Letters to a Lost Soldier: 1945 Shavuos Celebrations in Chicago and Germany

Dear Daddy,
(I originally wrote in May, 1945) Our Brownie troop leader served small slices of cheesecake at the beginning of our meeting. “We’re celebrating the Jewish holiday of Shavuos.” We usually have refreshments at the end of each meeting, but she said this was a party.
“Taste the sweetness of this food and remember that God gave the gift of the law to the Jews. The Torah and the Ten Commandments form the basis of the Constitution of the United States of America and the Girl Scout rules.” The cheesecake was delicious and I enjoyed learning about the Bible with a sweet taste in my mouth. “We are the People of the Book, a gift from God.” The Book of Ruth is her favorite in the Bible because she is a Jew by choice. It’s read during Shavuos.
I know I’m Jewish, Daddy, because I like to read books. You told me about the Ten Commandments, but not the Torah. I couldn’t find a copy among your books, and I asked Bepa for help.
“That’s just for boys,” he said. “They need to study for their Bar Mitzvahs.” I asked Mimi, who was included at the chedar with her brothers in Russia. “The rabbi came to our home, my father paid him, and I got permission to sit outside the doorway to learn. But only boys have Bar Mitzvahs.”
Since God gave the Torah to all the Jewish people and I like to read books, could I have a copy for my birthday, Daddy? I wrote before that the best birthday present for me is to have you home. I’m grateful you’re on your way here after being liberated from Stalag 2A, the American Prisoner of War camp in Nazi Germany. You’re now a repatriated soldier in the U.S. Army. I thank God you’re a free man and no longer a slave in Nazi Germany.
Liberated concentration camp survivors at Buchenwald held a Shavuos prayer service in the former German SS officers’ mess hall there. Rabbi Hershel Schacter, an American chaplain, led the service for 4,000 inmates and troops. It’s a miracle the Jewish captives were freed by the U.S. 6th Armored Division and the war ended in Europe.
A Shavuos celebration was also held at a Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons camp, the site of another Nazi concentration camp for Jews. Inmates said they survived by counting the Omer from Passover, the end of slavery, to Shavuos and the gift of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. God intervened with a miracle and the British 11th Armored Division set them free.
I asked Mimi if we could have cheesecake at home to celebrate Shavuos and she said that any dairy dish would do. She made yummy, delicious cheese blintzes.
I can write about food now that you are getting plenty to eat at Camp Lucky Strike before you sail on a troop ship home. The Red Cross said you can have steak and other good food on board. I hope your tummy is healing enough to enjoy what you’ve missed.
The Red Cross bulletin commended the U.S. Army for their organizational skills in repatriating Americans who were Prisoners of War in Nazi Germany. They said not to worry about meeting you when your troop ship docks in New York. “You will be welcomed personally on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, Gen. George C. Marshall, and the Army will dispatch a safe-arrival message to your home.”
A military band will strike up “God Bless America,” and you can sing along. There will be welcoming ceremonies, and a physical screening exam. You’ll be assigned to barracks and a freshly made bed. Then on to Chicago, a soldier coming home from the war.
“The Red Cross commended the citizen soldiers who, following peaceful occupations, were suddenly catapulted into the fray where you have become the most efficient fighters in history.” I am so proud of my father who left a comfortable life and answered the call to serve his country. Thank you, Daddy, and please enjoy a safe journey home.