Rare eyewitness account of the early, chaotic days of WWII - Nazi invasion of Poland, Siege of Warsaw and first months of Occupation - written by a young working mother. Rulka Langer's eye for detail and lively storytelling bring to life, from her unique vantage point, the opening chapter of the struggle between good and evil which ultimately engulfed the entire globe.
September 1, 1939 is an infamous day in 20th Century history, the start of World War II. But how many of us today know what happened when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, unleashing its military furor for the first time?
Seventy years later, a new edition of The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt...does what no other book has done.
...Rulka Langer's story is utterly contemporary and compelling, and once I started the book, I could not put it down until I finished it.
...That summer, everything in Europe revolved around talk of war. Rulka read Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, and with a heavy heart pondered the fate of Poland caught between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Would it be gone with the wind?
But nothing could prepare her or anyone who lived through the blitzkrieg and the war that followed. The destruction was shockingly fast and Rulka describes it day by day, each day that seems like weeks - the bombs, the bomb shelters, the fires, the scarcity of food, horse carcasses in the street stripped to the bone by hungry people, so many deaths that people were buried in empty lots all over the city, refugees from border towns coming to Warsaw, Varsovians escaping the city for points further east, the evacuation of the leaders and of the Bank of Poland, the personal horrors of women and children trying to survive.
Rulka published her book in 1942, after arriving in the United States, before the U.S. entered the war, before anyone knew how long the war would last and how it would be resolved, and before the horrors of the concentration camps and the Nazi genocide of Jews, gypsies and others would be revealed.
Able to get a U.S. visa because of her husband's position [as a Polish diplomat posted in the U.S.], she and her children escape the Nazi occupation in February 1940 by train, from Warsaw to Cracow to Vienna to Genoa for a boat to the U.S. The train is filled with German soldiers.
In a surreal moment at the end of the book, a soldier who is on leave and going skiing in Italy, befriends Rulka. Rulka tells him that she will be coming back to Poland as soon as it is free. He replies, well, Poland will be free of Jews. When she says that she doesn't care about that because she likes the Jews, he retorts that no one likes the Jews.
And then, bravely, Rulka asks him about the many German military uniforms, brown, gray, black, green, and wonders which is the Gestapo uniform because whenever people were beaten in Warsaw, everyone said, it's the Gestapo. The young soldier laughed. You want to know what the Gestapo uniform looks like; then look here and he pointed to the SD on his sleeve. This is the Gestapo uniform.
In Rulka's compelling story, we walk in her footsteps and the past is present.
--Fontayne Holmes, City Librarian, Los Angeles Public Library, 2004-2008
Author Rulka Langer (1906-1993) came from a family of Polish intelectuals, writers and statesmen. A modern "career woman" before that concept was fashionable, following graduation from Vassar College Mrs. Langer worked in Warsaw as a copywriter at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, as a political and economic writer, at Polish Radio and in the Economic Research Department of the Bank of Poland.
Fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland with her son and daughter, ages 8 and 3, in early 1940, Mrs. Langer joined her husband who was at the time a member of the Polish diplomatic corps posted in the United States.
She soon became a popular lecturer, and wrote the Mermaid and the Messerschmitt in 1942 as part of her effort to explain to Americans the devastation of World War II for the average ordinary human beings caught in it. After the war, Mrs. Langer continued her career in advertising in the United States.