Paul Eisen

Paul Eisen

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

""Sei still! Halt aus!" - A Christmas Story

It's a snippet of a story from Ingrid Rimland - the memory of a seven-year old child walking with her mother, her grandmother and her baby sister along with the retreating Werhmacht, through the snows all the way from the Ukraine and home to Germany.

For Ingrid's Mennonite community, Volksdeutsche, settled in the East for two hundred years and now after years of Red terror, these young boys were simply liberators. And for the young soldiers, these outdated folk, rather like Amish with their quaint ways and perfect, archaic German -these were just Germans to be brought home. 

Ingrid takes up the story...  

A scene of many years ago, somewhere in Russia or Poland, is burned into my memory - one freezing, hungry Christmas on the trek, on rickety wagons pulled by exhausted horses that left their bloody footprints in the snow. We Volksdeutsche, thousands and thousands of us, were fleeing the murderous hordes of the Red Army. We stopped somewhere when it got dark, and there was nothing but ice and dark sky in a snow-laden forest. Many had died on the road. Many more would. Only four of us were still alive - my grandmother, my mother, my baby sister and I, then seven or eight years old. I lay, curled up beneath snow-sodden blankets, and sobbed my little heart out. I watched my grandmother climb down from the wagon, tears freezing on her cheeks. She had nothing to give me but this - she broke off a twig from a fir tree, and with her trembling, frostbitten hands she put a match to it against the howling wind, and when it threw sparks, she held it up to my nose with these shy words: "Sei still! Halt aus! So duftet Weihnachten im Vaterland." [Be quiet! Endure! This is how Christmas smells in the our Fatherland!]

And you can now find out what happened next to Ingrid and her family here.