a glance at the past
We left our church family at the end of August of 1941, enjoying the wedding of Norma Moore and Jack Powers. They chose to marry, as did many young couples in that uncertain time, choosing to face their future together rather than separately. As I have been recounting in past articles describing these pre-war years, our church family and all Americans were well aware of the awful war raging in Europe and in Asia. Our young men were already being drafted into the Army to defend our country if we were to be attacked. Yet, life went on. Men who worked in the Valley’s steel mills were all enjoying full employment, very welcome after ten years of deep depression and long layoffs. Our church family continued to come together on Sunday mornings, and to conduct regular meetings just as they always did.
On September 3rd, 1941, our Official Board held their monthly meeting at the church. The meeting was called to order by Rev. Maly and opened with prayer by W. Burtsfield. The financial report was read and approved. The building fund report was noted as very good, with $37,300 balance, and about $7,000 on hand for the interest payment due in January. A request was made for new members of the choir, as the church began its fall season. The Pastor made a request for all members of the church support the Sunday School Rally Day to be held on October 5th. There was a request by the Girard Garden club for use of the church basement on October 2nd. This was referred to the Trustees. The Pastor reported that early services would continue through the month of September. The meeting then adjourned.
Sunday School attendance was up compared to the previous summer months. September 7th kicked off with 286, the 14th had 297, The 21st 295, and the 28th 301. It’s hard to believe that our church could house that many Sunday School attendees back then with only the original church building. The education wing would not be built for another 15 years more or less. What we call Fellowship Hall was full of tables of different classes with portable privacy partitions separating them into groups. There were also classes that met in the balconies, in the second floor rooms behind the organ pipes, in the parlor, and in the kitchen. The experience must have been either very cozy or very crammed, depending on your viewpoint.
We also have, in our archives, the Treasurer’s report for the Women’s Society of Christian Service. During the month of September they took in $18.30, and spent $1.60 for lunch for Mrs. H. R. Perhaps the lunch was related to the $16.50 that they earned for a Book Review. (Just a guess on my part. I don’t seem to have the minutes of their meetings for that time frame – only their financial reports.)
As I noted earlier, although I can find no reference to outside events in the minutes of church meetings, we know that our church family and all Americans were listening to the nightly news full of reports such as the following: On September 3rd, the Nazi commander used poison gas to execute Soviet prisoners of war en masse at Auschwitz Concentration Camp. On September 6th, all Jews over 6 years of age in German-occupied areas were required to wear the Star of David with the word “Jew” inscribed. On September 8th, the siege of Leningrad began. On September 11th, Charles Lindbergh, at an America First Committee rally in Des Moines, Iowa, accused “the British, the Jewish, and the Roosevelt administration” of leading the United States toward war. The former hero of the first New York to Paris flight was widely criticized following this.
On September 12th, construction began on the Pentagon building. That same evening, President Roosevelt gave a fireside chat on the USS Greer incident. This incident between a German Submarine and the Destroyer USS Greer had occurred in the North Atlantic near Iceland on September 4th. Our church family along with all other Americans listening to our President’s Fireside Chat would have heard the following: “The Greer was flying the American Flag. Her identity as an American ship was unmistakable. She was then and there attacked by a submarine. Germany admits that it was a German submarine. The submarine deliberately fired a torpedo at the Greer, followed by another torpedo attack. In spite of what Hitler’s propaganda bureau has invented and in spite of what any American obstructionist organization may prefer to believe, I tell you the blunt fact that the German submarine fired first upon this American destroyer without warning, and with the deliberate design to sink her.” The President declared that Germany had been guilty of “an act of piracy”. President Roosevelt then announced what became known as his “shoot on sight” order: that Nazi submarines’ “very presence in any waters which America deems vital to its defense constitutes an attack. In the waters which we deem necessary for our defense, American naval vessels and American planes will no longer wait until Axis submarines lurking under the water, or Axis raiders on the surface of the sea, strike their deadly blow – first.”
He concluded: “The aggression is not ours. Our concern is solely defense. But let this warning be clear. From now on, if German or Italian vessels of war enter the waters, the protection of which is necessary for American defense, they do so at their own peril . . . The sole responsibility rests upon Germany. There will be no shooting unless Germany continues to seek it.”
That Fireside Chat on a Friday evening must have caused all Americans as well as our church family to expect more bad news in the future. And, indeed, on September 29th and 30th, in the Ukraine, German troops, assisted by local police and local collaborators, killed 33,771 Jews in what was known as the Babi Yar massacre.
With this somber news, we will leave our church family In September of 1941 – seventy-five years ago.
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