Let Them In
For as long as history dates back, wars have been fought, won and lost by men. As the years go by, they become more bloody and brutal then the last, especially in the Second World War, where killing became as easy as pushing a button and not having to watch the suffering you cause. From the horrifying massacre of the Jews to the cold blooded killing of non-combatants, war brings out the worst in many. The others? You may ask. For them, war brings out their best. This is my story of a Small Christmas Truce of 1944.
Mother and I stayed in a small hunting cabin near the densely forested region of Ardennes of Wallonia in Belgium, specifically in the Hürtgen forest. Our home in Aachen, Germany had been bombed by the British and we were forced to flee. Father stayed behind to work in the factories there and visited us when he could. It was Mid-December and Mother and I were expecting him to come back for Christmas. One night, when it was snowing and distant sounds of battle could be heard, there was a knock on the door.
Mother instinctively blew out the candles and opened the door. When she did, I immediately saw shock and fear creep across her face. Three enemy soldiers, two of them stood there and the third lay in the snow, apparently gravely wounded. Their faces were slightly blackened and caked with dirt. I could only just imagine what kind of hell they went through. The soldiers were armed, in full battle gear. They could have barged in if they chose to but did not. Mother hesitated for a while, but eventually welcomed them in.
I saw the sparkle in the eyes of the soldiers when Mother showed them in. They were grateful no doubt, but I saw Mother had trouble communicating with them. They knew no German, and we knew no English. Mother had to make do with broken French. She listened to their story of their ordeal with great concern. She got up and started to prepare a meal. She told me to fetch six potatoes and Hermann the rooster – whose execution was delayed by Father's absence.
While Hermann was roasted, another knock on the door was heard. I immediately went to the door, expecting more lost American soldiers but found myself face to face with four armed German soldiers. Mother and I knew very well the punishment for harboring enemy soldiers was death. Mother, whose face was as white as a sheet, pushed me aside and spoke to the soldiers. The German soldiers wished us a Merry Christmas but were hungry and lost. Mother told them they were welcome to come in and share our meal, unfortunately with people they might despise. The German Corporal asked her sharply who these 'despicable people' were and asked if they were Americans. I hid behind Mother. I was scared of what these people might do to us for our crime. At that moment, Mother nodded and told him that those soldiers were also lost and in an even worse condition then they were. The Corporal stared hard at my Mother, eyes as sharp as daggers, until suddenly Mother said "Es ist die heilige Nacht , und es wird nicht geschossen werden hier heute Abend" or "It is the holy night, there will be no shooting here." The German soldiers looked at each other and shrugged. They complied and left their weapons outside. Mother then took the American soldier's weapons and stacked them next to the aforementioned German weapons.
There was so much tension between the Americans and the German soldiers. Both parties eyed each other in suspicion and refused to talk to each other. I stood next to Mother as she prepared the meal. The smell of spices and roast filled the cabin and I noticed that the soldiers began to make some small speech, also in broken French. The German soldiers somehow pulled out a bottle of wine and a loaf white bread while one of them began examining the wounded American soldier. He was a medical student before the war and he told us that the soldier had lost a huge amount of blood and thankfully the cold prevented his wound form getting any worse. The ex-medical student also told us that he just needed food and rest and his body should do the rest.
By the time Mother had finished cooking, I noticed the ambient mood was more relaxed. The soldiers did not seem as reserved as when they first met and some of them were even laughing. My Mother said grace before the meal and I noticed tears flowing from the soldiers' eyes. Both American and German.
The soldiers stayed overnight at our cabin and by the time dawn broke, the American soldiers packed their bags and prepared to leave. The German Corporal gave them a map and a compass and shook their hands. He told the soldiers that wherever they were supposed to go, Monschau, was already occupied by the Germans and that they had to travel further West. With that, the German soldiers shook the hands of the American soldiers again and both parties thanked us before heading off in separate directions. The truce was over. Mother and I stood by the front door as we watched their silhouettes fade into the sunrise. It was at that moment I felt a small tinge of regret in my heart.
My family and I survived the war and Father and Mother passed away peacefuly in their late sixties in 1984. I moved to Hawaii where I set-up a bakery and lived with my spouce, Erna. I have been trying to no avail to contact the American and the German soldiers until the television program of 'Unsolved Mysteries' broadcasted the story of my encounter with the soldiers in 1995. Apparently a man living in a Frederick nursing home had also been telling the same story for a good amount of time. I flew over to Frederick in early 1996 and met with Ralph Blank, who fought under 121st Infantry, 8th Division during World War 2. He produced the very map and compass I saw the German soldiers give and told me, "Your mother saved my life." That was one of the very few high points of my life.
I never got to meet the German soldiers again, but thankfully was able to contact another one of the American soldiers on that fateful night. If it were not for Mother, dear Ralph would be buried six feet under a headstone, or worse still, his body still rotting in Hurtgen. Needless to say for the other soldiers. They could have starved in the wilderness too, if it were not for Mother. War does indeed bring the best out of some people, regardless of beliefs, race or background. My Mother, the soldiers too. Mother let them in. What if she did not?