Civilians Caught Up in War

The four case studies presented in this theme illustrate the very real dangers to civilians posed by twentieth century warfare. They span regions and time periods, from Europe during World War I to Iraq in the 1970s. The earliest case studies concern the First World War: Jane Abbott was an American visitor who found herself in Vienna when the shot was fired which initiated one of the most destructive wars in human history. William Molony, a British teenager, was in Germany when war was declared and found himself not only unable to return home but subsequently imprisoned for two years. "Life or Death of the World" tells of Constance Malleson's life and adventures in England, Finland and Sweden during the Second World War. Despite some hardship, these three civilians all survived the wars which swept them up; Alex Aronson was not so fortunate. A lifelong humanitarian, he was arrested by Sadam Hussein's troops during a volunteer mission to Kurdistan in 1975 and was executed shortly afterwards.

“Life or Death of the World”: Letters from England and Scandinavia, 1939-1945

Lady Constance Malleson (stage name Colette O’Niel), was a stunningly beautiful aristocrat, actress, and writer. World War I brought Bertrand Russell and Colette together – both were volunteers with the No Conscription Fellowship. Their sizzling hot love affair, begun in 1916, eventually cooled, but their relationship, despite quarrels, separations, other affairs and marriages, was never completely severed. Their correspondence stretches over a half-century.

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An American in Vienna on the Outbreak of the First World War: Jane Abbott’s Diary

On 15 April 1914, Jane Abbott and her husband, Dr. Donald Putnam Abbott, travelled from New York to Europe aboard the steam ship Kaiser Franz Joseph I. A graduate of the Rush Medical College in Chicago, Donald intended to study in Vienna as part of his medical training. Several other American doctors, such as Dr. Russell M. Wilder, accompanied by his wife and infant son, were also studying in Vienna in the spring and summer of that year. In many respects the Abbotts were typical well-to-do tourists.

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Alex Aronson, Volunteer Medical Worker and Humanitarian

Alex Aronson (Leendert or Lex) was born on 20 December 1934 in Amsterdam. When he was eight years old, he was deported with his mother and maternal grandparents through Westerbork Transit Camp to Bergen-Belsen. His grandfather died of exhaustion in the summer of 1944. As his first-cousin, Gershon Eisenmann related, “In early April 1945, when the allies were nearing the neighborhood of Bergen-Belsen, the Germans transported everybody who could still walk a little bit out of Bergen-Belsen in two trains. Their intention was to drive the trains into the River Elbe.

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A British Teenager Caught Up in the First World War: William O’Sullivan Molony

William O’Sullivan Molony is only seventeen as he starts his diary and welcomes in the New Year at home in Eastbourne, England, with family, friends and German relatives in January 1914. Already a graduate of Wellington College, he is cramming in preparation for the Oxford University entrance examinations. His father is dead and his step-father, a German military officer, has by then been dead for two years. Together with his mother and sister, he travels to Germany on 25 March. William spends a delightful spring and summer there, and falls in love with his American cousin, Charlotte.

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