February 24th, 2009

Life during WWII

I'm studying English Language and one of my coursework pieces is a piece of original writing. I'm trying to write a story about two kids - mid-teens - who try and run away when the war starts. To make life easier on myself, since I'm not a historian, I've stated my vague time as WWII and location as Austria - approximately. The location can be changed, but I'd prefer it to be in Europe, preferably not Britain. I need to know the kind of trouble these kids would stumble upon if they're basically fleeing, first on a horse and then on foot, through a war-torn country during WWII.

I've searched Google with things like "WWII life", "WWII living", "Austria in WWII" and similar stuff, and read wikipedia and war archive website articles about Austria and about WWII. I've also asked my tutor at college, who happens to be a history teacher and has graciously allowed me to borrow some of his books, but nothing seems to give me the kind of picture I can incorporate into this story. It's proving tricky because this piece needs to challenge me as a writer and the only way I can do that without changing it completely (and my deadline is, oh, Friday. Not cool.) is to put more of a focus on the war and the historical period than on the relationship between the two characters. Basically, all I have to go on is Schindler's List, The Book Thief and my own imagination.

organised crime?

Two characters are at least tangentially involved in organised crime in a major city-- probably Chicago-- in the 1920's. One is a corrupt cop, in his early 30's, Irish-American, and pretty mercenary-- no particular qualms about what he does as long as he gets ahead. Another is younger (maybe in his mid-20's), and basically a gun for hire though more likely to have moral/ethical qualms against, say, prostitution. Is there a likely way for them to ever encounter each other in the course of their individual activities? To bond, perhaps, or be forced into close proximity (metaphorically, not like, locked in a closet) during a job? And what would they both be involved in?

I've taken into account Prohibition, obviously, ever-present prostitution, and selling dope. Terms searched for mostly had to do with bootlegging, and I've done a little non-fiction reading, though mostly for situation flavour, not facts. I've just got no idea how to play the criminal angle or, for that matter, a cultural one, if there is one. (The second guy's cultural background I'm less sure of.)

Bar Mitzvah & Being Jewish in Pre-WWII California

I'm worrying that my main character, who is Jewish, is based on my ideas of Jewish identity post-World War II. Back in 1935, when he turned thirteen, how much of his bar mitzvah ceremony would he have had?

His parents moved West from the Midwest; I'm not sure yet whether one or both should be a first-generation immigrant. Also not sure (I'm pretty much making these people up from very general information) what kind of Judaism they practice. (Judging from the website of the oldest temple congregation in San Leandro, it's Conservative.) The father is either a barber or a tailor, with his own shop in the house; the mother mostly keeps house but may have other money-making crafts or services; the family is three sons, two daughters; they live in San Leandro, California.

This is mostly character background detail and won't actually be described within the narrative. But I do mention his bar mitzvah ceremony twice, so I needed to see if he would actually have one and what it might have entailed compared to the stuff you see today. (Note: I have never been to a bar mitzvah. Actually I'm not even Jewish.)

Searched: bar mitzvah (for general background and practices), bar mitzvah 1935 (brought up the movie Bar Mitzvah (1935), San Leandro temple (found Temple Beth Sholom, established 1886—always nice when you find direct information like that.)