"Toward the end of November, the previous Allied personnel were rotated home and replaced by a fresh crew from the United States. Whenever I entered the main gate during the following weeks, one of them passed me on the way out toward a waiting truck for work in the Frankfurt Censorship Division. He always gave me the once-over, accompanied by a hurried “hello.” Next thing I knew, he would appear in my office, always wanting some information, a roll of string, a newspaper—all just excuses to start a conversation. Then, once when we were about to pass each other in a hallway, he quickly asked me if he could visit me at home. This cost him some nerve, since open fraternization at that time was not yet tolerated. I thought he was surely a brazen fellow because these incidents happened now on a daily basis. I had to think of excuses to stop this nonsense. When I discussed the matter with one of the other German secretaries, she said, “Next time he asks you just tell him how dilapidated your circumstances are at home, and if this does not discourage him, invite him. This is the only way to find out what he is all about.”
So, when the next time came I told him we lived in a war-damaged apartment with boarded up windows, makeshift furniture, a primitive stove, but no heating material, and we would go to bed early just to stay reasonably warm. And we had nothing to offer in the way of food! Nothing seemed to turn him off. He invited himself for Christmas, so I asked my parents and it was fine with them. We were all in a suspenseful state. How was this going to work out? We felt that we had nothing to lose and he would be the one to be bitterly disappointed. The only certain thing I had found out about him was that he originally was born in Germany and still had relatives up north in the British occupied zone. The Germany he remembered was the one he left as an eleven-year-old boy with his younger brother, sister, and his mother to join their father, who had preceded them by six months to America to make a new and better life.
The morning of the twenty-fourth came, and with it a taxi with this fellow unloading and schlepping canned and other goods like Danish pastries, bacon, butter, salami, mayonnaise, bread, rolls, coffee, a coffee pot, can opener, apples, oranges, nuts, chocolate, Lifesavers, a cardboard box of firewood and briquets, and matches. It was as if a fairy godmother had used her magic wand. He did all of this in a hurry so that the neighbors would not be wise to it. He had to make another haul and come back later in the day! The very man who had been so persistent in wanting to come as our guest now showered us with gifts. Now we felt quite overcome by his massive generosity. Dawning on us also was the fact that he had sacrificed all his ration points, no doubt having saved them up for weeks in advance and exchanged the rest for cigarettes on the black market. And he was coming back later in the day? With more? Or what? Was this his shy way of giving us the present of sustenance?
Late afternoon, almost at dusk, there was that taxi again. What excitement, such as I could not remember ever. There was Bill, this time carrying a small Christmas tree from the nearby woods, an accordion, and a pillowcase full of wrapped assorted boxes. He made a fire in the small living room stove, leaned the tree in the opposite corner, and broke open the Lifesavers. They served as tree ornaments, edible too, and the man had even brought tinsel from somewhere. My mother was crying, my father was speechless, and we were all on an emotional roller coaster. This was a thawing out from the previous years of war, deprivation, and hopelessness. We had never had genuine coffee, even before the war, and we were at a loss how to boil it, so Bill came to the rescue. There was apparently no end to this man’s magic.
I do not remember if we had anything like a main meal. It was more like a sampling of everything plus a bottle of wine to rinse things down. He had even thought of the corkscrew. When Bill found out there was a lonesome single mother with a six-year-old daughter living in hiding upstairs, he asked them down to join us. Little Brigitte had never seen an orange or chocolate. We all had a feast that reached our stomachs, but more profoundly, our hearts. My father received cigarettes, cigars, and socks, and my mother fancy handkerchiefs, cologne, and great smelling soap— luxury items we hadn’t been able to cherish in years! For me there were stockings, a beautiful music box, and finely embroidered handkerchiefs. It was like a dream.
Then this wonder of a man pulled out his accordion and we were supposed to sing Stille Nacht (Silent Night). I had not heard my father sing since I was a little child when we went hiking in the woods, nor did I remember my mother ever singing. I had not done anything of this sort since leaving school. Under Herr Hitler it was frowned upon anyway, a weak sort of thing to do, other than the rally and marching songs. Brigitte did not have any inkling of what a Christmas song was like.
The accordion and Bill led us into Stille Nacht. The sounds, smells, and warmth of what Christmas was a long time ago made us feel aglow (the wine helped a little too). We could blame it on the alcohol when our eyes brimmed over. It did not matter if everybody saw it because we all were under the same spell. We felt a little ashamed not remembering the second, third, and remaining verses of this lovely song. The war had buried all of it and made us like robots. Yet here was this man who left as a child, lived in America so many years, came back, and remembered. We recognized what had become of us at that instant. But the beautiful reality was that we could go back to our childhood, to our enchantment, to our songs.
I did not want this evening to end. The fire in the stove had burned down. Brigitte had to go upstairs and be put to bed. My parents did not know how to thank Bill, but then he confessed to us what a wonderful time he had and thanked us all for letting him spend Christmas Eve with us. Without hesitation he asked my parents if he might come back to visit, maybe on New Year’s Eve. They were lost for an answer; they did not want to give the impression that we welcomed him only for all the goods he might bring, so they simply said, “We’ll see.”
I put my coat on and accompanied the now empty-handed Bill downstairs and a little ways to the park before I returned home. Bill said again what a lovely Christmas Eve it had been and he was hoping to see us again. The smart fellow had purposely forgotten his accordion at our place. Then he said something that didn’t quite sink into my brain: “I am going to marry you.” And with that breathless remark he hurried away.
As I turned to go back to our apartment it slowly began to snow. It felt and smelled like Christmas long ago, even outdoors. The events of this miraculous day went through my head again and again. They warmed me so much that it was not noticeable that the stove in the living room had grown cold. The warmth was the magic of Christmas as it happened in 1946."