A Trek to Midnight Mass

We write the year 1946 and head for our first Christmas in a foreign land. Driven out of our native Breslau we had settled on a hillside near Bad Pyrmont. We were heartbroken to have been part of a diaspora. It was 10 miles to the church in Polle and back in ill fitting shoes, empty stomachs and wretched clothes. Everything had been taken from us.

In spite of that, Mother and her nine children, trekked to the church through rain, cold, and snow on Sundays. Many such trips turned out to be something special, that one on Christmas Eve for instance. It was one and a half hours to Polle where we Catholics would have Midnight Mass with our own priest in a Lutheran church. We had parts to play during this solemn celebration. Six of us would be presenting a Nativity Play. Eberhard would play the organ and conduct the choir. Konstantin and Regina would accompany the organ and the choir on their violins during the Silesian Transeamus (sung by the 'Grootkoor' in the 'Concertgebouw', Amsterdam, 2009).

We set out conscientiously and in good time. On this occasion we took a steep short cut through a wood. We wanted to arrive on time. Along the track we carried torches ‑ it was pitch dark. We were in a good mood, both solemn and festive, until suddenly the torches went out. The batteries were dead and no spares! As we had not even kept to that path we completely lost our bearings. We became anxious: on this holy night so much depended on us. There was no village nearby and we had no lanterns to lead us to the path again. So we walked and walked though we could see nothing looking like our destination.

We had given up hope when through the branches and far away, we saw a light. After that there were more lights until we saw that it must be Polle, our key word that night. Our family had been quiet up to this point: now they cheered and were happy again. No one complained about carrying musical instruments and stuff needed for the nativity play and Mass. We hurried towards Polle. We arrived at the House of God, the church door opened quickly, the loud and uplifting voices of priest and the people filled the packed church. Then came the Nativity Play. Our six‑year‑old brother Clemens ‑ a shepherd and a violinist ‑ played his tune. Only then could the Mass ‑ belatedly ‑ begin.

For our family, despite deprivations and losing our way, it was a deeply felt and unforgettable Christmas. Through it we came closer to what had happened on Christmas Eve...

By Maria-Theresia Kollenda 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 edition, 2007.

(this story ‑ about 487 words ‑ is an an abbreviated version of the original text in German (about 511 words).