My grandfather, Eli Adalman, was a passionate amateur photographer who lived in Baltimore, Maryland. Many of his negatives have been lost over the years, but during the past summer, when everything around here was locked down, I began scanning and cataloguing some of the ones that survived. Most are readily identifiable family photos of life in Baltimore the 1940s and 1950s. But two rolls were a mystery.
Click images to enlarge and view as a slide-show
These negatives showed scenes from World War II in the United States and through Europe. The mystery was that my grandfather never left the States during WWII, and no one that I knew of from his side of the family ever served in Europe. I circulated the photos to all of the family members that I could think of, but none of them knew of a relative who served in Europe either. Yet when I sent them to a distant cousin, who I had only recently met through the internet, the mystery began to unravel.
That cousin recognized one of the people in the photos as his father, Philip Adalman. Philip was an ophthalmologist, and he served in the Army Medical Corps during the war. My cousin knew that his father had served in the Army, but he had not known where, or that he had ever been sent overseas. But the photos confirmed that he had been, and they recorded his journey in fascinating detail.
The first batch of images was taken in Camp Grant, an Army facility in Illinois specializing in training Army medical personnel. It follows Philip and other doctors and nurses through basic training before being sent overseas. There were several photos of one particular Army nurse that my cousin and others in the family do not recognize. This same nurse also showed up in photos taken later in London. Could she have been a wartime romance? We will probably never know.
After basic training, Philip was apparently posted to England, and there are several pictures that he took in and around London. They include a shot of Piccadilly Circus, with vintage cars and patriotic billboards, not to mention a surprising amount of traffic in view of the stringent fuel rationing.
That one photo seems to capture much of what it must have been like to be in wartime London. The mystery nurse also shows up in several of Philip’s pictures from London. In the image below, the bombed church is depicted in fine detail. Note the sign: This church, though blitzed, is still in use [in the] South Aisle.
After London, Philip probably followed the invading forces to France. There is one photograph of the town of Étretat in Normandy. I identified the town by scanning the coast of France using Google Maps until I found a modern view of the same chalk cliffs that are shown in Philip’s photo. Étretat is north of Le Havre and was many miles away from the invasion beaches. None the less, the image shows very serious beach fortifications that were part of Hitler’s “Atlantic Wall”. You can see a modern view of the town from exactly where Philip must have been standing on the Google Earth website (and here at Wikipedia).
From Normandy, Philip appears to have gone to Paris. There was only one photograph from the city, but it shows a clearly recognisable facade of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. I took a photo of the identical facade when I was in Paris in 2014.
After Paris, Philip’s next clearly identifiable stop was Reims. A photo of Reims Cathedral looks very similar to modern images that can be found on-line. He also photographed the Technical College in Reims, which was the Allied headquarters during the latter stages of the war, and the site of the German surrender on the Western Front. This building is still standing, and it doesn’t look a lot different now. Fittingly, it has been renamed as the Lycée Roosevelt (the Roosevelt High School)
Philip’s next stop was Arles. He only took one photo in Arles: a view of the Roman Arena looking south from the Rue de l’Amphithéâtre, from almost the exact spot where I captured the Arena in 2016.
Philip’s journey ended in Marseille, a city I also visited in 2016. Philip probably spent a long time in Marseille, judging by the number of photographs in the folder. His photos include several street scenes of soldiers and civilians.
Some of those locations have not changed much since WWII and can be seen on Google Earth. Many of his images appear to have been taken from a ship sailing into the Old Port in Marseille. You can see a partially sunken ship, and the ruins of the Marseille Transporter, a huge steel structure that bridged the Marseille harbor. It was destroyed during the Battle of Marseille in 1944.
Phillip’s photographic record stops in Marseille. Is that because Marseille was Philip’s last stop before returning home? Had he used up all of his film before travelling on? Or were there other photos that were lost like so many of Eli’s other negatives. We may never know.
As for Phillip’s gear, we won’t know that for sure either, but I can make an educated guess. Eli was an avid camera collector. His collection included two Graflex sheet-film cameras, a Rolleiflex, a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikona roll film camera, and several 35mm Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder cameras.
I used many of these cameras myself when I was learning photography. It seems likely that Philip took one of Eli’s Contax cameras with him when he enlisted, and held on to it throughout the war. I still have two of those cameras, and I like to think that one of them was used to take the photos that documented Philip’s WWII journey at a momentous time in history.
Philip survived the war and returned home. I can only assume that he brought the film with him and gave it to my grandfather to develop. Philip went on to be a successful ophthalmologist in New York, but in later years became estranged from his family, which is why it was so hard to identify the photographs.
He never talked to his son about the war, so it came as a surprise to him that his father had even been in France during the war. It is not unusual for veterans to be reluctant to talk about their wartime experiences, and as a result, many families have lost an important part of their history. My mother lost two cousins during WWII. She never talked about either one of them, and I only recently learned that I had been named for one of them.
Still, that silence makes it all that much more satisfying to uncover a mystery like this so many years later.