days under attack on the 21st
of December 1943 near Nowgorodka in the Ukraine had so decimated our
Parachute Regiment 2 that only about 35 to 40 men could celebrate
Christmas. Supplies, including even branded goods for the the entire
Company (170 men), had been ordered several days previously and had
been duly delivered. So we were very well provided for.
About ten men from the 4th Unit had been billeted in a 'Kate'. We sat gloomily on our straw
bedding and thought about the high number of casualties at
Nowgorodka. Every one of us had lost good friends. Outside a cold
snowstorm was blowing and near the warm stove in our hut in
Nowo-Ukrainika it was quite comfortable.
Suddenly a door creaked and
out of the next room came an elderly Russian woman with two little
girls between five and seven years of age holding her hands. Wrapped
up in thick clothes and head scarves they looked anxiously at us. Our
make do Christmas tree decorated with cotton wool, foot powder, and fairy lights aroused the curiosity of the
children. They placed little
baskets on the side of the stove. In them was some
bread and some maize cakes. Near them the grandmother placed a wooden dish
on which she had put cucumbers and tomatoes as well as a jug of milk.
With her toothless mouth she muttered some words which we did not
understand but we knew what she meant.
As if by command a tent tray was put on the
floor and from our well stocked gift table each one of
us spread out on it sausages, butter, biscuits,
chocolates, sugar, tins of meat
and other things. We were so happy that we could give
presents to somebody and by so doing to become children ourselves
We joked with Granny
and the children until, all of a sudden, our Christmas carol, 'Silent
Night' ('Stille Nacht') was heard. Max Lang was playing it on his mouth organ and we sang it with
him, quietly at first then more loudly. But then we gradually sang less and less loudly because the emotion had brought
a lump to every throat. And Granny cried too. What had she been thinking about? Where
were the father and the mother of the children?
Four of our men brought our
presents for Granny into the next room. She and the children would be
well stocked up for several days. And we too had had a happy
Christmas Eve which the Russian Granny and her grandchildren had
given to us.
For a little while we had forgotten war and death and
for a few hours had found peace. Every Christmas Eve I think of our
guests in the Russian encampment for whom at the time we had been
uninvited guests but by whom we had been treated as friends.
By Rudolf Müller in the book:
‘Unter den Sternen – Weihnachtsgeschichten aus schwerer Zeit’ (‘Under
the Stars ‑ Christmas Stories from a Hard Time’)
published by Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (the German
War Graves Foundation), Werner‑Hilpert‑Str. 2, D‑3412 Kassel, 2nd