World War II
During the Second World War sentimentality reclaimed the mainstream of American popular music. Ballad recordings—slow, romantic love songs—increasingly pushed aside the hot jazz sounds of the era’s dance bands. The singers of these songs were an assortment of old and new faces—Bing Crosby, Dick Haymes, Vaughn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Their hit songs, recordings such as “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Together,” “My Devotion,” and “There Are Such Things,” exchanged cynicism and irony for optimistic expressions of love, faithfulness, and devotion. These popular ballads shared in a broader wave of sentimentality that suffused the era’s mass culture—Hollywood film, commercial popular music, and radio programming. 1940s sentimentality, although responding to new social conditions produced by the war, was modeled on and nourished by a historical tradition of sentimental culture stretching back into the mid-nineteenth century.
In the courtyard behind the apartment building at 55 Sienna Street, one can still visit a rare fragment of the wall that, for a brief period between November 1940 and October 1941, marked the southern boundary of the Warsaw Ghetto. Though situated just northwest of the Central Train Station, in the heart of the Polish capital’s downtown, it is remarkably hard to find. To approach its east side, you have to be buzzed through a gate by a guard who, though unseen, is apparently keeping watch for visitors, who are invariably checking a map or guidebook against the addresses on the adjacent buildings, certain that if they were in the right place there would be a sign to direct them to a site of such importance.