top of page
  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

Underground Bomb Shelters, Atlantic City and the Draft

Until about two weeks before mom passed away I had been working on a project called "The Beauty of Aging." The project involved photographing people in their 90s and asking them bit of life advice to go along with their portraits. These portraits appear on my website

This project had great meaning for me. I wanted to see more come from these portraits so I embarked on a project where I connected young people in my life with the people in their nineties whom I had photographed. This project was a blog which I called 20-90, where people in their 20s posed questions to people in their 90s. It was my job to refer these questions to my senior friends and connect their answers to the questions which had been posed to them. This helped to make my visits with the 90-somethings very special. At each visit I would sit in rapt attention as the seniors reflected and reminisced about their lives. At a certain point as mom deteriorated, I couldn't continue my project and hoped to take it back up at some point.

Why do I write about this here in a blog that is largely about saying kaddish and reflecting on the current situation? Because I wanted to share a conversation I had with one of the women pictured above. One of the twenty-somethings who submitted questions, Rachel Weitzner had asked, "At this time with the state of the political world and climate, it almost feels like the world is ending and everything is terrible, and it's hard to maintain hope that things could get better over future generations. Did it feel like this when you were growing up as well? How did you maintain hope in the face of so many traumas/political unrest/natural disasters?

I posed this question to a number of seniors and want to share the answers of one person here, answers that stay with me now and give me courage. Bernice, one of the women picture above, recounted three distinct periods in her life where the world was a threatening place. She first described a period during the era of the Viet Nam war, where she had two draft-aged sons whom could have been drafted. She described how frightened she was then and how she considered fleeing the country with her sons to Canada for fear of them going to fight the war in Viet Nam.

The second period that she distinctly remembered was during the 1950s when people were deathly afraid of an atomic bomb that might be delivered to the United States. Bernice recounted seeing people creating underground shelters on her street. I can imagine the anxiety of people who thought that they could save their children from the end of days by building a shelter. That was an era where there were fallout shelters in central places and the days where children were told to hide under their desks in the case that an atomic bomb was exploded nearby.

The third period that Bernice shared with me was during World War II in Atlantic City where she lived as a young woman. She recounted how homes had black-out shades to keep the city dark at night for fear of attacks from the enemies and how soldiers were stationed in town and would do their exercises on the boardwalk of the city. How did those soldiers feel?

The population left at home? Of course, I am only writing now about one city in one state. This post does not even touch upon the nightmare of Nazi Germany.

These are three examples of living at times of nationwide terror of the unknown. Three times that this country's collective blood pressure rose. Three times that people lost sleep at night and fear reigned. Three times that people had to rise to the occasion, to make a difference in the world. Three times that government officials had to work to face an enemy, to lead a people, to allay the fears. Of course these described past events do not directly correspond to the nightmare the planet is now experiencing. Our current enemy is insidious and unseen. Our fear of this unknown is worldwide. The light at the end of the tunnel is muddied and far away but the examples that Bernice shared with me about events that filled people with fear were helpful in seeing that this period will someday come to an end.

This too shall pass. One day at a time. Thank you, Bernice, thank you for adding perspective to this frightening time. May we find the strength going forward to meet this challenge.

An example of an underground bomb shelter . Pictorial Parade:Getty Images

Atlantic City during World War 2 Image Wikepedia Commons

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page