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Letter to Unidentified Recipient [12/25/1944]

G2 Sec. Hqt 12th Army Group
APO 655 c/o Postmaster
New York

Christmas Day 1944, Luxembourg

Dear —

The strangest of all Christmas days, the worst of all Christmas Eves that I have ever spent. Peace on earth, good will towards men may be a fervent hope; it certainly is not an actuality today. Never in this war, insofar as I have experienced it, has hatred and bitterness run so high. With breaking of every rule of war — excepting, so far, the use of gas, — the war in Europe has reached a new degree of savagery. The shooting with machine guns of several hundred American prisoners of war by an SS organization, the wholesale dropping of troops dressed in American uniforms and the use of American vehicles, American markings etc, and other actions not yet made public have made a deep impression on the American doughboy. He now really hates.

Last night I was homesick. Homesick also for the times gone by. I was again "POP" but in a setting that was so unreal that it appeared to be delirium. It was completely real, yet completely strange.

I joined my landlady's family in what I had hoped would be a delightful Christmas. Presents here are given and Christmas celebrating is done on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. (The family group is tragic. The landlady herself is German-born but married to a local man and has lived here many years. The husband has been held for forced labor in Germany for several years and there are two children, girls, — Edie aged about seven or eight and Yvonne who is about five. It is a lonely family with the father away particularly since the mother's enemy origin makes her an object of suspicion and she is shunned by most of the local people.) She and the children — to whom I am known as "der gut Onkle" — wanted me there and I thought that being in a family by proxy would indeed be grand. By commissioning an officer who was going to Brussels I was able to buy a doll for the younger child and a sewing kit for the older one. Also an assortment of Christmas tree candles — real ones for they scorn electric ones here — baubles etc.

For weeks the excitement built up in the household — the children became more and more excited, "Mutter" was busy working on dolls' clothes, dresses, etc. and hiding them in my room where the children would not find them. I decided that Christmas was the same the world over in a family of children.

Then came the blow. The Germans attacked on the 16th of December. My world changed in a matter of minutes, — work became incessant. My normal day was from 6 AM to 1 or 2 the next morning. In one 24 hours I had one hour of sleep. Christmas went out of my mind. Over all was a great fear on the part of the civilians. The Germans — only a few miles away — were coming back! Those who had resisted during the German occupation had come out into the open when the Germans left. Now the Germans were coming back and the people knew that they now would know who to seize. Refugees began to flow, people were packing. Fear stalked in the place of the Christmas spirit.

The last few days have been clear and bitterly cold — the temperature well below freezing. An inch of snow covered the ground and stayed there due to the cold. On Christmas Eve, by great effort, I reached home laden with packages — the doll, Christmas tree ornaments, accumulated candy rations and some packages from home. The landlady had insisted that I open none of my packages but rather turn them over to her so she could put my presents under the tree with the family's. I got there at about nine — to a bedlam of excitement. The children had been made to wait for my arrival and they were at the bursting point. I was jumped on, mauled and dragged to the room where the tree was while Mutter went in to light the candles.

Then the usual bedlam of children at Christmas. The screams and squeals of delight, the rushing around to show everyone the presents that particularly pleased them, the embarrassed "thank yous" — urged on by Mutter. I relaxed and enjoyed it all and slowly opened the deluge of packages that had arrived from home. Christmas was the same and I was turning the clock back fifteen years.

Then suddenly I began to realize the delirium aspect of it all. It was quite unreal. First it was not my family and I seemed to be in a sort of "Papa" position in a very strange family. I could understand only a little of what was said — a little of die Mutter's since she spoke a pure German for my benefit but none of the children's since they speak the local tongue. Over all the apparent merriment of Christmas is the steady deep thump of the heavy guns that are far too close for comfort. The mother's face is drawn and shows the strain of the past week. I know she is listening constantly and wondering if they are louder and whether they are nearer than during the day. Even the children [are] quiet and look unhappy occasionally as the gun fire increases momentarily.

It is cold out there and I know how bitter is the struggle. Men are suffering from cold as well as wounds. It is brilliant moon-light on the white snow so the fighting continues unabated in the night. There is no peace or good will out there. There is hatred of an enemy who has at long last violated even the soldier's codes of war. It is a grim Christmas Eve.

Suddenly the ack-ack guns around us begin to blast — the drone of a plane over head — and a few minutes later the wail of the siren almost drowns the firing. The children stop and little Yvonne begins to cry. This must be at least the 20th time in the past 24 hours although all have passed over harmlessly. The children are herded by the mother to the cellar. I am alone in the room for the moment and the tragedy of it all oppresses me. The toys and dolls are scattered among the Christmas wrappings, the candles still burn on the tree and the room itself is quiet after the childish hubbub of Christmas. Outside the ack-ack is blasting away and the guns thump continuously. The enemy is close-by, the war goes on without celebrating Christmas — men are cursing, suffering and dieing.

There is no peace on earth or good will towards men in these parts this year. The prayer on everyone's lips, — civilian or soldier — is that it may be re-established soon. Love to you all — I thank God that you are not exposed to this.

Post-war note: The mother in this family had been a leader of the resistance movement. The German radio stated repeatedly that when the City of Luxembourg was retaken she would be executed as a traitor to the Reich. This threat was much on her mind as she listened to the guns of that Christmas Eve. A.S. [Alexander Standish]

Dad

 
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