War Letters of German Students - pages 36 and 37

                        Christmas 1914, St. Quentin, in the hospital.

"Everything for Christmas is downstairs in the chapel!" our hospital attendant called. Our small band of men just arrived as the minister, Father Lucas, asks the chief physician if we might begin the celebration. With simple yet deep words the minister highlights the unique nature and significance of Christmas 1914 in the enemy's country and emphasizes our splendid sense of unity and coherence as we celebrate Christmas in the family, in German society, and within the kindred hearts of soldiers. We all listen to the warming words. Friend and foe trust in the mercy and goodness of almighty God.

Beyond the minister my eyes are drawn to the sparkling christmas tree which works its magic on us all, both young and old. I see the wounded in their bandages, the convalescing and the healthy. In the background are the French women left behind with their young children. They have tears in their eyes. On the altar blessed candles flicker and burn. Above them all the mother of God sits enthroned with the Child Jesus. For me this strange, questionable tableau speaks volumes. With innermost conviction I said to myself, "How can you still be a living, catholic church? How much edification can you give someone who honestly and humbly asks for it? " — The tones of the harmonium ring out "Silent night, holy night." — A booming, jubilant, liberating song rattles out of raw-throated soldiers and shakes the little chapel. Blessed joy rings out in ever louder choruses. — Gift-giving follows, gifts of love from the homeland. But first the poor French women and their children shall experience our generousity and humanity. I will never forget their happy faces. — Then it's our turn. The doctors distribute the greetings from the homeland. My God, I don't believe my eyes. Look at everything pressed into the helmet of the grateful recipient - sugar, bread, a pipe, gingerbread, zwieback, tobacco, cigarettes, postcards, a large bottle of Eberlbräu, bonbons, wrist warmers, etc. So much love from unknown people!

                                                Hans Hirschhorn

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Imaging and translation by Susan Kriegbaum-Hanks