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An archive of seven letters, written between October 10 and December 26, 1942, by a Jewish soldier from Brooklyn, who was stationed in St. Thomas, is up for sale.
Frederick Goldman was in the Coast Guard and these insightful letters were written to his parents and sister, all of whom live in Brooklyn.
They relate to everyday events in the soldier’s life, with some history of the Jewish community on St. Thomas and interest in what was happening in the family jewelry business back home.
The island of St. Thomas, containing as an area of about 32 square miles, has several bays on the southern coast, two of which, Lindbergh Bay and Gregorie Channel, were developed for US Navy use.
In 1940, the main east-west runway at Bourne Field was extended to a length of 4,800 feet.
The hangar was expanded by 100 feet, and additional buildings were constructed, all of which in order to make the field suitable to house a permanent squadron of eighteen aircraft.
An additional concrete ramp, a hangar, and other structures were also built at Lindbergh Bay to expand the seaplane base.
Rebuilding the Submarine Base
On July 8, 1941, additional contracts were granted to expand the air station and to rebuild a submarine base in the Gregorie Channel.
In Oct 1941, three new 150-foot steel radio towers and a reinforced-concrete transmitter building were built to replace the obsolete WWI-era station.
After the United States entered WW II in Dec 1941, patrol flights were regularly launched from Saint Thomas to detect, in particular, Axis submarines.
Between 1944 and 1950, the small Water Island of the US Virgin Islands was used by the US Army to test chemical warfare agents, including Agent Orange which would gain notoriety during the Vietnam War.
The US Virgin Islands remain an unincorporated organized territory of the United States to this day.
Quotes from the Letters
Some quotes from the letters follow, with spelling and punctuation not corrected October 10, 1942:
“The officer in command here, a man by the name of Lieut. Lucheam told me that this is the second oldest Jewish community in the New World and I noticed the name of “Levi” the other day on one of the store windows.”
“They tell me there is a Temple somewhere on the island so I may get the opportunity of visiting some good Jewish families here and drop in for some Gefilta Fish.”
(The Jewish population at this time were only about 50 individuals worshiping at St. Thomas Synagogue, named, Beracha Veshalom Vegemiluth Hasidim (Blessing and Peace and Acts of Piety.).
It was designed by an unknown French architect, which had been built in 1833.)
Now that I am a Yeoman (Navy secretary) down here I guess my spelling will have to improve considerably.”
“My sleeping quarters are the best since I have been in the service, my windows open right on the ocean and the cool breeze is simply marvelous.
My bed is my own and not a double-decker and my mattress and pillow seem to be made of the finest goose down as I sink in that bed like lead in soft butter.”
October 12, 1942: “At the rear of the town, surprisingly enough, we found a Jewish cemetery with graves dating as far back as 1700.
The Levi family here in town, I guess, is one of the oldest settlers.
I also watched one of the strangest shoe repairmen in the world.
He was an old native, and as he did not have the price for leather to repair his shoes he cut up an old rubber tire, and with the aid of a small sharp knife, some nails and a hammer he made one of the finest shoe repairs I have ever seen.
He told me that the soles and heels would last him for at least 6 months.
In another part of the town, I watched old native women make homemade ice cream and all the little colored kids gathered around with their mouth-watering.
If I did not tell you this before, whiskey and rum here are actually cheaper than Coca-Cola and as most of the boys here are on a strict budget, they drink the cheaper drink.
Pop, a quart bottle of Canadian Club here is $1.25, compared to $3.75 we pay in the states.
The boy who was with me during the picture taking incident thought that he would get some good scenes of the town so he scrambled up one of the radio towers to take some pictures.
When he was through taking pictures, he climbed down and waiting at the bottom of the tower was a navy Shore Patrol Officer who promptly nabbed him and took him over to Naval Intelligence to have the pictures developed and give him a little third degree.
I have not as yet heard the results, but I will let you know if it turns out funny.”
November 30, 1942: “Here it is the last day in the month of November.
Therefore what should a thoughtful sailor do on this day?
You would never guess so I will tell you. I went to the town printer and having a combination Christmas and New Year’s Card made.
Fifty of them altogether.
Dad, I would like to send some to my old jewelry customers so will you kindly look up their names and mail me their address.
You can find them all listed in the telephone book.” He then goes on to write a number of names and continues “If you have the Red Book from the Jeweler’s Association which I believe was in the case, I will appreciate you running through it as this would be the best way.”
December 1, 1942: “Today, I too did a little interior decorating. Well, it ain’t exactly interior decorating but that is the most important way to make it sound.
Our recreation room needed a little paint job, so who should receive the contract, Yours truly.
Thereupon, I was handed a paintbrush and the Bosin (equivalent to Army to Sergeant) said one nice word to me, “Paint”.
Who was I to dicker?
So I said, “Yes sir!”, picked up the brush, which was about four times the size of a regular-sized brush (you know Navy issue), and started to push paint.
Results: My arm feels like a dead lox, and my dungaree outfit got so full of white paint that when I got through at noon, I figured I could go out on liberty with it as it looked like dress whites.”
23 December 1942: “This afternoon the Rabbi came over and handed me four boxes. They were from the Jewish Welfare Board in New York and came to us from the Joshua Orphan Aid. It was a bit past the date but you can guess that they were Hanukah Gifts.”
24 December 1942: ” The time now is 1:30 P.M. and up to this time I have been working like a busy little Beaver.
You know how Christmas is with the Gentiles, so therefore, you can see why all the hub-bub down here.”
“I asked the Gunner’s Mate if he would let me take a picture with one of our hand type Machine Guns and he consented so in the near future you will see the kid in action with the gun.”
26 December 1942: “Yesterday being Christmas, today I am recuperating.”
Today, this morning, I went with Harry Weiss and some new Jewish boy who arrived here by the name of Suss, a Bronxite, to services.
I noticed that the attendance in the Synagogue has grown larger since I first attended.
The Synagogue Trustees ruled that in the future the services will be held on Friday night so that all the servicemen on the Island and the people of the island itself shall have a chance to worship.
After services, I went back to the Base and worked till 1:00 P.M.
After 1:00 P.M. our liberty begins and so Harry and I pocketing the apples we got for breakfast went to the Rabbi’s home.
We gave the apples to his daughter who likes them very much. It is very hard or I should say impossible to purchase apples here and so it was all the more appreciated.
For our kindness, the Rabbi procured us two tickets for the best Christmas Eve dance in town which Harry and I are going to tonight.
While in the Rabbi’s home, we were served a glass of beer which just arrived off the boat and some of his wife’s homemade cake. The Beer was O.K. The cake —????
The Rabbi played us some songs on his Victrola and we also picked up a broadcast of news from the states.
“This is a very interesting archive, very readable, 19 pages in total written either on USO stationery or plain paper.
Source: (Jewish Historical Development In the Virgin Islands. 1665-1959 by Isidor Paiewonsky.) Original folds, very good condition.”
Inventory Number: 44368, Price: $875.00
To purchase this collection visit ==> Buckingham Books.