Tag Archives: Institute on World War II and the Human Experience

Rebuilding in the Post-War Years: The Legacy of the Hasterlik-Hine Collection

This is the final blog post from the students in charge of the Hasterlik-Hine Digitization Project in cooperation with the Institute of World War II and the Human Experience. 

Written from 1945-1948, the final portion of the digitized portion of the Hasterlik-Hine collection offers an invaluable glimpse into life after World War II. Excitement over Giulia Koritschoner’s upcoming trip to the United States characterizes many of the post-war letters, as does joy about reconnecting with the family friends that the Hasterlik-Hine family had lost contact with during the war.

However, the most prominent aspect of the final portion of the collection is the numerous insights it offers into the difficulties that accompanied post-war life in Austria. Supplies were so scarce that “people had to fetch water in buckets an hour away on foot after having stood in line for an hour” and had to “take long walks in the woods to find small pieces of wood to have a little bit of heat.” Yet, perceptions of the former Axis powers varied dramatically. Mia felt pity for those living in these countries, expressing sadness that individuals were “starving” in Vienna while those in the United States were “suffocating in superabundance.” Others, however, only expressed contempt for the former Axis powers, even stating that they did not see the point of sending rations and supplies to “enemies who should starve to death.”

The one consensus among all parties seemed to be the dramatic nature of the occupation of Austria by Allied forces after the war, which was so severe that it seemed as if “all the nations have sent their soldiers to Vienna.” However, even in Vienna, life would, eventually, return to normal. In a letter from March of 1946, Boni celebrated the future of Vienna, writing, “Surely the people will tell you… about Vienna. About ruins and hunger, about cold rooms and deserted streets, about demoralization and despair. All that is also true here. But alongside that are also attractive things. People who want to live well, who certainly feel themselves to be unfortunate, but who are interested in the tragedies and little jokes of the greater evolution of things…”

A Copy of Swiss Identification Papers for Giulia Kortischoner, 1946 [Original Object]
Reflecting the tenacity, resilience, and hope for the future that characterizes the Hasterlik-Hine collection, Boni’s letter exemplifies the sentiments upon which many of the survivors of World War II ultimately constructed their futures. Giulia’s letters to childhood friends such as Ellen Christansen and Lisl Urbantschitsch transformed from letters filled with cartoons that complained about teachers to letters that reflected exciting plans for the future. While Giulia discussed her upcoming trip to the United States, Lisl shared her plans to emigrate to California and live with her father. Developing an increased sense of independence throughout the post-war years, Lisl would employ her artistic talent in order to secure a lucrative job making puppets. By 1947, Lisl was living in Paris and enjoying her independence.

Giulia’s life was, ultimately, one of joy and success as well. On April 21, 1946, she sailed from Paris, France to New York City, finally reuniting with her mother, Mia Hasterlik, from whom she had been separated for eight years. By 1948, Giulia had married Gerald Hine and was pregnant with their first child. Giulia would return to Vienna for a few years with her husband before living out the rest of her life in the United States. She passed away in 2015 at the age of 90.

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 at ssinke@fsu.edu about questions regarding the conference.

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.

Coming of Age in World War II: Homes Away from Home

Here’s another post promoting a new collection of materials from the Insistute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University by a student leader for the project, Gabriela Maduro.

Only thirteen years old when World War II began, Giulia Koritschoner came of age in a time of uncertainty and chaos. Despite the context in which Giulia grew up, however, the letters of the Hasterlik-Hine collection demonstrate the fact that, for those on the home front, daily life often continued on as normal. Indeed, Giulia’s correspondence throughout 1942 regularly includes cheerful greeting cards for holidays that are decorated with personalized drawings and beautiful calligraphy. These letters were sent from not only family members but also a vast array of friends and acquaintances that Giulia made throughout the war years.

A card from Heidi Wettstein to Giulia Koritschoner (original item)

Giulia’s letters to and from schoolmates portray scenes of growing up that remained largely unchanged even in times of war. This is particularly evident in Giulia’s letters to and from Margaret Wolf, a friend from Schaffhausen who evolved from sending letters complaining about disliked teachers and unbearably boring school lessons to letters that explained her fears about graduating from school and having to enter the workforce. Giulia’s own letters mirror this development, as she wrote to her family contemplating a variety of jobs, from a lab technician to a stenographer to a masseuse. Even in the midst of the war, the possibilities for the future seemed endless.

Yet, elements of the war do seep into many of the letters. Discussions of rationing figure prominently in much of Giulia’s correspondence, as Ällägg Bechtold, a school friend from Schaffhausen, described how school was let out early in the spring because of a shortage of coal to keep students warm. Margaret Wolf complained that bakeries purposely sold old bread because it was thought that individuals would consume it more slowly than fresh bread. Even the letter that Giulia’s school principal sent to her was written not on regular paper but rather on postcards that students were encouraged to fill with holiday greetings and send to soldiers in order to boost their morale.

Many of Giulia’s letters to and from her family during this time contain anxiety about Giulia’s grandfather, Paul Hasterlik, who remained behind in Vienna while the rest of the family escaped. Although attempts were made to organize his passage to the United States, these efforts ultimately proved unsuccessful, and the letters reflect concerns about everything from whether Paul was able to find food to whether he was, in fact, actively being “tormented.” Although letters from Paul contained joy about Giulia’s recovery from polio and excitement about her prospects for the future, he remained vague in descriptions of his own life, only briefly mentioning that he was forced to move to another apartment in Vienna.

Other members of Giulia’s family struggled during this time as well. Mia Hasterlik’s letters outline her difficulties finding suitable employment in New York while living in unpleasant conditions. Perhaps most dramatically, Susi Weiss, Giulia’s older sister who moved to Nairobi at the beginning of the war, describes the emotional and physical abuse to which her husband subjected her to and her overwhelming happiness at finally being free of him.
This vast array of voices and subject matter reflected in the Hasterlik-Hine collection depict a strange intersection between war and daily life that occurred for those living on the home front during World War II. Ultimately, the collection offers an invaluable glimpse of what it means to come of age in a time of war, highlighting the fears, delights, and amusements that punctuated daily life.

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

Dealing with Daily Life during World War II

This post is by Emily Woessner, one of two students leading the project digitizing selections from the Hasterlik-Hine Collection at the Institute of World War II and the Human Experience. More materials have been added to the digital collection and may be viewed here. The first post about this project is here.

Giulia Hasterlik was only 13 years old when her mother arranged for her to leave Vienna, Austria and travel to Switzerland to live safely without fear of Nazi persecution. Giulia was taken in by a minister’s wife named Alice Sigerist who already had a daughter of her own, Gretli Sigerist, close to Giulia’s age. Giulia lived in the small town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland for 7 years (1938 to 1946). While living in Schaffhausen, she attended an all-girls Catholic school and had many friends. However, she kept in contact with a number of her schoolmates back in Vienna. Letters from Evi Leib and Elizabeth “Lisl” Urbantischitsch, in particular, detail the lives of young girls who are dealing with such situations as crushes, boredom, school work, and prospects of the future. The girls draw pictures in their letters and used secret languages— they worry, joke, and dream just like young girls of today. Their letters to and from one another allowed them to maintain their friendships and a sense of normalcy during the war years.

Giulia was not the best student, a bit mischievous at times, but generally, she enjoyed her life in the small town of Schaffhausen. Although she noted that it was quite different from her middle-class upbringing in Vienna. Unfortunately, in August 1941 at 16 years old Giulia contracted poliomyelitis and was taken to Kanton Hospital in the center of Schaffhausen. She had to pause her studies at school. During this time the letters to and from her classmates served as a window to the outside world where she could escape the boredom of the hospital and maintain her friendships. At times the letters to Giulia simply wished her well and asked how she was progressing with her treatment. Other times her classmates detailed holiday trips, plans for future jobs and schooling, or fun puzzles and poems for Giulia to enjoy. These letters provided relief and laughter for Giulia during her most intense treatment.

Get Well Card sent to Giulia while she was receiving treatment for polio (original object)

It was not only school friends who wrote to Giulia at this time, though. Alice Sigerist had informed both Paul Hasterlik, Giulia’s grandfather, and Auguste Hasterlik, Giulia’s aunt, about the polio diagnosis. Paul and Auguste wrote heartfelt and uplifting letters to Giulia, but they also warned her against saying anything to her mother, Mia Hasterlik, about her condition. They feared the news would be far too upsetting for Mia and worry her unnecessarily because she was already living in New York City and would be helpless to take care of Giulia. For her part, Alice worked diligently to ensure Giulia was properly cared for and enlisted the help of her in-laws and countless doctors. In December 1941 Giulia was transferred to Insel Hospital in Bern, Switzerland where she underwent many months of treatment while continuing to receive letters from her friends and family.

When studying World War II one often forgets that people still had to contend with daily life and its unexpected occurrences. When Giulia Hasterlik fell ill with polio the war was in full swing, her family was strewn across the globe, and she was doing her best to live a normal life in Switzerland. Oftentimes all she had to keep in touch with her friends and family were these letters. They kept her relations, faith, and sanity strong despite all the hardship and uncertainty she endured as a young woman.

A discussion of these letters and letters like them from other tumultuous times in history will be presented at the Letters in Troubled Times: Study of Epistolary Sources conference happening Friday, February 16, 2018, in Tallahassee, Florida. Please contact Dr. Suzanne Sinke for questions regarding the conference.

A New Digital Collection from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience

Special Collections & Archives is excited to be working with FSU’s Institute on World War II and the Human Experience on an extensive digitization project to bring a large set of letters into  DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository. As we add new items to the digital library from this collection, the two students in charge of the project will share information about the work and collection on the blog so here is the first post about the new collection!

The Hasterlik-Hine collection housed at the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University is a unique letter collection in terms of its depth and scope. Donated by Giulia Hine (maiden name: Hasterlik) in 2003, this collection has roughly 14,000 German and English letters spanning familiar generations from the 18th to the 21st century. In preparation for the Letters in Troubled Times: Evaluating Epistolary Sources conference set for February 16, 2018, in Tallahassee, Florida, the Institute processed a portion of the collection focusing on letters to and from Giulia in the years 1938 to 1943 and 1945 to 1948.

Page from a letter from Elizabeth ‘Lisl’ Urbantschitsch to Giulia Hasterlik, January 3, 1939.

Giulia Hine was born into a middle-upper class family in Vienna, Austria on September 30, 1925. Her father, Julius Kortischoner passed away in 1928. Before the outbreak of World War II, Mia Hasterlik-Kortischoner, Giulia’s mother, arranged for Giulia and her older half-sister, Suzanne “Susi” Wolff, to emigrate out of Vienna, Austria to escape persecution under the Nuremberg Laws which deemed the family Jewish. At 13 years old Giulia was safely housed in Switzerland where she lived with Frau Alice Sigerist and her daughter Gretli from the end of 1938 to 1946. Susi sailed to Kenya to meet and marry Robert Seemann in an arranged agreement to keep her safe. Mia stayed in Vienna, Austria for a time in order to take care of her elderly father, Paul, who decided he did not want to leave. Eventually, though, Mia left for England and then emigrated to the United States where her sister Auguste was living in New York, New York. As the family scattered all over the world they wrote hundreds of letters to and from her one another and countless friends back home.

Within the letters, one begins to see the intricacies of maintaining long-distance relationships during one of the most dangerous times in modern history. The use of self-censorship in order to avoid creating worry is apparent in letters written by all. For example, while in Switzerland Giulia contracted Poliomyelitis and yet she kept the entire ordeal from her mother until the end of the war. Susi, on a similar note, hid the details of the abuse she suffered while married to Robert. Despite the troubled times and personal struggles, the letters also reveal many small delights encountered by family members and friends such as anecdotes about pets and school trips. One gains an understanding and appreciations for the bonds of family while reading each letter, especially the heartfelt correspondence between Giulia and her grandfather, Paul. These letters serve as a testament to the strength and ingenuity of a family determined to survive and thrive.

The first set of five sets being digitized are now available in DigiNole: FSU’s digital repository. Translations of the letters are forthcoming for this first batch and will be included in each subsequent batch for the project. Stay tuned for new items in the collection over the next few months.

Frederick C. Jackson Collection online

The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience has partnered with the Digital Library Center to bring selections of its holdings to DigiNole. Some of the recent additions are from the Frederick C. Jackson collection. We welcome guest contributor Emily Woessner, the student who is processing the Jackson collection and completed the description for the digital items.

Frederick C. Jackson was a 21 year old infantry soldier from Connecticut when he was shipped to Anzio with the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division during World War II. I myself am 21 years old, but instead of fighting in the Battle of Anzio I am processing Jackson’s collection here at the archives of the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at Florida State University. After researching the battle and connecting the dots, I am reminded and beyond grateful for the service and sacrifice of these brave men.

Beginning on January 22, 1944 the Battle of Anzio would be a four month long ordeal between British and American Allies against the Germans in Italy. The main goal of this campaign was to break through the Gustav Line just south of Cassino, Italy. Another potential aim was to take Rome. The Allied campaign was led by British General Holder Alexander, American Lieutenant General Mark Clark with the help of American Major Generals John P. Lucas and Lucian Truscott.

The Battle of Anzio, unfortunately, turned into a poorly executed campaign that saw too few Allied troops assigned to such a major task. The Allies had roughly 75,000 troops compared to the German’s 100,000+. After four months of fighting, gridlock, and a command change the Allies were eventually able to capture Rome, but ultimately unable to break the Gustav Line. The Battle of Anzio saw the death of 7,000 and wounding/missing of 36,000 Allied soldiers. The Germans sustained losses of 5,000, wounding/missing of 36,000, and the capture of 4,500 soldiers. Although the campaign was widely criticized afterwards for its poor handling and communication, Churchill defended it saying it accomplished the goal of keep German troops occupied and away from Northwestern Europe where the invasion of Normandy was to take place several months later.

Undated Letter to Dad from Frederick C. Jackson presumably after his injuries in 1944.

Frederick C. Jackson was not left unscathed by the battle, however he did survive. On March 23, 1944 he was hit by shrapnel causing damage to both of his arms and the loss of his right eye. He was subsequently evacuated and returned to the U.S.

We are fortunate enough today though that the letters between Frederick and his parents along with a few other personal belongings have found their way to our Institute. The new digital collection includes those letters as well as a diary from 1944. We are given a chance to revive this young man’s story and reflect on all he and his fellow soldiers did for this country and the world. I recommend anyone taking the time to glimpse into the past so that they may better understand and appreciate the present.

Emily is a third year international affairs major with minors in German, museum studies, and art history. Since August 2016, she has worked as an assistant archivist at the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience at FSU and will continue to do so until she graduates in spring 2018. This summer she looks to expand her archiving experience as she embarks on an internship at the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C.