I have no pretensions to be an historian and am certainly no authority.
Everyone knew the war was coming. Great Britain had been expecting it for years, ever since the Treaty of Versailles, an agreement which satisfied no one. The emergence of the monstrous Hitler, who bulldozed his way to complete power over the citizens of Germany, brought on the evil day when, as someone wrote "The lights went off all over the world".
In July, 1939, I was traveling with my mother on a Danish cargo liner which tied up at the port of Gdynia, Poland. We managed to get ourselves to nearby Danzig, a towered and spired old city that had once belonged to the Hanseatic League. We knew we had time for only a glimpse and walked around excitedly, taking pictures and occasionally exchanging smiles with a friendly native. Suddenly there was commotion up the street where we were walking and a brigade of Storm Troopers came goose-stepping along. My mother was snapping a picture when one of the soldiers stepped out of line, grabbed the Kodak, tore out the film and threw the camera back to her before rejoining his fellows and hardly missing a step. It seemed to happen in a split second--so fast that we were left gasping. We knew that Hitler had been threatening this beautiful old city. This ominous show of confidence was terrifying.
In mid-August of that year we were staying for a few days near a village on the edge of one of Norway's magnificent fjords. It's been seventy years and I no longer remember the name of the village. The fjord was either the Hardanger or the Stavanger -- another lapse of memory. What I saw there, although not ominous at the time, is something I will never forget. It was a beautiful summer Sunday, not a cloud in the sky, the water sparkling in the sun. A German submarine had surfaced and the young sailors were strolling around, making eyes (and, no doubt, passes) at the pretty Norwegian girls who apparently were enjoying the flirtation. All that was needed was music to make it a scene from a musical comedy. It seemed a picture of happy, innocent fun as on the part of the girls it was. As for the young men, they were mostly members of the Hitler's Jugend, brain-washed and conditioned to think as he, their master, thought.
That was August, 1939. In April of 1940 the Nazis, with the connivance of the despicable traitor, Vidkun Quisling, invaded Norway. That same submarine may well have surfaced at the same idyllic spot. Its commander knew the way to reach it.
My story is not ended. Danzig had not yet been invaded, the S.S. Athenia had not yet been sunk, England and France had not declared war. We, American citizens, had still to make long voyage home.