The small Christmas truce of WWII

Photo by DAVIDSONLUNA via Unsplash
Photo by DAVIDSONLUNA via Unsplash

The small Christmas truce of WWII

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

Only five months into the raging battles of World War I, an unofficial Christmas truce occurred in the No Man’s Land between German, French and British forces along the Western Front. Singing Christmas carols, the soldiers climbed out of the trenches and forged small bonds of brotherhood. Unfortunately, this brief armistice was not sanctioned by commanders and fraternization with the enemy was strictly prohibited. As the conflict intensified, any hopes of a similar pact evaporated. However, 30 years later during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, a small Christmas truce happened for three American soldiers.

On Christmas Eve in 1944, a young boy named Fritz Vincken and his mother Elisabeth were staying in a small cabin in the Hürtgen Forest, mere miles from the Belgian border. Waiting anxiously for his father’s return for the holiday, he heard a loud knock at the door. Instinctively protective, his mother blew out the candles in the front room and pushed him aside to answer the door. Standing before her were two American soldiers, with a third laying severely injured in the snow nearby.

Not understanding English, the elder Vincken froze in the doorway. Noting the Americans were armed, yet did not force their way into the cabin, she relented and told the men to come in. Although none of the soldiers spoke German, one spoke enough French to communicate with their hosts. After getting separated from their battalion, the three troops were left wandering the forest for days. Hypothermia, exposure, hunger and battle wounds were taking their toll. Realizing the poor condition of the men, Vincken sent her son to fetch the rooster and potatoes she had been saving for a special Christmas meal as she began bandaging up the injured man.

As the younger Vincken prepared the table for their guests, there was another loud knock at the door. Expecting more Americans, he flung the door open and saw four German soldiers standing before him. His mother quickly went outside to defuse the situation. The quartet had also lost their regiment and were seeking shelter. When asked if they could stay, she told them they were more than welcome; however, there were three others inside who were not considered friends of Germany. Because it was Christmas Eve, she explained, there would be no bloodshed in her home. As the incredulous Germans stood speechless, she instructed the men to leave their weapons outside and join them for dinner.

She hurried inside and explained the situation to the American GIs. They handed their weapons to their host, which she placed outside. When the Germans walked in, an air of tension and suspicion filled the room. Vincken began dishing up what food she could, while one of the German men looked at the wounded American. Speaking in English, he explained the young man’s injuries were not infected and he needed rest. The tension in the room was replaced with tentative trust and weariness from the war.

At dawn, realizing they would all be departing around the same time, the Americans were trying to find their way back to the Allied lines. When asked if they should head toward Monschau, the Germans advised them to go elsewhere as it had been recaptured by the Germans. As they began to leave, Vincken handed the men their weapons and gave motherly advice to stay safe and return to their respective homes. She watched as the men set out in opposing directions toward their battle lines, none chasing after the other.

While not quite on the same scale as the Christmas Truce of 1914, this small offering of peace meant the difference between life and death for these seven men and the Vincken family.

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