Letter to the editor: Christmas lessons to be learned from trials 76 years ago

My father was captured by the Nazis 76 years ago. For much of 1944 he was interned in Stalag Luft IV in Tychowo, Poland. The camp had five compounds separated by barbed wire fences, with the POWs housed in 40 wooden barrack huts. December, 1944 was eight months after his capture with little hope of if or when he might be freed. It was bitterly cold and none of the huts were heated, there were only five small iron stoves in the whole camp.

I asked him about that Christmas in the camp. He said that the commandant relaxed restrictions and allowed the men to gather and move about the camp. The POWs talked, laughed, shared cigarettes and K rations. It was a little bit of Christmas joy during a dark time.

One night he knelt in the snow and prayed to God “just hold onto me”. He said it was a good thing God did because the worst was yet to come.

In February of 1945 the Soviets were closing in from the east. Some 8,000 POWs were taken on a 500 mile winter trek known as the black march. The treatment was terrible — the average POW lost a third of his body weight. Yet acts of heroism were commonplace. The stronger helped the weaker. Those fortunate enough to have a coat shared it with others. Sometimes a wagon was available for the sick. Because there were few horses available, teams of POWs pulled the wagons through the snow. The survivors were liberated three months later along with thousands of other POWs.

If we take the inspiration of those men, we can pull each other through this challenging time. May the simple joy and great hope of the Christmas 1944 be with you.

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