“Destination Unknown” – An upsetting photograph and an American war relief effort in 1940

“Destination Unknown”

This upsetting photograph appeared in the June 24, 1940 edition of the Pittston Gazette newspaper. It shows a woman and her children moving amid rubble next to a burning building in war-ravaged Belgium during the Nazi invasion of that country.

The photograph was used as part of a campaign by local chapters of the American Red Cross to raise funds for war relief. The image was accompanied by this caption:

“These are ‘refugees to nowhere.’ This family happens to be Belgian, but there are hundreds of thousands of others like it in France, Holland, Norway, and Finland.

No armored plate protects them. No supply trains bring them food. No commander finds them a place to stay when night falls. No expert strategist tells them where to continue their weary trek, or how.

Father and grown son are not there to help them. All hope is behind them; in front lies nothing but horror and frightful uncertainty.

War strikes the civilians first and makes them suffer most. Battles are fought in the streets of their small towns and on the fields of their small farms. Invading battalions crush their homes, shops, and schools. Foragers seize their crops to feed soldiers, and confiscate their livestock to haul supplies. Nothing remains for the ‘refugees to nowhere.’

It is to help them that the Red Cross is asking for $20 million. Pittston Red Cross Chapter has a big part to play in raising that sum of money. It needs your help, because you and your neighbors are the American Red Cross. We know you will heed the cries from the ‘refugees to nowhere,’ and that the Red Cross flag of mercy will never come down.

Give as much as you can to the Red Cross War Relief Drive – today. Make checks payable to Pittston Chapter, American Red Cross, marked War Relief Fund and mail or send any contribution to Pittston Chapter Red Cross Headquarters, 15 South Main Street, Pittston.”


(Photograph: National Archives)

You can support war relief efforts in Ukraine today – our favorite relief organization is World Central Kitchen. Read more about them and donate here.

A Getty Images photograph of a family fleeing Ukraine in February 2022.

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