Sunday, June 17, 2012

Letters from wartime California


"For over 50 years," writes Gridley resident Joan Brock, "Rigmor, my grandmother's niece, lovingly kept Helga's notebooks safe in her home in Copenhagen." Those notebooks contained letters that Helga, then living in Palo Alto, wrote to her family in Denmark during World War II. Because of the Nazi occupation the letters could not be mailed, but Helga continued to write them anyway, filling five notebooks during wartime. "Rigmor told me she had saved these letters and wanted to give them to me, but she just could not bear to part with them." Eventually she made copies and sent them to Brock "in 2005, just prior to her death. I found the letters so compelling, I published them."

The collection, lightly annotated, is called "My Dear, Dear Rigmor: Helga's Letters Written During WWII" ($19.99 in paperback from Xlibris; also in Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook e-book formats). Nancy Wiegman interviewed Joan Brock for Nancy's Bookshelf, which airs on KCHO (Northstate Public Radio, 91.7 FM) Friday mornings at 10:00 a.m.; the archive is found at

Helga's letters are a profoundly human mix of family minutiae and geopolitical reflections. "Coffee goes on rationing next week--one pound per person from 15 years old and up--every 5 weeks. That's still enough" (November 25, 1942). "For the first time, millions of people in the U.S. are paying income tax" (March 12, 1944). "All the years I lived here, I can't see a good-looking head of cauliflower, that [I] don't want it, and every time I do buy it, I am disappointed. It never did taste good like they did at home" (May 14, 1945).

She grieves for her family in Denmark. Her characterizations of the Germans and Japanese (especially the Japanese) are brutal. December 7, 1941 is seared in her memory. "But that was their first mistake, that unforgettable sneak punch, because it united every man, woman, and child in the United States. And believe me, nobody in the world can fight us down. This is still the land of liberty, the land of the free, and will always be so." Her surviving son, Ralph, is fighting overseas; her thoughts are never far from him.

Helga is by turns resolute, cranky, tearful, opinionated, patriotic. In this book she still speaks.

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