Seventy-five years ago last week, northern Europe was at uneasy peace. During the first week of September 1939 the region had flamed into war. The Berkeley Daily Gazette was full of updates and ominous headlines. Nazi troops from Germany had crashed into Poland from west and north (East Prussia) without declaring war.
"Is this Sarajevo?" the Gazette editorialized Sept. 1, recalling the assassination that triggered World War I. "Is the fighting which began today along the German-Polish frontier and the bombing of Polish cities by German planes the beginning of another World War?"
"Crowds milled around newspaper stands and the Gazette bulletin board on Shattuck Avenue today awaiting latest reports on the European situation," the paper reported the same day. "There was a continuous 'hum' as Berkeleyans expressed their opinions on the fate of Europe in the current war crisis. Men and women, young and old, were discussing reports of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland, Hitler's annexation of Danzig, and the virtual ultimatum to Der Führer that England's prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, voiced in Great Britain's House of Commons tonight."
The next day, the editorialist wrote, "If America is to keep out of the European war, now is the time to guard against becoming involved. This we can do only by keeping our individual as well as our collective balance."
The paper quoted Chester Rowell -- noted journalist, and University of California Regent -- as saying in an address at UC Berkeley Sept. 1, "America's first responsibility is that when the end of this war comes there shall at least be a free America left in order that a free humanity may once again overspread a deluged earth."
"Berkeleyans marooned in Europe cable, 'we're safe'," read another headline. "None is believed to be in any particular danger unless bombing is started on a gigantic scale," the paper noted.
E.O. Heinrich, "noted criminologist of 1001 Oxford Street," had gone to Berlin for an international police conference. Another Berkeleyan was in Berlin, "Floyd Luther, 22, recent graduate of the University of California," who had traveled there to study chemistry. On Sept. 2 his Berkeley parents received a cable that simply read, "Still fine."
On Sept. 3, Britain declared a "state of war" with Germany, quickly followed by a similar declaration from France.
On Sept. 4, a front-page Gazette headline noted that John Lawrence, medical doctor and brother of famed UC physicist Ernest Lawrence, was believed aboard the British liner Athenia, which was torpedoed and sunk off Ireland. On Sept. 5, the Gazette carried a firsthand account by Lawrence of the sinking. He said he was in the last lifeboat to leave the ship. Lawrence and his fellow passengers were rescued by a British destroyer.
Back in the Bay Area, life went on as usual for many. On Sept. 3, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, an estimated 123,000 people visited Treasure Island and the Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco Bay. The Gazette urged readers to get their submissions in for the Exposition's "Candid Camera Contest."
The war did touch Treasure Island. The State of Johore building and exhibit at the exposition abruptly closed Sept. 6. Johore was allied with Great Britain. The building would be offered to San Francisco for Golden Gate Park, the Gazette reported that day.
In Evanston, Illinois, the Gazette reported, women gathered to kick off a centennial celebration of the birth of Frances E. Willard who founded the Women's Christian Temperance Union and would campaign for women's rights and equality. In 1916, Berkeleyans had thought enough of Willard to name their new junior high school on Telegraph Avenue for her.