Marlowe's Shade

Friday, December 24, 2004

A Christmas Tale

Two Jewish children from Czechoslovakia had found refuge from the Shoah in a Catholic orphanage. Their parents had arranged this just before being sent to Auschwitz. The boy called Juri was six and his ten year old sister was Judith.

They lived in fear of the strict nuns. They lived in fear of the cruelty of the other children. They lived in fear that they would never see their parents again. But the greatest fear was that one day that the German soldiers from the local garrison would discover they were Jews and take them away.

Schlomo Breznitz's Memory Fields vividly depicts the gnawing anxiety that the children struggled with daily. When Christmas arrived along with it came the prospect of a respite for the children, the nuns became less demanding, tantalizing smells started to emanate from the kitchen. To the delight of the children a sumptuous meal, reminiscent of the days before wartime rationing, was served, and the the boy Juri began to allow himself to relax and enjoy the celebration.

The peace was soon disturbed by the arrival of the Mother Superior and a distinguished guest. The commander of the Nazi garrison had come to pay a visit to the orphanage and brought a cake for them to enjoy. The appearance of the German smothered Juri with dread. He looked to Judith and she was also anxiously aware of the Kommandant.

After they had all had their cake they began to sing Christmas carols. The Kommandant whispered something to the Mother Superior. After a pause that might have been reluctance, she asked the children if anyone could sing "Silent Night" in German. She added that it would make the guest of honor very happy.

Judith and Juri rose as if spellbound, stood in front of the Kommandant, and took each other by the hand. They began to sing the German words to the achingly beautiful song.

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht
Alles schläft, einsam wacht
nur das traute hochheilige Paar
holder Knabe im lockigen Haar

The Kommandant mouthed the shapes of the lyrics without making a sound.

schlaf in himmlischer Ruh'

Suddenly Judith gasps and froze in shock. The song cut off, the unfinished part hung in the quiet room. After a moment of confusion, the terrible realization crashed in on Juri. In Czechoslovakia, only Jews would know the German words. They had been snared so artfully. And now the Kommandant beckoned for them to come closer.

As they stood before him he stroked Judith's head.

"Don't be afraid," he murmurred in German, "your mother and father will return."

The two children dissolved into tears as the one appointed to be their tormentor, comforted them.

A Christmas Mystery play with real children, innocent of drama and irony, for actors, opposite an sentimental Nazi, and a benevolently devious nun. And at the kernel of the Mystery is a power that stands this world on its head. The figure of a Wonderful Child Who's name is Salvation, conveyed through a celestial melody. And for those of us who yearn for a peace that is not submission to this world, who do our best in this life, all the while being homesick for Heaven, there for a brief time all that we strive against ourselves to attain is for a brief time given freely as a gift.

Here is my Christmas prayer for you, my invisible friends. May hosts of warrior angels protect our troops and those who support them while angels of comfort and song minister to their loved ones. May your spirits burn like a starry hearth in the cold winter of space. May the Heavens open above you and torrents of Peace wash away all care fear and doubt. And may your hearts become beachheads, outposts, and finally strongholds in this world for an invasion of Love.

And may God bless us all this Christmas.
papijoe 9:01 AM