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Hoover '1945' exhibit highlights personal war stories

STANFORD -- With miles of underground vaults and thousands of photographs and documents at their disposal, Hoover Institution archivists rightly could be expected to put together a compelling account of the final, critical year of World War II.

But "1945," the exhibition on display at the Hoover pavilion through Oct. 25, goes beyond historical detail to show how significant events resonated in individual lives.

In one glass display case a poem by anti-aircraft gunner Nonna Alexandrovna Smirnova, one of an estimated 800,000 Soviet women who served in combat, speaks to the historic record:

You must tell your children,

Putting modesty aside,

That without us, without women,

There would've been no spring

In 1945.

In another display case a handwritten letter from a Japanese woman interned in Wyoming during the war speaks to her own individual fears:

"I am still thinking about whether it is wise to go [to California] because some people advised me to relocate east because there will be strong hatreds toward us. I am anxious about furture [sic] after the war too."

In addition, handwritten diaries from Allied prisoners in the South Pacific and photographs borrowed from the personal scrapbooks of liberated Poles and Belgians combine to tell the daily stories behind the worldwide headlines.

Throughout the "1945" exhibit stark posters in red, grey, black and white predominate. An American raised fist accompanies a proclamation to "Avenge Dec. 7." A German caricature shows a multi- limbed monster of a "Cultural Terror" bent on smashing European institutions. A Japanese rendering of the future depicts a benevolent sun setting on the anticipated Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Various displays feature the expected war memorabilia -- medals of honor, swords, flags, ration books, even leather pilot pants. But the odd items on the shelf occasion surprise: an X-ray of Hitler's head, taken after an attempted assassination; wooden and cloth amulets carried into battle by Japanese infantry; a photo of Marlene Dietrich inspecting troops who have cheekily pulled their trousers up to their knees. One of the most benign looking items turns out to be a horror: A ledger from Dachau concentration camp lists inmates by name and by disposition, as in "removed due to death."

Black and white photographs focus on the well known (Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess conferring with their lawyer at the Nuremberg trials) and on the events that defined the outcome of the war. The latter includes photos of the Allied crossing of the Rhine, which pictures Allied convoys motoring east, and of seemingly endless lines of German POWs marching west in single file. GIs shaving in the Pacific Theater, fighter planes flying in deadly formation, Soviet flags being raised over the ruins of Berlin are all part of the Hoover's photographic history.

A single small photo in the display "March Toward Victory" reveals what that victory cost in individual lives. In the photo an execution squad of helmeted Germans takes aim as a French partisan faces them, hands behind his back, eyes open, unafraid.

The "1945" exhibit is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hoover Memorial Pavilion, near Hoover Tower.


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