SOUTHINGTON — Stationed in the British-controlled Middle East in 1942, former Southington News editor August L. Loeb came across an Arabic pamphlet containing a photo of himself in his hometown.
Loeb, a sergeant, was a writer for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes during World War II. He came across the pamphlet containing 23 photographs of work, government and daily life in Southington, Connecticut.
One of the photographs, taken earlier that year by photographer Charles Fenno Jacobs, included Loeb in the Southington News office at a typesetting machine.
Jacobs took nearly 300 photos of wartime Southington for the Office of War Information, a federal department that produced propaganda during World War II. While the photos survive and can be viewed online at the Library of Congress web site, the pamphlet Loeb mailed back from the Middle East hasn’t been found. No copies have been found either, despite searches by local historians.
Liz Kopec, an attorney and past Southington Historical Society president, said she’s visited Washington, D.C., to search the Library of Congress and the National Archives for a copy of the wartime pamphlet. She’s talked to Southington residents as well, but hasn’t found one.
“I’ve probably been looking for three years,” she said. “Nobody I’ve talked to in Washington or in Southington has ever seen one.”
“It just disappeared,” Kopec said.
The pamphlet received by the Southington News, featured in a Dec. 3, 1943, edition of the paper, was written in Arabic. According to the article, the pamphlet was translated into “many languages,” but no details were known as to how many countries received it and how many copies were printed.
Kopec said only one was sent back to Southington by Loeb, although there may be other copies saved in other countries.
Jacobs, a photographer for Life, Fortune, and the U.S. government, visited Southington in the spring of 1942 in time for a Memorial Day parade. His photographs show crowds, farmland, factories businesses, medical care and daily life.
One photo, in color, was shot at the corner of Eden Avenue and Main Street. The photo shows the former location of the Southington News, now Dominic the Tailor & Cleaner, along with trucks and cars along the street.
A number of photographs show crowds and the Memorial Day procession near the Town Green. A caption for one of the photos indicates that the lack of attendance was due to factories remaining open that day.
A German immigrant, Gus Worke, is featured in several of the photos on his farm.
“He came from Germany forty years ago; expecting to get rich, he said. He didn’t find material riches but did come into a life rich in personal freedoms,” the caption read.
Other photo captions note the town’s Polish and Italian populations. Nick Grillo, a floriculturalist, was photographed in a greenhouse.
“Nick Grillo as a boy in Italy dreamed of coming to America and its opportunity. He saved enough money for boat passage to this country,” the caption read. “Today, after twenty-two years, he is one of the world’s outstanding floriculturists, developer of the famous ‘thornless rose,’ an age-old dream of his craft.”
Jacobs also photographed an amusement house Laff in the Dark, along with young people dancing and eating at The Old Mill, “a popular place for young men to take girl friends on a Saturday night.” The roller coaster at Lake Compounce, in 1942 near a dirt road and farms, is visible in several photographs.
Susan Brewer, a University of Wisconsin history professor, said the Office of War Information circulated pamphlets in the Middle East to gain sympathy with local populations. She’s not familiar with the Southington photos, but was surprised that in the Mediterranean theater, still the scene of fighting in 1942 and 1943, the Office of War Information managed to conduct propaganda operations.
“It was still a war zone,” Brewer said.
New England towns in particular were chosen as the subjects for propaganda since they had a history of town hall meetings and represented American democracy and equality. The inclusion of immigrants fit with the OWI’s program of trying to include other nationalities in print and film during the war years.
Connecticut was featured in an OWI documentary concerning Czech refugees, Brewer said. The OWI also created material intended for Americans, produced from photos taken from around the country.
Since the war was global in scope and total in aim, Brewer said it’s difficult to determine how effective American propaganda efforts were.
While the Office of War Information was shuttered after World War II, similar efforts aimed at winning over populations continue. Brewer said a 2004 campaign by the U.S. Department of State was aimed at showing overseas Muslim populations the equality which American Muslims enjoyed. The campaign faced criticism, according to Brewer, from Muslims who didn’t doubt American freedom of religion but still opposed its foreign policy.
She teaches a course called “War and Propaganda in the 20th Century.”
The propaganda pamphlet wasn’t the only way Southington photos circulated. In May 1943, Loeb also found a two-page spread of town photos in the British magazine Parade. According to Southington News coverage from that year, the 13 pictures used were of Town Hall, farms, town meetings, businesses and daily life.
“Since Parade is widely circulated in the Middle East and since that area is reported in news dispatches as having a wide variety of nationalities populating it, it is probable that these Southington scenes were brought to an international group of readers,” the Southington News said.
According to naval-history.net, Parade was a weekly paper published in the Middle East theatre of World War II. It was circulated in Turkey, Palestine, Cyprus, Sudan, Eritrea and other nations.