The End of a “Nightmare”: Experiences in the Aftermath of World War II

Continuing their work promoting a new collection of materials from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University by a student leader for the project, Gabriela Maduro.

As World War II came to an end in 1945, individuals across the globe celebrated the cessation of one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. Yet, for many people, the end of the war did not necessarily mean a return to normal life. The letters of the Hasterlik-Hine Collection provide a nuanced first-hand account of the tumultuous period following the end of the war, chronicling the story of a family that had to cope with not only the loss of family members and friends but also, perhaps most significantly, the loss of a homeland.

Letter from Mia Hasterlik to Giulia Koritschoner, August 16, 1945
Mia Hasterlik writes about the joys of V-J day in New York City to her daughter. August 16, 1945 [original item]
Letters from Mia Hasterlik to her daughter, Giulia Koritschoner, highlight the joy with which the end of the war was received in the United States, expressing disbelief at the fact that “this nightmare is really past, that it’s over,” and expressing excitement at a future that was “spreading more beautiful in front of our eyes.” Mia described the jubilation with which VE Day (Victory in Europe) and VJ Day (Victory over Japan) were celebrated in New York, where “all the people [were] happy and drunk and all the soldiers and sailors [were] out of their minds. All the girls got kissed, everybody had lipstick on their faces, thousands of tons of paper, which people had thrown out their windows.”

Underlying the joy of these letters, however, was a lingering sense of sadness and loss. Mia lamented the “heavy, irreplaceable loss” of her father, Paul Hasterlik, who died at Theresienstadt in 1944. While Giulia expressed nostalgia for the Vienna that she was forced to flee from at the beginning of the war, Mia instead stated, “I have no yearning whatsoever for Vienna, could never return. Because of… all the crimes which they carried out with their ‘Golden Viennese Hearts.’” Much of the correspondence during this time also highlights the desperate search for missing family members and friends that took place after the war. Mia, in particular, made frantic attempts to find Boni, an old family friend who had stayed behind in Vienna with Paul, and Ellen Christansen, a childhood friend of Giulia’s who was also forced to remain in Vienna.

Letter from Mia Hasterlik to Giulia Koritschoner, June 23, 1945
A page from a letter to Giulia Koritschoner from her mother. June 23, 1945, [original item]
Yet, the letters of the Hasterlik-Hine Collection also highlight the essential truth that, even in times of dramatic change or loss, daily life must still continue on much in the same way. Many of the letters between Giulia and Mia include discussions of the various suitors that Giulia encountered during her time living in Switzerland. These individuals range from a suitor named Pernal “Franz” Francois who served in the Polish Army to a Viennese man named Gustav Stux who had fallen in love with Giulia despite the fact that he was already in his fifties. Mia frequently reminded Giulia of the respectable family that she belonged to and urged her to keep values of honor and propriety in mind.

The Hasterlik-Hine Collection offers a fascinating glimpse into the aftermath of World War II, as experienced by individuals who lived in countries spanning from Switzerland to the United States. While the fighting ended in 1945, many families still struggled with the death, separation, and upheaval created by the war for years after its official conclusion.

A discussion of these letters and letters like it from other troubled times in history will be presented at the Letters in Troubled Times: Evaluation of Epistolary Sources conference on Friday, February 16, 2018, in Tallahassee, Florida. Please contact Dr. Suzanne Sinke about questions regarding the conference.

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