By Web Ruble
Web writes: "This story is fiction. But while serving in American forces in Europe just after WWII, many ex-German soldiers held attitudes stemming from stories like this one."
A whistling -- an incoming artillery round like a bomb -- jars the relative silence. Moments later it explodes, striking the already destroyed building just to the north of us. The snow cover puffs like deadly white confetti. But a few seconds later it, too, settles all around us. The soulful white silence returns.
Ahh yes, we remember. The moment was long. Reality was grim. And we German soldiers of the Third Reich were weary and sick of the whole conflagration. Will this fruitless, worthless war ever end? Will our leaders ever realize the war is lost? Why do we fight?
I recall the moment: Christmas is upon us. We remember our once-tidy villages: Smoke trickling from chimneys, warm parlors, and cozy houses fronting rear sheds packed with Yule logs. We -- some remnants of Gen. Hasso Von Manteuffel's Fifth and Obergrueppenfueher Sepp Dietrich's Sixth panzer armies -- gather Near St. Vith in an Ardennes clearing in hopes of experiencing a tidbit of Chistmastide.
The entertainment won't be much, of course. But we have to commend our command for even trying to bring Christmas to us war-worn-and-torn soldiers. Most of us haven't been home (in our native villages) for at least three years. And some of us haven't experienced a whisper of true Christmas for almost five.
True, we are at Germany's doorstep in the German-Belgian border area. But most of us are from other parts of Germany, some of which lie in bombed ruin. The future does not look good. What have we to look forward to? Surely Germany will be defeated. There will be no going home to a wife and family or parents and peaceful countryside for us emotionally and physically exhausted soldiers. This time the enemy will not be kind. After all, this is the second world conflict started by Germany in 25 years.
Enemy troops are sure to take root in our land. They will occupy our homes, chase our women, guzzle our beer, trash our Wagner music, and eat Wienerschnitzel or whatever other food exists while we toil and waste away on rations in dismal slave labor. Nothing even close to comfortable relief awaits us. And we are tired. So tired. There seems no hope.
Our only proximity to it is in Christ's mercy. We will certainly need it. We're the ones who started this whole thing -- some crazy, would-be-world-conquering hurrah that now barely echoes from what seems like a century ago. Moreover, we have heard reports of how poorly we have treated foreigners. Not good. Doom is certain.
"We need to wait a minute," says surprisingly happy-appearing Col. Karl Brandenburg in his forever-crisp officer's uniform. He no doubt says it in consideration of the just exploded artillery shell.
We have heard a rumor that the entertainment includes a children's choir from Coblenz. An unbelievable treat. Children's voices -- some of us haven't heard any for years -- most certainly will bring tears to our worn eyes, warm our dead hearts, and maybe stir a tiny bit of hope in our souls.
Moments later they arrive. Six of 'em -- two girls and four boys, all from about 9 to about 12 years old -- appear suddenly in the wayside.
We don't know what to think. This is the whole choir? But Oh! It doesn't matter. Any singing from these children will be heaven sent.
We eagerly take our seats amid the scattered lumber, bricks and boards that have been set up in a nearby shed, fronting our small clearing. It is odd, though, as officers and enlisted men, as well as the feared SS, sit side by side.
Moreover, we are right. The sextet begins singing and 'tis wonderful. Even better than we had expected. They sing some Wagner, then Lili Marlene -- a song popular with soldiers of all nations during the war -- and then some Christmas carols. A couple of them even are in English.
It doesn't matter. The troops are overjoyed. I have never seen them so happy even though it is temporary, near the crack of doom.
Then a brilliant 9-year-old girl, someone called Heidi, fronts the group and sings solos. The tiny soprano has such a wonderful, clear voice that the soldiers are enthralled. By the time she gets through with "Stille Nacht" (Silent Night) and Tannenbaum there isn't a dry eye in the whole company or battalion of soldiers. Some hope has been restored. Not only do the soldiers stand and cheer for the little girl soprano and the whole group of six, but an officer presents the little girl with a rag doll.
Wide-eyed, Heidi hugs it and begins to cry, apparently in joy. Candy is distributed to the other girl and four boys. The children are thrilled.
Then the Devil's whirling dervish returns with an explosion. Shells - no doubt from allied guns - fall everywhere. Confusion. The children scatter and their older male leader -- Hans Winkler, no doubt a veteran of the first war - scurries, trying to account for every child. Soldiers bolt from the shed and dash to fox holes, slit trenches, and other defensive parapets. A couple of them try to help Herr Winkler collect and protect the children.
A roaring conflagration of shelling soon turns the clearing into a howling turmoil. But German spirits soar. Hope -- at least a little bit of it -- is returning.
After a few minutes the barrage dies and ends. The clearing appears much the same. Enough snow has fallen that the churned earth is back to being white. But oh oh! Out in the middle of the clearing -- where the children had been -- sprawls the rag doll in the snow.
At least a couple of German soldiers -- myself, Sgt. Wilhelm Berger, and a captain -- are sobbing. The little girl is nowhere to be seen. The sergeant next to me is praying.
- - - - - -
The scene was perhaps the saddest I saw in the entire war. Yet, hope had returned -- a gift from the little girl and the five others.
Since then whenever I think of Christmas, I think of that little girl, the rag doll, the snow, and the boards and bricks of the shattered buildings. As strange as it may seem, there has never been a time when hope whispered -- yay shouted -- stronger.
After more than 60 years, I cannot think of Christmas without recalling that scene. There, in that snowbound clearing, was Christmas' true meaning and spirit.
(© 2011 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)