Still, it's message so moved me.....and I hope it does you, as well.
Of the narrow escapes my sister, Judith, and I had from discovery during our year in the orphanage, one stands out particularly. It was Christmas of 1944 -- a white Christmas, with snow falling outside, but warmth within from extra coal and larger food portions. We even had meat -- meat! A Christmas tree stood in the corner, and we children were seated on both sides of a long table nicely arranged with plates. We were singing Christmas carols, their simple and pleasant melodies totally out of context of the savage war that had been raging for six consecutive Christmases.
The pleasant feeling of food in our stomachs loosened our tongues, and contrary to the usual silence enforced during meals we were permitted by the sisters to converse quietly. Boys and girls were separated as usual, but Judith and I could see and smile at each other.
Then suddenly, the door opens and Mother Superior enters, accompanied by a German officer. Judging by his uniform he must be at least a general.
"Children," Mother Superior says, "the commander of the German garrison in Zilina is a devout Catholic, and he asked to spend the evening with you. He also brought you a nice present."
The present turns out to be a large chocolate cake. It is delicious, but I cannot escape an oppressive feeling. Even on this night must the Germans intrude on the tiny and shaky island of peace I have tried to carve out for myself? I notice, too, the tension on Judith's face as she eats her cake silently, her apprehensive eyes on Herr Commandant.
Again we sing some carols -- one of them "Silent Night, Holy Night," itself so close to a prayer.
When we finish there is a pause, and the commandant whispers something to Mother Superior. After a moment's hesitation she asks: "Is there anyone here who can sing 'Silent Night' in German? It will make our distinguished guest very happy."
Both Judith and I know some German; actually we had learned the German version of this song before the Slovak one. But should I now stand up and sing it for our enemy?
As I hesitate I see Judith slowly rise from her chair and walk toward the commandant. The decision has been made for me, so I stand beside her and we join our voices: "Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht ..." As we sing, the face above the medals becomes animated and involved in our performance -- the lips move together with our words.
Then suddenly Judith gasps and stops, terror in her eyes. She has suddenly realized what I, too, had feared: Why are we two the only children who know the German version? Where are the others? The answer is simple, and surely the German officer knows it. In this part of the land it is only Jews who understand German. The Commandant has trapped us -- he knows we are Jewish.
He motions to us to approach. It seems an eternity before he speaks. Then looking at us, he says softly: "Hab keine Angst, deine Mutter und Vater werden zuruck kommen" -- "Don't be afraid, your mother and father will come back."
For him, too, it was a silent night.