A Christmas Carol in War Times 1944

My book ` Die Macht des Schicksals (The Force of Destiny)` has an epilogue, which is at the same time the prolog of a new book that`s been published in 2016. Serena, one of the acting persons, tells how her grandfather came for the first time to Germany at Christmas 1944.

Serena begins to narrate:
My grandfather came to Germany in December 1944. On December 16 Hitler commanded the Battle of the Bulge to still enforce the turn on the Western Front. It is bitterly fought on both sides. The American troops  actually came under pressure.
It was a hard and snowy winter. Grandpa Joe, at that time not even 20 years old, a young black soldier from the South of the USA, experienced for the first time snow. He often had dreamt of it, but this experience is really not desirable in these circumstances.
On December 24 he is separated along with two comrades from the troops. He has a gunshot wound, only scantly supplied. The two others support him while trudging through the deep snow.
He trembles. Is it the cold? Is it blood loss? Probably both. They don`t know exactly where they are. In Belgium? In Germany? In any case in the vicinity of the boundary.
Evening starts and they see a lonely house. There`s a light. It is inhabited. Shall they dare and go there? After a brief consultation they opt for the following. They want to go to the house, knock at the door and ask the inhabitants, if they can warmup and rest a little bit. They want to do so, no matter if Germans or Belgians are in there.
In the house Helga works in the kitchen and cooks chicken soup. She thinks of her husband. How nice would it be, if he could be with them at Christmas. She sighs. Of course this is not possible. Secretly she had hoped, this terrible war would be over before Christmas. But it does not look like this now. Her 12 years old son, Fritz looks at her and sniffs eagerly the smell that draws from the stove over. Times are bad and his mother had often enough problems to feed him. But for Christmas Eve she has saved something at least in modest size to bring it on the table.
Now it knocks at the door. She has no idea, who could it be. She goes to the door carefully and opens. There are three soldiers with unknown uniform and black skin color. They must be Americans. For a moment she is scared. Then the soldiers speak to her in an unknown language with friendly voice. She only hears „cold and warm“, of course there are more words, but the doesn`t understand. The soldiers have weapons, they could gain entry by force, But they don`t. Helga thinks of her husband, who – God knows where – is probably exposed to the cold. She decides spontaneously and makes an inviting motion with her arm: Come in.
The Three soldiers enter and say Thank you` with a smile. The communication is difficult, because nobody speaks the language of the other. When Helga sees the wounded Joe, she points at the sofa. His comrades take him there, because that`s the best place to rest. Now all others sit down on chairs around the kitchen table.
Helga thinks how to solve the problem with the dinner. She was only prepared for two persons, now they are five. At this moment there`s a knock again at the door.
“German Army, open please.” Helga and Fritz are pale. They know, what they are doing is called abetting the enemy. People have been executed for this. The American soldiers didn`t understand, but the make sure for all cases that their weapons are ready to hand.
Helga thinks: “At least they said, please” Now she goes heart pounding but determined to the door. She opens just a crack.
Five German soldiers are standing outside, greatcoats covered with snow. They seem as frozen as the Americans before. “Please let us in to warmup a little bit.”
Helga hesitates for a moment. What shall she say? Then she decides spontaneously, takes the bull by the horns and speaks with firm voice:
“Of course you can come in. But there`re already three Americans, one of them is wounded and they are as frozen as you. I tell you, stay peacefully. It`s Christmas Eve. Peace on earth”
The German soldiers hesitate, but the last words of Helga have an effect as a magic formula. Christmas Eve. Peace on Earth. They enter silently and cautiously.
At once the eyes of American and German soldiers meet. Nobody says a word. But one question is unspoken in all eyes: Aren`t you as tired as we are to shoot at each other? Wouldn`t it be better to have peace at least for a few hours? And all nod to each other in silent agreement.
It goes through Helga`s head. I prepared dinner only for Fritz and me. But now we are ten. She has some stocks in the basement for the last case of emergency. She speaks to the Germans and gives clear the Americans with hand movements and gestures that she is going to prepare dinner. The answer is a thankful smile from all sides. The soldiers look around and see some branches of fir and some candles that give some Christmas atmosphere. When Helga comes from the basement she lights the candles and asks Fritz to sing a Christmas carol.
He begins and she sings in the background:
Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!
Alles schläft, einsam wacht,
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh
The German soldiers buzz with. And the Americans recognize the melody too. The first who begins to sing is the wounded Joe.
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy infant, tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Tears are in the eyes of the soldiers, who saw so many terrible things. The hearts that were hardened, soften now. The magic of Christmas reached them all.
Helga stays at the cooker and conjures up from the rests she brought up from the basement a meal for her guests.
All smell full of gratitude the fragrance of the dinner. It is of course only a modest Christmas dinner under these circumstances. But it seems to be a banquet for all of them.
All sit around the table and before they eat Helga opens the Holy Bible and reads. All listen and even the Americans seem to understand, when she says in German:
“Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe und Frieden auf Erden, den Menschen ein Wohlgefallen.“
„Glory to God in the highest . And peace to his people on earth.” Joe says. And all answer: “Amen” Then they enjoy their meal.
The next morning the soldiers leave. The Germany in one direction, the Americans in the other. The war lasted yet four months. But it stood still for about twelve hours in this small house near the German Belgian border.
Serena adds: My grandpa Joe died recently at the age of nearly ninety. Before his death he was suffering from dementia. But even then he remembered this night very well and the first German words he had learnt this night.
Heilig Abend – Frieden auf Erden
Christmas Eve – Peace on Earth
I wish you all Happy Holidays

2 Gedanken zu “A Christmas Carol in War Times 1944

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