The story of a nineteen-year-old college student's "grand tour" of Europe on a shoe-string as the clouds of World War II gathered and broke. This journal was written fifty years ago. At that time the University of Minnesota's "The Literary Review" published excerpts under the title: "Prelude ... Europe, Summer, 1939." In 1941, "Prelude" was awarded the Literary Review prize. Since then, this diary has lain on a shelf while I have gone about the business of living, which has included completing an undergraduate education, finding a first job, serving three and a half years as an enlisted man and officer in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, completing five years of graduate school under the G.I. Bill, working seven years in industry, and then teaching for twenty-nine years on the faculty of Michigan State University. It has only been in retirement that my thoughts have turned to the journal I kept in 1939. A re-reading suggested that it might be of interest — to my children and grandchildren, and possibly to a wider audience that continues to be fascinated by the cataclysm that enveloped us all in 1939 and the years that followed. How did it all happen? This diary is a modest personal contribution to helping answer that question. Here is how the world of 1939 looked to a nineteen-year-old college sophomore from Minnesota, a nineteen-year-old whose Scandinavian roots and fundamentalist Protestant upbringing (his father once served as lay minister in Garrison Keillor's hometown of Anoka) lend their own special perspective to what he saw and experienced.
I have gone through the 1939 diary making only the barest minimum of changes. My purpose has been to preserve the viewpoints and insights of my nineteen-year-old self with its enthusiasms, its naivete, and its inevitable biases. This is how the world looked to that nineteen-year-old in a year that — more than most years — made history. (Written in 1989)