Background: This is taken from a 1944 Nazi book issued to help people celebrate Christmas. It is a letter from a soldier on the Eastern Front to his wife, promising to be with her and the children in spirit.
The source: Deutsche Kriegsweihnacht (Munich: Franz Eher, 1944).
I have traveled to you today without a leave, without a ticket — with only the baggage my dreams and thoughts — to be with you when the candles on the Christmas tree are lit. I have come only in my thoughts. That’s the way it is. It is wonderful to travel with one’s thoughts. I sense how my steps lighten as I heave the railway station, as I turn the corner, as my boots crunch in the snow. There is our home, protected by the rose bushes. I ring quickly three times, just as before: three times, it’s me. Your heart leaps a little, for no one but me would ring three times. I hear children scurrying about. “Who is that?” shouts the biggest. Like someone awoken from a dream, you hear the children, their cheerful voices. I am there, dear wife. I am with you, although I had written that I could not come. I am with you in my thoughts.
I am thinking of when I left, in August 1939. I think of how the days and weeks have passed. I think of the first war Christmas in a bunker along the West Wall, where a miserable and scrawny little tree lit Christmas eve. I think of the second war Christmas in quarters on the sea, and now it is the third war Christmas.
What can I saw of these unforgettable days, of the weeks of the Western campaign, of our march through the Balkans, of the unique months of battle and struggle and battle in Russia that are behind us? I cannot put it in words. I can hardly recall the details, rather I see a vision against which all the Homeric images of battle fade. No, as far as we know, there has never been anything as great and powerful.
But now I am with you. You have lit the candles, focusing entirely on the moment. A deep current flows in you. The children stand over there, feverishly impatient to learn what Santa Claus has brought. Three pairs of children’s eyes are fixed on the flickering candles. Silently and joyfully, I stand in the corner and see the faces of the children, the light and the glow in their innocent eyes, out of which an indestructible certainly grows.
The Christmas table is not as well decked as it once was. It is good that we must be modest. I have no complaints or yammering, no word of dissatisfaction, timidity, or discord. Only deep-flowing happiness overcomes me, dear wife.
As I write this letter, it is 3 a.m. A small candle casts its light in my narrow quarters, making all appear softer. Around me are my sleeping comrades. All is well. I feel deeply thankful and happy, even as someone snores in the close confines of our quarters. One could never believe that the tough souls who shoot and are shot at could sleep so well. I know what they are dreaming about. That one there has a ten-month-old child whom he has never seen. Those two, Ernst and Robert, have not been home for exactly one year. The lieutenant has not seen his young wife for eleven months, yet now he sleeps peacefully. Do you know, dear wife, what all these men are dreaming about?
We have no Christmas tree here with flickering candles. Outside, the cold blows against our lonesome quarters. The sentry’s boots crunch in the snow, twelve steps forward, twelve steps back. Sometimes the sentry stops for a moment, perhaps to look at the stars, silent and friendly comrades in the winter sky. He will not be ashamed to admit that he is having an inner conversation with his wife, with his boy. And there is no false tone when he says: I love you. Now, dear wife, I will lie down between those who are sleeping. I will let my thoughts wander in dreams and come to you. I will be very close to you, very close to you and the children.
[Page copyright © 2006 by Randall Bytwerk. No unauthorized reproduction. My e-mail address is available on the FAQ page.]
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