To commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Winnebago Alumni Newsletter is exploring camp’s history in those uncertain, tragic, and ultimately triumphant years. Below, Uncle Andy Kaufman, a first-year camper in 1942 (and, later, co-creator of Chief’s Cup—not to mention a Harvard Law School professor for the last 50 years), shares his recollections of Winnebago during that era.
I cannot compare the war years with what went before except by hearsay because I came to Winnebago in 1942, the summer after the United States entered World War II, when I was 11 years old. My older brother John came that year, too, and at 16 he was one of the oldest campers. The war put an end to 17- and 18-year-old campers. My Winnebago Echo from that year reports that there were only 79 campers and there was no Eagle Division. My memory is that I had heard that the year before there had been well over 100 campers. There were just 20 counselors. Almost all were of draft age, and I notice that by the time the Echo was published, a few had military addresses. The rest must have had deferments of some sort. I do not have copies of the Echo for 1943 and 1944, but not many of those who were counselors in 1942 were still counselors in 1945, the last war year. By then the camper population was back up to 118. Nineteen-forty-five was also the year that camp departure deviated from the standard meeting place of Grand Central east of Track 11. Most of us flew from La Guardia to the Augusta airport. I think it was probably the first time many of us had ever been in an airplane and it was a memorable trip. We flew up in back of a minor hurricane that had just gone through and it was quite a rough trip, with several of the airsick bags put to good use.
Perhaps I have repressed the discussions of the events of the war. I do not remember any announcements of the deaths of members of the Winnebago community to the group at large or even to those of us who were somewhat older toward the end of the war. I don’t remember that the bits of information about the Holocaust that were beginning to surface then were the subject of discussion. Major events in the war were treated as news announcements in morning assemblies and Chief ran a once-a-week current events discussion for seniors. The one event that I remember quite clearly was the assembly the morning the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Uncle Leo Lehrman, who was a swimming counselor my first year but Associate Director by 1945, was a science professor at CCNY. I have a vivid memory of him discussing the military and scientific importance of the bomb and trying to explain in simple language something about its creation. I didn’t understand it, but I did understand that he was trying to tell us that a new scientific age was upon us.
I think that the camp must have had a difficult tightrope to walk with respect to deciding how much to discuss the war and the war effort. My guess is that some parents must have let Chief know that at least a part of the decision to send campers to Winnebago during the war came from a notion of getting their children away from the war for a couple of months. And so as I read the chronicle of the events of the summers of 1942 and 1945, the first and last summers of the war, the emphasis is on the usual events of camp life, Brown and Green athletics, intercamp rivalries, trips, and the various occupational activities that camp offered. And that is what I remember most.
The war effort was recognized. There was a victory garden and I remember going to a farm in Kents Hill to hoe and weed and then pick fields of beans several times during the summer. Trips were curtailed because of gas rationing. There was no Mt. Katahdin, Allagash, Mt. Washington, or Rangeley trip. The mountain climbing trip was to nearby Mt. Blue—and there were various canoeing trips on the Belgrade Lakes that were powered by muscles, not gasoline. The usual list of occupations was supplemented by the so-called Defense Occupations. There was Communications, where Morse code and semaphore signaling were taught, Auto Mechanics, Air Raid Protection, and First Aid among others. It would not be accurate to say that those particular occupations were popular, but campers generally realized that in wartime some things not thought of as “fun” were appropriate and necessary.
At the time I do not remember hearing much conversation from the adults about their attitude toward participating in the running of a camp during wartime. I suppose that there must have been some discussion about whether it was even an appropriate thing to do. And whatever guilty feelings there may have been among campers, especially older campers, we kept them to ourselves.