The War is Over by Deborah Adelman

*Featured Artwork “Stoops to Conquer” by Ann Calandro

You are twelve and your brother has enlisted and is heading off to fight the good fight, to smash Hitler and his Nazi thugs. He is a handsome eighteen-year-old infantryman in his uniform.  His fiancé places her hands proudly on his chest, caressing him through the stiff cloth, and kisses him goodbye. There is excitement about enlistees because American soldiers are going to turn this war around. But your mother does not celebrate his decision. She does not speak much of her past, as a young Jewish girl in some village in Poland, but you know enough to realize that some things happened that turned her mind solidly against any form of violence.  Every young man is another mother’s son to her, and she cannot fathom her own boy in military attire, brandishing a rifle.  Her crying is wordless, even tearless, as she sends off her oldest, but you can see that she is not okay.

You are thirteen and you wait.  Your mother waits, and your father too, and your other brother.  You all take in the war news, its ebbs and flows marking your breathing.  Allied victory, take in a deep breath, try to smile.  Allied defeat, everything in you freezes, stops, the intake of air to your lungs, your heartbeat, your pulse, your thoughts, they must all turn off to keep away your fear, your dread, your imagining what might be happening to your brother now.  His letters arrive at your apartment on Blake Avenue in lightweight envelopes on small bits of paper, his handwriting careful and well-practiced, the cursive letters clear and evenly spaced.  The letters are censored for any indication of where he might be, but you know enough to know he is in the thick of things, giving the Nazis hell.  His letters are cheerful.  Dear Mom, Dear Pops, don’t worry about me.  I am fine.  I will see you soon.

You are still thirteen and when you are able to live as if a war is not going on and your brother is not off fighting it, and your family left behind in Europe is not being massacred, you misspend your early youth on rooftops and fire escapes hanging with the Mob, smoking cigarettes, drinking when you can, looking out for the gangsters of Amboy Street who are another kind of badass Jew, though aimless, not like your badass soldier brother who is fighting for the good cause, but still, in sum, all these warrior Jews inspire your thirteen-year-old boy imagination, at least when you are not lying awake at night in your bed in the living room, feeling the enormity of the world’s violence and wondering how your family might somehow make it through unscathed.   There is much you do not know about your parents, but you sense, from the well of silence about their past, that have already experienced the world’s awfulness in the life they fled.  And they are experiencing it again now, their own son’s presence in Europe forcing them to remember the places they left behind and the Polish villagers and the police and the priests and the dirt floors and whatever it was that made them– and just about everybody else in this neighborhood– get on a boat and come to this.

This!  The one thing about your brother’s absence that has given you any relief is that you are no longer sleeping in the crack formed by the two twin beds pushed together to make one big bed, you, the youngest, smallest, relegated to that uncomfortable space in between your two brothers.  All of you in the living room of your small Brooklyn tenement, where sometimes you are joined in slumber by visiting rats. With your soldier brother gone, you get your own bed. Your back stretches and elongates.  You are growing.

You are still thirteen. LIFE magazine publishes the photo that no one wants to see though everyone who does is transformed.  Three dead American soldiers half-buried in the sand of Buna Gona, their beached, half-sunken boat in the background.  Your brother is not in the Pacific arena.  Those bodies are not his body.  That is all you will allow your mind to repeat, over and over.  Those dead bodies. He is not one of them. He is not one of them.  Your mom and pops do not comment on the photo.  You don’t even know if they have seen LIFE magazine.  They don’t read in English.  The only newspapers in the apartment are written in Yiddish, and you don’t know what they are reporting because you have not learned that alphabet.  But LIFE Magazine is all over the newsstands and you have seen the photo that broke through the photographic silence, the military censorship that kept the bodies of dead American servicemen from the public view.

You are fourteen.  You never told me how the news arrived, but it did, on a cold, winter day in Brownsville Brooklyn New York, New World.  Your world. Did an officer in uniform come to the door, face somber, or did you learn by War Department telegram that you read to your parents, or did they find out first and then sit you down on your bed in the living room to tell you?  Killed on the French-German border, enemy mortar fire.  Heroic death on November 29th, 1944.   Purple Heart.

Your brother is not coming back.

Why did he enlist, you ask yourself over and over.  He didn’t have to.  Why did he enlist? Your mother is shattered.  Her true self has ceased to inhabit her body but she still goes through the motions.  She writes a letter to someone asking for confirmation. She doesn’t believe it is really her son who has been blown apart, or she does, but she won’t, or something very complicated or very simple, something inside of her that will not believe what she knows to be true.  You haven’t really thought of your mother as a puzzle before, a complicated person who years ago as a young woman had to figure out how to survive what is not survivable.

You are fifteen.  Spring has arrived. May 8th 1945.  The Germans surrender.  It is Victory-in-Europe Day. And President Truman’s 61st birthday.  New York celebrates. The war is not over, but it will be, soon enough.  But not soon enough.  Your brother is dead.

You are fifteen.  August 6th.  Fat Boy incinerates Hiroshima. August 9, Nagasaki. Two hundred thousand Japanese people obliterated by two giant flashes. August 14, 1945, Japan surrenders.  A day later, New York erupts into Victory-over-Japan Day.  The war is now completely over. A drunken sailor grabs and kisses random women just south of 45th where Broadway and Seventh Avenue converge.  A lucky photographer catches the moment when the sailor headlocks a woman dressed in nurse’s white, their bodies bent in a graceful arch, her right foot gently lifted off the ground resting on his foot, his embrace sustaining her body while his kiss envelopes her face. LIFE Magazine again captures public attention with this act of spontaneous joy.

You are fifteen and you look at the photo.  What you feel inside does not match what this photo claims to have captured.  Your brother is not coming back.  You remember what he looked like, leaving, in his infantryman uniform.  Somebody has told you that your brother played his role in bringing the fascists to their knees.  That he is a hero.  You stare at the photo and you wonder what it feels like to experience joy. Or you wonder what it means about you that you do not feel the joy of the war’s end.  Or you tell yourself that of course you are happy about the war’s end. But you are not. But you are. You don’t know what you are. And you don’t know yet that the end of this war is the beginning of a process that is already a kernel lying deep inside you that has been waiting to ignite, something you inherited from your mother. Something very complicated or very simple, something inside of you that will not believe what you know to be true.  You too are becoming a complicated person, a young man who doesn’t know what lies ahead, but nevertheless has an understanding of the need to survive what is not survivable. Or what, at that moment, doesn’t seem like it can be survivable. Though eventually, it will be.

The war is over.  And your brother is not coming home.


Deborah Adelman lives and writes in Oak Park Illinois.  Her fiction, flash fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Lilith, Jewish Currents, Cream City Review, Puerto del Sol, Other Voices, Verse Virtual, Rockvale Review and Flash Fiction Magazine, among others.  "Pesach 5770"  is an excerpt from a family memoir which tells the stories of growing up in a politically radical Jewish family that engaged in social justice activism in Milwaukee in the 1960s. Deborah is Professor Emerita of English and Film Studies at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ann's collages are made of paper, colored pencil, marker, ink, pastel, paint, chalk, fabric, and photographs that she takes and sometimes digitally manipulates. She creates these collages on matboard and, sometimes, on reclaimed furniture such as end tables, small dressers, and stools. She calls her art style enchanted realism, the intersection between the real and the imaginary, the possible and the impossible, and memories and dreams. You can find more of her work at:

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