Historical Atrocity in World War I
Just when I think I can no longer be shocked by anything that our government does I find something new. I just finished reading Michael Lowenthal’s latest novel, Charity Girl, and it left me shaking my head.
This novel is based on fact and takes place in Massachusetts during World War I. It follows the path of a young 17 year old Jewish girl who has lost her father and whose money hungry mother offers her for marriage to a much older man … for a price, of course.
Frieda runs away from home and gets a job as a sales lady. She gets swept along on the patriotic frenzy of a country at war (“anything for our boys”) and succumbs to the charms of a young man in uniform. Unfortunately he leaves her with much more than sweet memories. He infects her with a STD (sexually transmitted disease) and gives the authorities her name as one of his contacts.
The Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety comes to the fore at this point and Frieda is picked up by the authorities. She is considered a “charity girl” and treated just as if she were a prostitute. She is literally jailed in a War Department Detention Home for Girls and allowed no outside contacts.
The rest of the story depicts her medical and emotional treatment in the home. As I read it I couldn’t believe that girls, whose only crime was being sexually naive, could be treated this way. The men who had created the problem got off with a slap on the wrist, a movie or two on STD, and the appropriate dosage of pills.
Upon further research I found out that nearly 15,000 women with STD’s were jailed, just like Frieda, during that time. I guess the majority would have been prostitutes and the government’s excuse was to keep these women away from their precious men in uniform. But it galled me to think that the innocent “charity girls” were caught in the net too.
This book brought to mind the book, “Snow Falling On Cedars” by David Guterson. The war in that story was WW II and he writes of the relocation of Japanese/Americans to Internment Camps here in the U.S. after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Another cause for shame and a low point in our history.
What is it about war that seems to give our governments a free (and heavy) hand to do as they please? Shameful acts are hidden under the guise of “the end justifies the means” and it always seems to take years to rectify the damage.
Sounds awfully close to what’s going on right now, doesn’t it?