The Men Who Restored Christmas
A great Christmas story combines warmth, kindness, generosity, traditions, and a memorable event—especially one that brings hope against the backdrop of an evil empire. A true story describing how a few soldiers from the 28th Infantry Division restored Christmas for the children of Wiltz, Luxembourg ranks with the best.
In late 1944, the allies had the German soldiers on the run. By December, some men were sent to Wiltz, Luxembourg for a much needed break. The townsfolk were grateful for the liberation from five years of Nazi rule including the ban on their Christmas tradition. This year they planned to restore the celebration of Saint Nicolas (Klees’chen) on 6 December but they were at a loss for gifts and treats.
Jewish Corporal Harry Stutz meets with the local priest, Father Wolffe, and other town leaders to see what could be done. He then plans a party with help from fellow soldiers who cook doughnuts and gather donations of sweets and items sent to soldiers from family and friends. Finally, he turns to friend Corporal Richard Brookins to play the role of Saint Nicholas. A bit reluctant at first, Brookins agrees then dons the priest’s garb, a worn rope beard, and a broken staff. After a sleigh ride via Army Jeep through town, the children and their families join the soldiers at Wiltz Castle.
Alas the war was not over. The Germans initiated a final resistance effort (Battle of the Bulge). Allied bombers responded and many in Wiltz lost their lives along with much of their town.
But after the war, the joy and hope of that special day was remembered. The celebration of 1944 was recounted far and wide. After some effort, connections were made with Corporal Brookins and some others. They returned to a warm welcome by the children who never forgot.
Last year (2014) 94-year-old Richard Brookins joined in a re-enactment—riding again in a jeep as he had 70 years ago.
I saw the story on PBS presented as The American St. Nick. There is also a book by Peter Lion, which I haven’t read. Here’s a link to more on the story at the WW II Foundation.
Clip from the wartime film
The book cover