The Magic of the Music
I'm sure that anyone who was unlucky enough to be a POW during the holiday season retains memories he will never forget. At Stalag Luft IV, near the town of Grosstychow on the Baltic Sea, Christmas Eve was a special occasion. There was a palpable air of excitement that affected everyone, regardless of his religious affiliation
For many days, we had been hoarding the meager rations from our Red Cross parcels for one big blast of a dinner. Each room in our barracks, decorated with whatever scraps we could scrounge, nevertheless, presented a festive appearance. We had made up our minds that for this one night, we wouldn't go to bed with empty stomachs, but the anticipated gorging was somewhat disappointing. Because our stomachs were so shrunken, we were unable to consume nearly what we expected and much of the feast was left over for Christmas Day. The Germans, after much negotiating, had grudgingly agreed to let us walk within the compound that night and sing Christmas carols. After so many months of seeing the night sky only through a tiny crack in our tightly closed window shutters, the view was breathtaking
It was a cold, crisp evening and the heavens almost without a cloud. The stars were simply spectacular, each one a brightly twinkling jewel that seemed so deceptively close. There was a mystic feeling that something was happening, something you couldn't really understand
Then we began to sing Christmas carols and I was astonished at the strength, the sheer power of the words: Joyful! and Triumphant!, Peace on Earth, Let Nothing You Dismay. We even sneaked in My Country `Tis of Thee...Let Freedom Ring. "Let Freedom Ring!" How inspiring these words suddenly became.
Our voices soared upward, toward the star-studded sky, lifting over the ugly barbed wire fences, past the menacing guardtowers bristling with guns, over the snow covered earth, far above the dense woods, lightly, effortlessly...to freedom. Freedom. FREEDOM! I thought my chest would burst with the sheer joy of it.
And then I knew, knew positively, that someday...some of us would return home. Oh, I wasn't so naive as to believe that all of us would make it. I wasn't very confident that I might be one of the lucky ones, but it no longer seemed so hopeless. As it turned out, there were still more difficult months ahead: evacuations, forced marches, cramped boxcar rides, cold, abuse and hunger...always hunger,
This month marks the 73rd anniversary of that night and it remains as intensely vivid in my mind as ever. With that memory, I think of those who shared this experience with me and wish you all the joy that this very special season can bring.