Elizabeth Kauffmann: March 17, 1940

Elizabeth Kauffmann knew that events in Europe were moving rapidly, but to what end she wasn’t sure. She was an Austrian Jewish girl living in France as a refugee in the spring of 1940. Her family had fled from the Nazis once before. This was after the Anschluss, the joining of Austria with Germany after the entrance of German troops in March 1938. Now it appeared as though they might have to run again. World War II had begun on September 1st in the previous year and France was officially at war with Germany. No battles had taken place yet between these two countries, but as far as anyone knew, that could change at any time.

It must have been difficult for Elizabeth to attend school with so much uncertainty hanging over her head. She and her fellow students were preoccupied with the rapidly unfolding political situation. She wrote of this in her diary. “In school we talk of nothing but politics. The more so since the various political opinions are represented here. Tchiquie, the Spanish girl, is not, as I had assumed, a refugee from Franco. To the contrary, her father is an attaché at the Spanish embassy and she is an enthusiastic nationalist who is ruthless and unfair in her opposition to anyone else’s opinion. […] At the other end of the spectrum is Gabriele, the Italian girl, a refugee from Mussolini and an ant-fascist. The two are in each other’s faces every day.”

The girls in Elizabeth’s school were obviously engaged in vigorous political discussions and debates because the issues under discussion had, and continued to have, a profound effect on their families and their lives. Elizabeth observed that the discussions often became heated and that her peers were more and more frequently split into two opposing factions. Unfortunately, she didn’t find the discussions to be very well informed. She observed, “If the girls were serious and would first think through what they are saying it could be very interesting. As it is, they are totally unschooled politically and they simply repeat whatever they pick up at the dinner table without forming their own opinions.”

Elizabeth’s complaint about political debates is as true today as it was in 1940. People need to become well-informed about the political issues of the day. These have the potential to dramatically impact our lives and families, so everyone needs to learn to think independently. Only when this happens does government based on democratic principles work best.

You may learn more about the civil war that brought Francisco Franco to power in Spain here.

Click here to may learn more about Benito Mussolini and his fascist government in Italy.

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