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About World War 2: A Small Christmas Truce

Author:

I try to make history readable and interesting, warts and all. We must look to the past to understand the present and confront the future.

A Tiny House in the Hurtgen Forest

View of the type of terrain in the Huertgen Forest.

View of the type of terrain in the Huertgen Forest.

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.

Defending in the Dead of Winter

WW2: Battle of the Bulge. American soldiers.

WW2: Battle of the Bulge. American soldiers.

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.

German Youth

WW2: Battle of the Bulge, Young German soldiers

WW2: Battle of the Bulge, Young German soldiers

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 (Goering)?

Roast Hermann (Goering)?

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.

Approximate Site of the Cabin

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: My father served overseas during WWII for 63 months. He talked about the German truce. My question is what would they have eaten during the WWII Christmas truce?

Answer: The mother was able to provide a large roast chicken which was then made into a stew with potatoes and, perhaps, some other stored root vegetables. The Germans contributed a bottle of red wine and a loaf of rye bread.

Question: Were there any other WWII truces?

Answer: Though there MAY have been other short-lived cessation of hostilities between very small groups of soldiers, I have not found any other documented instances of Christmas truces during the Second World War.

© 2012 David Hunt

Comments

Boyle on December 28, 2018:

This is a copy of the original story written by Fritz Vincken as I remember it from Readers Digest 1973

http://storytruceintheforest.blogspot.com/

Tony on September 16, 2018:

Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

Sean Marcum on September 29, 2017:

I suggest contacting these guys. I was in that region in March, and they know their stuff for sure! That whole region is the best for enjoying Germany outside of Bavaria, but I'm a huge history guy.

https://www.museum-huertgenwald.de/

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 29, 2016:

The history of this story is also interesting. Unsolved Mysteries broadcast it (which ended up revealing Ralph Blank as one of the Americans) 10 years after President Reagan referred to it in a 1985 speech in Bitburg, West Germany. The New York Times investigated it shortly after Reagan's speech, verifying it had appeared in the January 1973 edition of Reader's Digest and discovering that Reader's Digest had also done extensive research on such a hard-to-believe story. The son in the story, Fritz Vincken, had actually submitted it in the sixties, but when RD tried to contact him, they could not locate him. Instead, they managed to locate Fritz's mother in Aachen, West Germany. Without knowing what her son had submitted, Mrs Vincken gave substantially the same account her son had written. So, in fact, this story has been verified by several different sources.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 29, 2016:

Thank you faith, brus and isadore for your kind comments. I envy your experiences behind the iron curtain in the eighties, brus. I imagine they had a lasting impact on your life. Isadore, it's very interesting to hear that Readers' Digest published a version in the sixties. I will do additional research on this.

isadore carret on December 29, 2016:

Great story, superbly written. I read a version of thisstory in the digest 50 yrs ago. it was wonderful to read again

brus on December 21, 2016:

Hello David, This story we have shared with many and have a dear friend who worked in the hospital in Maryland at that time and attended Ralph there. This story touches a part of my life too because of God's providence I spent a total of 5 weeks in the 80s behind the iron curtain and started a life time friendship with a couple of German families, one in the former DDR and one in free West Berlin. I wasn't sure what to expect in the former DDR (east Germany) but we were places there where we were the first Americans to visit after the war. We were shown so much kindness. I met a Pastor there who's father was killed by the Americans but he shared how thankful he was for the help from the Americans to free them of the tyranny. The Pastor is a story in itself. His father was also a pastor and joined the Confessing Church led by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was a very touching time when the pastor, my east German friend introduced me too, showed a small photo that was in his father's shirt pocket when his father was killed. The hole in the photo is where the bullet had struck and killed his father. I am thankful I never served in a war but want to always remember the great cost of our freedom. The story, Dave you have shared shows how even during war the power of the Spirit of Christmas can effect the hearts of all.

FAITH on December 06, 2016:

LOVED IT

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 14, 2016:

Roast Hermann was the roasted chicken (actually a rooster) that Fritz's mother killed and cooked for the soldiers. Since she didn't care much for either Nazi Reichsminister Hermann Goering or the rooster, she had named the rooster after Goering. Otherwise "Roast Hermann" was simply a roasted chicken.

Sean on November 14, 2016:

Very great story. I want to know what is Hermann roast? Is that the roasted recipe

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 18, 2015:

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.

Rebecca on November 17, 2015:

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.

Henry Jayawardene on September 27, 2015:

Thanks very much UnnamedHarald.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 27, 2015:

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.

www.amazon.com/Silent-Night-Linda-Hamilton/dp/B000C8STSK/ref=pd_sim_sbs_mov_1

unsolvedmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/The_Friends_of_Fritz_Vincken

www.wjpbr.com/vincken.html

pulpitbytes.blogspot.com/2007_01_01_archive.html

ba-ez.org/educatn/LC/OralHist/vincken.htm

Henry Jayawardene on September 27, 2015:

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?

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on September 02, 2015:

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.

Tom Ware from Sydney, Australia on September 01, 2015:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on April 14, 2015:

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

Anita A. on April 14, 2015:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 25, 2014:

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

Saif on December 25, 2014:

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

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 06, 2013:

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.

Christopher Antony Meade from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom on January 06, 2013:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 06, 2012:

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.

Judi Brown from UK on December 06, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 06, 2012:

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.

Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on December 06, 2012:

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!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 05, 2012:

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

Suzie from Carson City on December 05, 2012:

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+++

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 03, 2012:

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.

aethelthryth from American Southwest on December 03, 2012:

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!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 01, 2012:

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.

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on December 01, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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?

AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on November 30, 2012:

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.

LeahMia8911 on November 30, 2012:

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!!

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on November 30, 2012:

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

Voted up and all.

Graham.

Larry Fields from Northern California on November 30, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 30, 2012:

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!

rlbert00 from USA on November 29, 2012:

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.

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on November 29, 2012:

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.

William H Taylor from Binghamton NY on November 29, 2012:

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.

Gustave Kilthau from USA on November 29, 2012:

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 :-)))

Larry Fields from Northern California on November 29, 2012:

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.

David Hunt (author) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on November 29, 2012:

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

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on November 29, 2012:

Super story and superbly written. Wow!

Voted up and everything but funny.