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The Best Christmas Eve


Reggensburg Germany

“Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw, quietly chewing away, oh little rat. Passing, everyone is passing without place, without purpose, but moving. I must move. A hazy dullness of milling forms shuffle without identity, passing like fog. Go away little rat, there is nothing not here. I must move another step. I stop; there is shouting unintelligible strange voices. The voices are parting the shuffling forms. Now big trucks and those odd little boxes noisily roll through. I am being pushed back. I am small. I can squeeze past. I must keep moving. I have slipped through, and I am near the road again. The fumes still hang in the frosty air. I shuffle on, voices many voices, many in uniforms with “U.S.“ pins. I had moved for days, so many days unseparated by light only grayness, only moving, and the gnawing of little rat.

I had come because of a woman’s face. A woman pointed at her badge ”U.S.”, she spoke only a few words I knew. Now, I sought a place where the uniforms had a “U.S.” badge. She had walked over from a group of little boxes to where I stood staring at them from behind a fence. Go to Regensburg, Americans, “U.S.” I understood nothing else, but it became my goal. Her face was her message and her plea. Her face was my cold and dimming hope. I came here not of will, but in not, to not die. A choice to not be lost to the horror.

The memory of that face kept me moving when little rat wanted to stay put. Even now that I was here in a town filled with “U.S.” badges. Where was I to go? I came to the town square the passing forms were directed into a line. We were given some bread and a square of chocolate. Little rat now wanted to stay here. A statement was read by different people in different languages.  In two days, new arrivals could register as displaced persons by organizations commissioned to process them.  A food line would be organized again tomorrow until then everyone would have to wait. It was cold, a clear night meant it would get colder. The small amount of food seemed only to emphasize the creeping cold outside my body. The forms milled away trying to find a place less cold. An old woman came along, said come with me. I followed.


Lil mules of WWII

A cathedral opened its doors and we went inside. We were informed the pews were reserved for the American soldiers. We could sit along the walls. It was cold but warmer than outside. The stone eventually grew less cold. People filled in. If only I could stay here for a while.  It was a Christmas Eve service. Even though I was Jewish I had fond memories of the Christmas season before hate consumed everything. A festive time for our city. Everyone enjoyed the season, even those not believing in the celebration. It was so odd after all the horror. Life is surviving for just one more moment. No past existed, no future awaited. This returning to normalcy seemed the un-normalest of events. Christmas, what Christmas? How long had it been since my family offered prayers in our own home? The memory seemed not a thing in the past; it was a vision, a dream, a mirage, or a different plane of existence. I am in this moment better to be here. Yes, little rat, we will stay as long as we can. Music from the organ began to fill the empty space as the uniforms filled the pews. People who, I assumed were residents of Regensburg, also were there. They did not look much different from the passing forms. Forms through which I had moved for all these weeks, or was it, years? Did I even exist in time? Music now filling the space touched a little piece of lost humanity, or God? How often had God been sought and never found? I would have asked little rat, but he had gone to sleep. No there was no God left. Music floated among all the uniforms with badges of “U.S.” The music touched an empty place, it put back a pinch of joy. God might be returning.

The service went on with words I understood and words I did not. It was good to be warmer. It was ending. A blessing of gratitude was given for this first Christmas of after. Little rat awoke must we leave? Will we have to go back to the cold? I feared I would be made to leave as the soldiers and townspeople left. We will stay quiet a small little rat. The organist continued as people left. Music continued to fill the space. No one came to ask me to leave. The music swelled through the cathedral with more reverberation as the space became empty. The organist continued to celebrate the first Christmas of peace. He created a joyous beauty. Little rat we will pray to stay. Little rat did not know prayer but wanted to stay in this warmer place. A place surrounded by beauty. The organist continued all night, a gift lasting into the morning. It was the best night; the finest night I ever experienced. In the morning as I left, I picked up a bulletin that had been left behind.


DP Camp Germany

Displaced Persons Germany post WW II

The passing forms were lined up again for bread. Today the bread had a pink meat in it; I heard someone say sandwich. We were given four squares of chocolate. Christmas in the cold had a little more cheer. The next day the passing forms were being organized into groups of identities. Announcements in many languages were read, shouted. I formed into a line where I understood the speaker. A man approached he said he was a translator working with an agency of displaced persons.
He asked me if I wanted to go home?

Little rat became very loud no we have no home, stay here. I shook my head no, no home, no one.
He said he understood. Do you have a relative in America?
I said there was an uncle who went to America before I was born. He doesn’t know me.

He said, you must ask to be to be sent to your uncle. He emphasized, many people in America are seeking lost family. Family will get you to America.
Little rat asked is America safe, is there food? Yes, little rat be quiet.
The man looked at me, I must have mumbled aloud.
He said, you have been strong, keep moving, and have faith. Tell the registrars you have an uncle in America.

Once I got to the men with papers, they asked my name.
I had almost forgotten my name. It was a name of a person and a life that had been lost.

After filling in their forms they asked did I have any relatives that I knew of.
I said I had an uncle in America. I gave them his name. I said I did not know where he lived.
I was moved to a camp of people wanting to immigrate to America. A life of waiting began, but it was warmer and there was food. One day I was ticketed for departure, my uncle was still there. He had sought out surviving family. I was the only one he found.
As I was boarding the ship little rat, who I had almost forgotten said, goodbye, I forgive you for eating me.
Where are you going little rat?
I must stay behind; I am here with the things that are forgotten. Now, you will live a life you can remember, goodbye.
Goodbye little rat.

Organ in Regensburg

Organ in Regensburg

Ben what is in this box?
It looks like keepsakes. Here are some photos and newspaper clippings.  Look at this! It is a program from the Regensburg Lutheran Cathedral, it’s the Christmas Eve service. You remember Mom telling us of the night filled with music, the best Christmas Eve. This is the program from that night. After all these years, she kept this program. It is so well preserved. It has been almost seventy years.
Yes, that night meant everything, as she would say, the best Christmas Eve.
We should all go, commemorate the seventieth anniversary of that Christmas Eve service.
All of us should go? Ben, you think an entire American Jewish family should go to Germany to a Lutheran church to celebrate Christmas Eve?
Yes, we should. It would honor our mother who rarely spoke of her past, and it celebrates the joy and the hope. Hope and joy are things we should celebrate. All of us, all humanity in unity.

Ok Ben, we should all go to the middle of Germany next December. Now who is going to tell our wives and kids, you or me?



The true parts for those like me who want the historically accurate part. An American family went to Germany to honor their mother. A Jewish refugee she came to America after WWII. She had told her family of the hunger, the confusion of being a survivor, about being a displaced person, and finally coming to America. She had not talked much about her experience, but had spoken of the most beautiful Christmas Eve, the night of music healing the soul, holding out the cold. They found the program after she died and the whole family went to Germany for Christmas Eve. A rather amazing story in itself.   

Little Rat

My Wife did not like Little Rat in my story



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Forgottonia is a place where you can endlessly wander the lonely roads, and never once miss the fast lane. The name Forgottonia captures an image of a region, off the beaten path, which is very true of Western Illinois.

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