Brooklyn Boro

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

September 9, 2020 Phil Kaufman
Share this:

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.

Subscribe to the Brooklyn Eagle

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 topic is another organization that reflected the need for the public to be involved in the war effort. A few years ago, when I first began in earnest to dig into my father’s work, I remember doing a double-take when I came across a batch of envelopes identified as “OCD.”

The Office of Civilian Defense was serious business. Though we in the U.S. were lucky to be thousands of miles from the theaters of war, our direct involvement did begin with an attack on our territory. There were plenty of scares and there was much need for vigilance in the years that followed.

The OCD was established on May 20, 1941 with a mandate to coordinate measures for the protection of civilians. Specific duties were to include things like blackout management, fire protection, air-raid preparedness, and, in case of attack, functions such as child care, health, housing, and transportation. Civil Defense volunteers numbered over 11 million at their peak.

Radio appeal: Mayor, borough president and others speak to the public, October 1941

In addition to being mayor, Fiorello La Guardia was also appointed by President Roosevelt as the director of the national Office of Civilian Defense when it was established in May of 1941. Here he is speaking to the public via WNYC radio, appealing for support for the OCD. Borough President John Cashmore (seated, right) also spoke at this meeting and broadcast, as did several other local officials.


First, attract attention: Sign in front of Borough Hall, November 12, 1941

There may have been an official list of duties, but that didn’t mean the OCD was limited to only those things. The “Sign the Pledge” invitation here suggests a call for volunteers to sign up as members of the organization. But actually, it was an effort to extend the responsibilities even further into the public – beyond actual OCD affiliation – and remind even more people that they had a role to play in the war effort. I didn’t realize that until I read the fine print in the next photo.


Then provide the details: The sign tells the story, Borough Hall, November 12, 1941

This group of Boy Scouts inside Borough Hall display the pledge that the OCD challenged everyone to sign. Here’s what it says:


As a consumer, in the total defense of democracy, I will do my part to make my home, my community, my country ready, efficient … and strong.

  • I will buy carefully.
  • I will take good care of the things I have.
  • I will waste nothing.



Maybe it’s still a good idea.


The four-step process: Work in the OCD office, February 1942

These pictures do a pretty good job of summarizing the OCD staffing process, not much different from any hiring process. The early 1942 date of these scenes tells us that the U.S. had only entered the war a couple of months earlier, so the pressure was surely high to ramp up the activities and staff.

First you advertise for the positions you need to fill and then wait for applicants to contact you. Here the ad entitled “America Calling.”

“We Need: Air Raid Wardens; Auxiliary Firemen; School Nurse Aids; School Defense Aides; Doctors; Office Assistants.” The bottom of the poster probably has the OCD’s Brooklyn phone number.

Next, you interview the candidate and take notes. When you’re looking for lots of people, those notes pile up, literally. Then you compare notes (so to speak) and find the qualified people to fill the various jobs. Most jobs don’t require the last step shown here, but this one, for unpaid volunteers, calls for a swearing-in.

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’

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment