About World War 2: A Small Christmas Truce

Hurtgen Forest terrain.
Hurtgen Forest terrain. | Source

No Repeat of the Christmas Truce of 1914

In World War Two, there was no truce similar to the one that occurred during Christmas in 1914 in World War One. In that earlier conflict, thousands of British, French and German soldiers, exhausted by the unprecedented slaughter of the previous five months, left their trenches and met the enemy in No Man's Land, exchanging gifts, food and stories. Generals on both sides, determined to prevent fraternization in future, saw to it that such activities would be severely punished and so there were no more Christmas truces the rest of that war or the next. But, in December of 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, while the Americans fought for their lives against a massive German onslaught, a tiny shred of human decency happened on Christmas Eve. A German mother made it so.

Three American soldiers, one badly wounded, were lost in the snow-covered Ardennes Forest as they tried to find the American lines. They had been walking for three days while the sounds of battle echoed in the hills and valleys all around them. Then, on Christmas Eve, they came upon a small cabin in the woods.

Elisabeth Vincken and her 12-year-old son, Fritz, had been hoping her husband would arrive to spend Christmas with them, but it was now too late. The Vinckens had been bombed out of their home in Aachen, Germany and had managed to move into the hunting cabin in the Hurtgen Forest about four miles from Monschau near the Belgian border. Fritz's father stayed behind to work and visited them when he could. Their Christmas meal would now have to wait for his arrival. Elisabeth and Fritz were alone in the cabin.

WW2: Battle of the Bulge. American soldiers.
WW2: Battle of the Bulge. American soldiers. | Source

Visitors at the Cabin

There was a knock on the door. Elisabeth blew out the candles and opened the door to find two enemy American soldiers standing at the door and a third lying in the snow. Despite their rough appearance, they seemed hardly older than boys. They were armed and could have simply burst in, but they hadn't, so she invited them inside and they carried their wounded comrade into the warm cabin. Elisabeth didn't speak English and they didn't speak German, but they managed to communicate in broken French. Hearing their story and seeing their condition-- especially the wounded soldier-- Elisabeth started preparing a meal. She sent Fritz to get six potatoes and Hermann the rooster-- his stay of execution, delayed by her husband's absence, rescinded. Hermann's namesake was Hermann Goering, the Nazi leader, who Elisabeth didn't care much for.

WW2: Battle of the Bulge, Young German soldiers
WW2: Battle of the Bulge, Young German soldiers | Source

More Visitors

While Hermann roasted, there was another knock on the door and Fritz went to open it, thinking there might be more lost Americans, but instead there were four armed German soldiers. Knowing the penalty for harboring the enemy was execution, Elisabeth, white as a ghost, pushed past Fritz and stepped outside. There was a corporal and three very young soldiers, who wished her a Merry Christmas, but they were lost and hungry. Elisabeth told them they were welcome to come into the warmth and eat until the food was all gone, but that there were others inside who they would not consider friends. The corporal asked sharply if there were Americans inside and she said there were three who were lost and cold like they were and one was wounded. The corporal stared hard at her until she said “Es ist Heiligabend und hier wird nicht geschossen.” “It is the Holy Night and there will be no shooting here.” She insisted they leave their weapons outside. Dazed by these events, they slowly complied and Elisabeth went inside, demanding the same of the Americans. She took their weapons and stacked them outside next to the Germans'.

Roast Hermann
Roast Hermann | Source

Tension and Roast Hermann

Understandably, there was a lot of fear and tension in the cabin as the Germans and Americans eyed each other warily, but the warmth and smell of roast Hermann and potatoes began to take the edge off. The Germans produced a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread. While Elisabeth tended to the cooking, one of the German soldiers, an ex-medical student, examined the wounded American. In English, he explained that the cold had prevented infection but he'd lost a lot of blood. He needed food and rest.

By the time the meal was ready, the atmosphere was more relaxed. Two of the Germans were only sixteen; the corporal was 23. As Elisabeth said grace, Fritz noticed tears in the exhausted soldiers' eyes-- both German and American.

Parting Company

The truce lasted through the night and into the morning. Looking at the Americans' map, the corporal told them the best way to get back to their lines and provided them with a compass. When asked whether they should instead go to Monschau, the corporal shook his head and said it was now in German hands. Elisabeth returned all their weapons and the enemies shook hands and left, in opposite directions. Soon they were all out of sight; the truce was over.

A markerMonschau -
Monschau, Germany
[get directions]

Your Mother Saved My Life

Fritz and his parents survived the war. His mother and father passed away in the Sixties and by then he had gotten married and moved to Hawaii, where he opened Fritz's European Bakery in Kapalama, a neighborhood in Honolulu. For years he tried to locate any of the German or American soldiers without luck, hoping to corroborate the story and see how they had fared. President Reagan heard of his story and referenced it in a 1985 speech he gave in Germany as an example of peace and reconciliation. But it wasn't until the television program Unsolved Mysteries broadcast the story in 1995, that it was discovered that a man living in a Frederick, Maryland nursing home had been telling the same story for years. Fritz flew to Frederick in January 1996 and met with Ralph Blank, one of the American soldiers who still had the German compass and map. Ralph told Fritz “Your mother saved my life”. Fritz said the reunion was the high point of his life.

Fritz Vincken also managed to later contact one of the other Americans, but none of the Germans. Sadly, he died in on December 8, 2002, almost 58 years to the day of the Christmas truce. He was forever grateful that his mother got the recognition she deserved.

Unsolved Mysteries Re-enactment, Commentary by Grown-up Fritz

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Comments 43 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Super story and superbly written. Wow!

Voted up and everything but funny.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for your generous comment, WillStarr. Glad you liked it.

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California

Hi David,

Amazing story!

I remember reading that something similar to the 1914 Christmas truce happened during the American Civil War. On the evening before one of the great battles, some Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers visited the camps of their 'enemies', and hung out for awhile, before returning to their own camps for some much-needed shut-eye.

Voted up, shared, and more.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 3 years ago from USA

Howdy David (Unnamed Harald) -

Thank you very much for presenting such a meaningful and well-written story. It was superbly done. And thanks, too, to Will Starr for sharing. that has been considerably appreciated.

Gus :-)))

wtaylorjr2001 profile image

wtaylorjr2001 3 years ago from Binghamton NY

This is truly an amazing and powerful story showing what humans have in common. I'm ashamed to admit that as I read this and realized the difference in our skill level as writers, I became envious. Please forgive me. I will learn more about writing and one day produce something as moving and as powerful as this. For now though I can only say thank you for sharing something that is worth studying.

Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

Pavlo Badovskyy 3 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

This is a unique situation which became possible because German and Americal soldiers follow the same traditions . I actually doubt it could happened if the representatives of absolutely different religions met. Muslims do not celebrate Chritsmas and v.v. christian people do not celebrat muslim holidays.

An other factor which could make it possible - the end of the war. Propaganda and brain washing in Germany were not that strong as in the beginning of the war. And the last thing - they were all too tired and exhausted to fight between them. They had to survive first. Interesting story. It is like a miracle which can happen in the Chrtmas time only.

rlbert00 profile image

rlbert00 3 years ago from USA

Nicely done. I had of course heard of the Christmas truce during WWI but had never heard this story before. I enjoyed it very much.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Larry, I hadn't heard about the Civil War truce. I have to admit it seems kind of creepy to hang out the night BEFORE a big battle-- but didn't General Sherman say something like "War is creepy" or something to that effect? Thanks for the comment!

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hey, Gus-- nice to hear from you. Thanks for the kind words.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hello, wtaylorjr2001. I'm glad you were moved by my Hub-- that's the sort of thing writers never tire of hearing. It's not always easy to pull off-- but the subject matter here does most of the "moving". I was moved researching it. I'm only glad I my interpretation affects people. Thanks very much for your kind comment.

Larry Fields profile image

Larry Fields 3 years ago from Northern California

Hi David. I don't know if it was an official truce. It's very possible that the draftees and other soldiers on both sides of the Civil War really did not want to be there, and that a typical soldier harbored precious little animosity toward his counterparts on the opposing side.

old albion profile image

old albion 3 years ago from Lancashire. England.

Hi UH. A tear in my eye here David. So well written as is usual for you. Well done.

Voted up and all.


UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Pavlo, I think you're right on both counts. Despite the initial massive success the Germans had when the attack started, it was a last, desperate gamble of an exhausted army, so the common soldier may have felt the war was becoming pointless. Still, it could have gone quite the other way--look at the butchery at Malmady, where 80 Americans prisoners were machine gunned to death. Great comment, as usual.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

rlbertoo, I hadn't heard of it either, although I knew there was nothing in WW2 like the truce in WW1. Thanks.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Larry. I'm guessing it wasn't official. The one in 1914 definitely was not official. The generals on both sides were outraged that their soldiers participated. Punishments were doled out and very harsh threats were made should it happen again. My understanding is that an attempt on a much smaller scale was tried in Xmas 1915, but by then the war and the generals had their way. You can't afford to let men see your enemy as human or anything but monsters... or they won't kill each other as efficiently.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi, Graham. Yeah, it can put a lump in your throat if you're not careful. Always great to hear from you.

LeahMia8911 profile image

LeahMia8911 3 years ago

Voted up and interesting/beautiful. This is definitely a tale of how humanity can still exist if there are those to fight for it. Thank you so much for sharing this little known story with us!!

AlexDrinkH2O profile image

AlexDrinkH2O 3 years ago from Southern New England, USA

Beautiful story - voted up and shared. I served in Vietnam and there was no way this could have happened between us and the VC or the NVA! I'm sure these were Wehrmacht soldiers - the massacre you refer to at Malmedy was perpetrated by the Waffen SS commanded by "Sepp" Dietrich.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hello, Leah. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I was half-way through writing this when it occurred to me that it is a timely Christmas story. Oh well, I would have written in January even if I missed the holiday. It is a touching event, isn't it?

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Alex, you are absolutely correct-- these were Wehrmacht ("ordinary") soldiers and, of course, totally different from the Waffen SS. Thanks for your great comment.

Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 3 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up. What a wonderful and touching story. Thanks for sharing. I so love all the movies which come around Christmas time with soldiers being entertained and so on at Christmastime. I'm so glad some of them got to come together again. Passing this on.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for your comment, Gypsy. They're even better when they're based on fact. I understand Silent Night (the Lifetime movie) added a dramatic touch at the end which didn't happen, but, overall, it's based on this incident.

aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

Loved it - both moving and funny (the part about Hermann the rooster!). Another indication of a good article is the good conversation in comments that has become a continuation of the article!

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi, aethelthyth. When I found a couple of sources that mentioned Hermann the rooster, there was no way I was going to leave him out of it. Thanks for reading and commenting.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Harald This is an amazing and heartwarming story! A perfect Christmas Tale with wonderful meaning. I'd not ever heard of this event, so I thank you, once again, for some new and interesting information.

I truly enjoyed reading this hub, Harald. You tell wonderful stories in such an entertaining way.........UP+++

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks, fpherj48. It fits the season perfectly, doesn't it? I'm glad I came across it when I did.

joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 3 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Hi David, another masterpiece! Voted up, awesome and beautiful, including Hermann the rooster! You wrote it so well, just the right touch, I think it would not have been a good idea to make a "sensational" Hub with this, it was just right! Congratulations! I loved it! Shared!

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Hi Joan. I'm glad you liked it and you are correct, I think, about sensationalizing it. It wasn't historically momentous like the unofficial 1914 truce-- but it was momentous at a human level. Thank you for sharing and voting up.

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 3 years ago from UK

Great story, well told as always. How fortunate all those boys were to have stumbled on Elisabeth's house. Voted up, of course and will share around.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Judi, thanks for commenting. Fortunate indeed-- especially when you remember the Battle of the Bulge was still going on. By that time, the bad weather had lifted and Allied planes filled the skies during the day.

christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 3 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

I love it when some beauty can obscure some of the horror that we sometimes make of this world. Thank you for sharing such a moving story. That woman must be a saint now. She certainly deserves to be.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 3 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks christopheranton. Her son certainly was glad that his mother was remembered for her brave stance that night so many years ago. It is ineed a moving tribute to her and the little bit of humanity that occurred that night.

Saif 22 months ago

Poor Hermann, he had to be sacrificed for the greater good

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 22 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

At least this Hermann did some good, unlike his namesake. Thanks for the comment, Saif.

Anita A. 18 months ago

My late grandfather was one of those soldiers. Robert Wayne Voss. He told this story all the time. He passed about about 3-4 years ago. He was in his late 80's.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 18 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

That is amazing Anita A. I hope I did his story justice. Thank you for letting me know this.

Tusitala Tom profile image

Tusitala Tom 14 months ago from Sydney, Australia

This is a wonderful story. It should be made into a movie, I reckon.

I recall when I was a twenty year old sailor in the Australian Navy. A couple of friends and I met some merchant sailors. The merchant sailors were probably around ten years older than us. They invited us back to their ship. Once there, out came the Snapps. In a short while, all of us pretty drunk, we began singing Marshal Songs from WW2.

It turned out these guys were all U-boat crew only ten years earlier. Sixty years later feelings of camaraderie stay with me yet.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 14 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Your own experience is also a reminder that, given the chance, ordinary people are capable of overlooking differences and being friends.

Henry Jayawardene 13 months ago

Hi UnnamedHarald. I read this story for the first time in a Reader's Digest when I was a kid. Then again in my own language Sinhala (Native language of Sri Lanka) later. I was searching for this story for a long time but couldn't until a fellow blogger like me replied a comment I made in a blog post mentioning this story.

Are there other versions available of this story Harald? If so could you please let me have the links?

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 13 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

Henry, here are some addresses I researched for this article. I think this is okay in comments because I'm not actually promoting these other sites.

Henry Jayawardene 13 months ago

Thanks very much UnnamedHarald.

Rebecca 11 months ago

I am planning on going to Germany next year at Christmas. Is the cabin still standing? Would be a wonderful touch to add to our Christmas next year.

UnnamedHarald profile image

UnnamedHarald 11 months ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa Author

I'm afraid I don't know if the cabin exists. All I know is that it was about 4 miles from the village of Monschau, Germany (current population about 10,000). From what I've seen it's a beautiful place for tourists and hikers. If you search "Monschau Germany", perhaps you could inquire about the cabin's existence.

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