World War II: Saving the Reality, A Collector’s Vault, by Kenneth W. Rendell. Whitman Publishing, hardbound, slip-cased, 144 pages, profusely illustrated in color with 80 replicas, $49.95, $32.97 from Amazon.
Here is the most indispensable guide ever created to the war that made us what we are today. From teenagers to veterans, readers will be enthralled with this portable version of Ken Rendell’s Museum of World War II: that inimitable collection of wartime memorabilia, documents, personal effects and autographs housed in an unlabeled building in suburban Boston.
Visits to the Museum itself are necessarily restricted. Being private, it has no public-access facilities; moreover, there are no barriers—thousands of exhibits are displayed in the open. As you can imagine, Mr. Rendell is rather particular about who meanders through his trove, although qualified group visits are possible. But through his book, everyone may experience and even “handle” his artifacts.
It would take pages to describe the exhibits, but this book does a thorough job. The collection is displayed in full color, with reproductions of paper items—from postcards to passports—tucked into envelopes and pockets, or taped to the pages of a massive landscape format book housed in a sturdy slipcase.
The Rendell collection runs from identification papers for SS soldiers to the rough draft of the Munich Agreement, with amendments in their own hand by Hitler and Chamberlain (preserved for years by the family of Nevile Henderson, the British Ambassador to Nazi Germany; from maps of invasion plans (including German plans for occupation of Ireland) to wartime propaganda posters from every belligerent; from Holocaust and POW documents to confidential letters from Roosevelt to Churchill; from first editions of Mein Kampf and the Diary of Anne Frank to German town signs warning Jews not to enter; from officer insignia fashioned by prisoners from food tins to Nazi flyers designed to demoralize invading Allied troops: “Blondes prefer strong and healthy men—not cripples!”
On my last visit to the Museum, Mr. Rendell showed me a recent acquisition: an innocent looking sheet of cheap, yellowed stencil paper labeled OPERATIONS ORDER and dated 6 August 1945. On it are the names of a flight crew: Tibbets, Sweeney, Marquardt, McKnight; and the notation: “BOMBS: Special.” It is the ops-order for the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima. Sure enough, a perfect replica of this priceless document is contained in a pocket of the final chapter of the book.
Indeed, no outstanding item from the fabulous Rendell collection seems to be missing, except maybe his tank, landing craft, Hitler’s personal effects, the box of “gentleman’s toiletries” Hermann Goering took to prison in Nuremberg, and lifesize wax figures of Churchill, Hitler, Patton and Montgomery—most of these are photographed in color. The book, like the museum, is laid out in chronological order, from the prostrate Germany that emerged a defeated nation after World War I, to Victory over Japan in September 1945.
By far the most chilling aspect of this collection are the brilliantly effective Nazi graphics—from uniforms to banners and swastika-bedecked standards patterned after those the Roman Empire—for indeed this was to be the Reich that would last a thousand years. Ken Rendell collected the Nazi material with a great deal of repugnance, knowing it was needed to tell the story. Sometimes he had to deal with some pretty scary characters: living, breathing Nazis who view the Third Reich as a lost opportunity.
On my last visit I studied the array of German propaganda posters, which begin by depicting Hitler as the benign Führer, presiding over bucolic farmers and mothers with children, then gradually evolve to race-baiting admonitions and exhortations of Deutschland Erwacht! I remarked at how superior the German graphic artists were to everybody else. Ken Rendell nodded in agreement: “They were the best,” he said. They were trying to market a war—and they succeeded.”
Don’t fail to secure your copy of this book. You might want extra copies for your children and grandchildren, to remind them of what our forebears went through to secure our liberty.