Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Silent Night



Yes, this is a "re-run" ...  

Shlomo's story appeared many years ago in an issue of Readers Digest that my mother photocopied and kept with her holiday cards and letters.   I hope it touches your heart as much as (it does) mine.



Wishing each of you a most blessed Christmas!




***


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.

* * *




When I first shared Shlomo's story with Blogland in 2008, I had no idea if his was a first or last-name - or any other information about he and his sister.  Then, a few days ago I consulted Google and discovered this piece in a 1993 edition of the Chicago Tribune.




19 comments:

  1. Over the past year I have read books about the war and what it meant to the Jews. It was terrible and leaves one with a very lasting impression. Thank you for posting this. May we never forget the atrocities of that time!!

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    1. Absolutely! Like the events of 9/11, may we keep the memories alive on behalf of all those who suffered and perished.

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  2. I had not seen this story before. I, like Paula, have been reading books about WW2 lately; it is nice that this particular encounter with a German soldier was indeed a silent night.

    Merry Christmas Dear Friend!

    betty

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    1. Oh, that which touched the Commandant's heart ... wasn't that a Christmas miracle?

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  3. This is such a poignant and touching story, but also a frightening one. I'd like to read the book, which is probably available on Amazon (I haven't looked yet).

    When I was a young music student in California, I studied piano with the Hungarian pianist Geza Wolf (Wolfenstein), who had previously been the conductor of the Belgrade Symphony Orchestra.
    He and his wife has been imprisoned in the concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen and they were tortured mercilessly.
    He very seldom wanted to talk about it, but what I did learn was beyond horrifying.

    Sorry for the long comment, but your post ignited memories.
    Have a peaceful & blessed Christmas, Myra.

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    1. I, too, would like to read that book.
      I don't know why, but the plight of the Jewish people has always affected me enormously.

      What a privilege to have known Wolfenstein and act as his sounding board, however briefly. I suspect your attention was a blessing.

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  4. That is a beautiful and touching story. Christmas changes things for the good. Happy Christmas Eve!

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    1. "Christmas changes things for the good." I LIKE that!

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  5. Wow - powerful story. I just finished watching "Band of Brothers" and "Pacific." It really hit home. Merry Christmas. xo

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    1. I've never seen either ... but I'd sure like to. Thanks for the mentions!
      Merry Christmas to you and those you love, Kim!

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  6. This touches me, Myra. Thank you for sharing. It puts things in perspective for me! God bless and Merry Christmas to you and Tom!

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    1. Thank you for saying that, Mary! Even after so many, many readings, Shlomo's story always makes me cry.
      Merry Christmas, dear one!

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  7. So beautiful Myra! Thank you for this share. Merry Christmas to you and yours! This was my grandmother's favorite Christmas carole and I will always love it the very best. Thank you for the smiles and even a few tears here today.

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    1. Thank you, Anne! That was a favorite of my own mother; (and) she claims it was the first song I learned as a child. Merry Christmas!!!

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  8. What a GRAND and poignant entry. I have never read this and it is amazing the impact. I am still trying to digest it.

    I do so appreciate Jon's comment.

    Now a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS to you and Tom. This was a 'neat' Christmas story! (five stars)

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    1. I'm SO glad to hear you appreciated this as well.
      Why, the Commandant's decision to go against all he stood for ... to remain silent ... remains one of my favorite awe-inspiring stories ever.
      Merry Christmas!

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  9. Happy New Year! Wishing you beautiful moments, treasured memories and all the blessings a heart can know... :)

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  10. a wonderful story.....
    hoping your 2016 is full of blessings.

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Thanks so much for dropping by! Your words are like hugs from afar.... and who doesn't love a hug!