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Kaufman’s Brooklyn: Six photos of ‘World War II: On the home front’

September 8, 2020 Phil Kaufman
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My father, Irving Kaufman (1910 – 1982), was a professional photographer who started in Brooklyn in the mid 1930s working for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He captured thousands of images of Brooklyn through the 1950s. I have recently digitized a great many of them. My father’s profile can be found here.

This week’s theme:

The photos for this week will show home front activities that supported World War II. Needless to say, the war was the dominant reality of life for Americans from before we entered WWII until well past its conclusion. That was nowhere more true than in Brooklyn. According to Thomas J. Campanella, author of last year’s masterpiece of research, writing and originality, “Brooklyn: Once and Future City,”

The war … was arguably Brooklyn’s finest hour. No place in America contributed more blood, sweat, and toil to defeating the Axis powers – nor more lives. Some 325,000 Brooklyn men and women served in the armed forces during the war, 11,500 of whom died; tens of thousands more labored in the borough’s booming defense industry, churning out everything from helmets, searchlights, and bombsights to battleships and ingredients for the atomic bomb.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

From the Navy Yard at the north end of the borough down to the Army Terminal and its Port of Embarkation in the southwest, to Floyd Bennett Field at its southeastern tip, Brooklyn was enclosed by ceaseless wartime activity. Here are some highlights:

  • The Navy Yard employed 70,000 people in 27 trades and professions. Within five years, they produced 17 of the most powerful warships ever built, including five aircraft carriers and three immense battleships.
  • From the N.Y. Port of Embarkation at the Army Terminal, three million soldiers sailed overseas, fully half the American troops who fought in the war. A third of all the material and equipment used in the war was sent from there as well.
  • Floyd Bennett Field was the site of Naval Air Station New York. As such, it was home to continuous training and coastal air patrols guarding against German submarines and protecting merchant ships. But its even greater role was the acceptance, testing, and ferrying of aircraft for delivery to combat theaters – totaling about 46,000 war planes in under four years.

Today’s photos:

Today’s pictures show some of the people involved in war relief efforts. By far the bulk of U.S. efforts were directed toward Russian War Relief (RWR). When the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany in June 1941, it was clear there would be great need for humanitarian aid to the Russian people. Within a few weeks, in New York, a group of anti-Nazi activists formed Russian War Relief, Inc. It became the largest American charitable agency of its kind.

From that point until the end of the war, the RWR raised money, clothing, medical supplies and other material to send to the Soviet Union. Many well-known entertainers were active supporters. My father was hired for a time to photograph some of the RWR’s activities and the well-known people involved.

There were also efforts to help other civilian populations in great need. One American aid group focused on helping the Finnish people, and another addressed needs in Poland. The first two of today’s pictures show representatives of those groups.

Help Finland: Mary Pickford supports Finnish war relief effort, undated

In 1939 Finland valiantly but quixotically defended itself against Russia’s efforts to overtake it. The Finnish ambassador to the U.S. appealed for non-military aid: medical supplies, clothing and food. A Finnish Relief Fund was established, led by ex-president Herbert Hoover. (A post on May 29 has more to say and show about this sometimes-controversial effort.)

Mary Pickford (in fur coat) is probably best remembered as a silent film star in the early years of the 20th century. But she also performed in “talkies;” in fact, she won the second-ever award for Best Actress in 1929 for her first speaking role as “Coquette.” She was a co-founder (with Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith) of the United Artists studio. She was also one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Here she is shown supporting the group of women, dressed in traditional Finnish garb, who were apparently collecting money as they traveled Brooklyn in a van with “HELP FINLAND” displayed on its side.


Funds raised promptly: Polish women donate money, November 1939

Eighty-one years and one week ago Germany invaded Poland and started World War II. Within weeks it was clear that the Polish people would need enormous supplies of humanitarian aid. Again, with ex-President Herbert Hoover taking the lead, the Commission for Polish Relief (CPR) was established on September 25. A few weeks later, this group of Polish women in Brooklyn presents a check to a representative of the Commission.


Not enough to do: Navy Yard workers contribute, August 1940

By the summer of 1940 the Brooklyn Navy Yard was well on its way into extra-high gear. But in case the workers didn’t have enough to do, and enough of a role in supporting the war effort, they found the time and the money to contribute to RWR. The three men on the left – in their Navy-Yard attire – present a check to grateful RWR fund-raisers.


Order of the day: Ad for Madison Square Garden rally, 1942

Speeches, music, passing the plate and collecting checks. A rally of this kind was held each spring from 1941 through 1945.


Celebrity support: Duke Ellington, 1944

I posted a couple of pictures back on June 17th that had a connection to RWR. Andre Kostelanetz, Lily Pons and Paul Robeson were featured, and I have photos of Elsa Maxwell and a few other familiar names from back then. There were many who helped the cause. But probably none is as remembered today, or was as famous then, as Duke Ellington. Here he is donating clothing from his own closet.


Valuable window space: Selling the need, undated

Retailers on Brooklyn’s (and Manhattan’s) busiest streets sacrificed some space to draw the attention of window shoppers to the RWR fundraising efforts. And this was only one of many such causes that businesses supported, the public responded to and that, collectively, had a tangible and valuable impact on the overall needs of the world at war. In difficult times, that’s what it takes. (The young passerby in this scene, however, was apparently more interested in the photographer.)

An index of Kaufman’s Brooklyn posts may be found here.

Irving Kaufman’s profile may be found here.

I invite you to submit comments, memories, images of Brooklyn, and especially any additional background information you can supply about the photos posted here to [email protected]. I’d also be glad to supply information about buying prints of any of the images seen here. Many of my father’s images are also available for viewing and purchase at All prints purchased will be the product of professional scanning and editing.

Weekly collection 19: Photos of ‘World War II: On the home front’

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