While she hid with her family from the Nazis for nearly two years inside a secret annexe of an apartment in Amsterdam, 14 year old Anne Frank poured out her heart into a diary, recording her every feeling. She didn’t survive the war. She was betrayed and died at the Nazi concentration camp in Bergen-Belsen. Her father, Otto, managed to survive and when he went back to that secret annexe after the war, the Red Cross handed him Anne’s diary.
This remarkable piece of writing has since been published in 60 different languages and sold more than 30 million copies, as ‘Anne Frank – The diary of a young girl’. I have never been so moved by anything I have read. Knowing what happens to her in the end, one can’t read the diary at a stretch. One has to give it a break or otherwise it tends to overwhelm you. Rarely do you come across goodness and innocence in such a massive dose.
In her diary, Anne Frank made an observation that amazed me in it’s simplicity and awed me in it’s simple faith and truth. Just a day before her diary entries stopped forever when someone betrayed their hiding place, Frank wrote,” Human beings are by nature, good and they want to act and feel good and be seen as being good.’
If only just briefly, Christmas brings back into view all those things that are good and just, within us.
Another testament to the innate goodness in human beings unfolded inside a log cabin, deep in the forests of Ardennes, Belgium, on Christmas Eve, 1944. The concluding skirmishes of The Battle of the Bulge were playing themselves out, between American General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group and Generalfeldmarschall Gert Von Runstedt’s Army Group B.
By then it had become clear to even the Wehrmacht infantrymen that for them, the war was all but lost.
Fritz Vincken was a 12 year old boy who lived in that log cabin with his mother, Elisabeth. Fritz’s father, who served as a baker in the German Army, was away at the German front lines at the time, baking bread for the Wehrmacht soldiers.
Fritz Vincken, as a boy, 1944 (Photo source: Wikimedia)
As darkness fell and a blizzard picked up, three American soldiers found their way to this isolated cottage, carrying one of their wounded with them. Fritz’s mother recognized their need and decided to let them in, even though she could be executed for sheltering the enemy. She and Fritz spoke no English, but used hand gestures to invite them in.
Not long after, there was a knock on the door and Fritz and his mother realized that German soldiers were outside. Fritz’s mother told the Germans that they could have a nice hot meal, but first they must leave their guns outside because she had visitors inside and that even though they may not be friendly visitors, this was Christmas Eve.
After some tense moments, things settled down and the German and American soldiers shared a hot meal together on that special night and the German soldiers even treated the wounds of the American. They parted company in the morning after having shared one restful night of peace. They let the Americans have a compass and directions back to their front lines. They also let one of them, a mere 14 year old German boy soldier, to go along with the Americans and save himself.
Fritz Vincken moved to Hawaii and then Oregon after the war, where he became a baker like his father. Vincken died in 2002, at the age of 69. In that same year the incident was made into a 100 minute long TV film ‘Silent Night’ (starring Linda Hamilton as Elisabeth Vincken), a definite must-see if you like to feel good at Christmas.
I leave you with excerpts from an interview with Fritz Vincken done in February, 1997……
Q: Why do you think that the German soldiers didn’t turn you in?
A: I think it was my mother’s personality and her persuasiveness to have them rest for one peaceful night. They found a place to stay, hot food, and shelter from the cold and they appreciated that.
Q: Have you ever been reunited with the German or American soldiers you and your mother helped that Christmas Eve night?
A: Yes, I have been reunited with two of the American soldiers, but not the German soldiers. I was reunited with Ralph Blank at his nursing home in 1996. I waited 51 years for the moment. The TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” helped me to find him. The first thing he said was ‘Your mother saved my life.’
Fritz Vincken with Ralph Blank in 1996
Q: What are your feelings of that night in 1944?
A: Many years have gone by since that bloodiest of all wars, but the memories of that night in the Ardennes never left me. The inner strength of a single woman, who, by her wits and intuition, prevented potential bloodshed, taught me the practical meaning of the words: “Good will Toward Mankind.” That night, seven young soldiers met as enemies and parted as friends, all because of one woman.
Christmas leaves me mushy. If its any time after December 20th and you prick me, I’ll burst into tears.