Category: Letter Essay

Keeping (False?) Hope Alive

When do we lose hope if ever? Can we ever lose hope completely? These questions may never have answers but it has been shown that humans can be hopeful in dark times. This was especially true during the period of World War II. To a large extent throughout events in World War II such as the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese people and through the use of propaganda it has been seen that even in the most tragic or terrible situations people have been able to stay hopeful or positive even when they have no idea what could happen. Although there were many different forms of communication during the war it wasn’t always completely honest with the people it was going to. In both letters and propaganda, there could be information being left out to make people such as the reader or viewer feel better or secure. Although in most situations it is better to be honest, the writers of the letters and the makers of the propaganda were able to keep hope alive both for themselves and their audience by omitting certain information. The difference was the size of the audience. Letters were going to smaller audiences such as family and friends while propaganda was given to a broader audience of many different people. 

One common theme that stood out from looking at several of the last letters from people in the Holocaust was hope. In her final letter to her sister, Ida Goldis goes back and forth from having hope to losing it. “I hoped that we would see each other again, but now I have lost all hope.” (Goldis, 1941). Goldis knew the situation she was in yet was able to still at least say she had hope. She could have been doing this both for herself and for her family, her audience, in this case. Even though she wrote about having hope she still could have decided not to share some details of what was going on in her letter because she didn’t want to worry her family more. She also might have been trying to reassure herself or realizing the situation she is in and trying not to be too hopeful. It raises the question that, especially in life or death situations, is thinking about the future a more positive or negative thing to do. The future she is hoping for is unlikely to be attainable and she seems to realize that. In this case, although she is still in a bad situation, it may be better to live in the moment than to think about what’s next and all the possibilities. At the end of the letter, Goldis switches her tone to be more positive and almost says to disregard what she wrote above. “p.s. Clara darling, for the second time within the last two days our departure has been postponed for twenty-four hours, so there is still hope that we will be saved. Do not be tormented by what I have written.” (Goldis, 1941). Again she is not only hoping for her safety but trying to protect her family from the things she wrote about. 

The positive seeming tone throughout Fusa Tsumagari’s letter makes it a little hard to believe she was in an internment camp when she wrote it. Yet at the same time, she was also very aware of her situation. “We are all getting used to the weather and dust and beginning to think that it isn’t such a bad place after all.” (Tsumagari, 1942). The positivity can be due to many reasons. In this case, it’s either due to her trying to stay hopeful for herself and the people she is writing to or it’s because she’s young. It seems more like the first reason. It doesn’t seem possible that a person could truly feel happy in this situation. Tsumagari was writing letters to Clara Breed, a librarian that wrote to many Japanese children while they were in internment camps. She supported them during a time when they didn’t have many people who cared for their well-being. Tsumagari’s punctuation and word choice throughout her letter also add to the positive tone. Still, this doesn’t mean she is being truthful. “It seems as though my life is going through a thorough transformation!” (Tsumagari, 1942). There is no way of truly knowing if she seriously meant this or not because there wasn’t any face-to-face communication. This makes it hard to tell how she was really feeling. This is a difficult thing about this period because no one was reading their letter aloud so the person receiving it had to figure it out on their own. The letters written to Clara Breed were from kids and teenagers so it could be possible she doesn’t fully understand the situation. Yet if a person is saying they are doing well in a situation where the other person isn’t with them and can’t see what is happening then they are likely to be trying to make themself or the other person feel better. 

Propaganda had many purposes during World War II and one of those was to make things seem better than they were, possibly creating a false sense of hope. Although it is important to be truthful, there could be both positive and negative consequences for doing this. It raises the question of whether protecting people or exposing people to the realities of war is better. It also raises the question that maybe in a time when people need to come together for the greater good should whatever is necessary be done. To what extent is it ok to lie to people if it’s protecting them? Some people must have thought things weren’t as bad as they were because they were not able to see the casualties. Plus the Office of War Information restricted certain information. A goal of propaganda is targeting people’s emotions and it was able to do so. If someone is trying hard to make something look a certain way you may start to believe them the more they can do. “Even those aware of the manipulation still felt propaganda’s pull.” (“Communication: Propaganda,” n.d.). It can be hard to have your own thoughts when everyone or everything around you is trying to get you to think a certain way. It can be seen in the definition that propaganda isn’t always truthful. “During the war that message often fell within the definition of propaganda: the deliberate spread of facts or ideas to aid one’s cause or hinder another’s.” (“Communication: Propaganda,” n.d.). Every country involved in the war used propaganda and one of the reasons was they wanted everyone behind them and to believe in them even if they were doing awful things. It shows how people can be persuaded and follow a message even though it may not be true. Although it could be helpful it isn’t right if the message people are receiving is different from what is happening. 

Hope can be maintained in many ways. In this case, during World War II hope was maintained through letters and propaganda. Although the two are different forms of communication they are similar in that both can leave out details to make people or the audience feel a certain way. In propaganda, it’s done to make one group or situation seem better or worse while in letters it’s done to make the person receiving or writing it feel better about the terrible circumstances they are in. It goes back to the earlier question of to what extent is it ok to lie to people to protect them? How much was the truth and how many lies were told? In some situations, it may be better to lie and create a false sense of hope so it seems like there is less to worry about. 

This period is a great example of the power of having hope and the importance it has in making people feel some form of safety in unknown or dangerous situations. Writing letters was also very important to this time and without it people now would not be able to gain so many perspectives and knowledge about the different groups being affected. The letters show us a first-hand account of what was happening or what people were thinking at that point at the time. It’s so important to remember and preserve our history so we can both learn from it and make sure certain events never get repeated. A letter can also be hard to decipher because it isn’t being said aloud. What the writer says in their letters especially during this time is so important. This is because the reader had to interpret their tone or words just based on words on paper since there was no possibility for in-person communication in many situations. Only the writer truly knows what is going on and can explain themself but unfortunately, people like Ida Goldis were unable to do so. Even now are we with ourselves and others?