Interview of Fritz Vincken
February, 1997 in Honolulu, Hawaii
Conducted by Joalena Ashmore
Senior at Kahuku High
Fritz Vincken was a twelve year old boy in Germany who lived with his mother in the Ardennes Forest, in a hidden refuge during the fall of 1944. On the Eve of Christmas, American soldiers found their way to this isolated cottage and carried one of their wounded to shelter. Fritz' mother saw their need and decided to let them in even though she could be killed for doing so. She & Fritz spoke no English, but used hand motions to invite them inside. Not long after a heavy knock at the door caused panic as Fritz and his mother realized that German soldiers were outside. Fritz' mother knew the punishment for harboring the enemy, but acted quickly and told the soldiers outside that they could have a nice hot meal, but must leave their guns outside because she had visitors inside and that even though they may not be friendly visitors, this was Christmas Eve and no one would use guns on this sacred night of peace. German soldiers and American soldiers shared a hot meal together on that special night and the German soldiers even helped the wounded American and then parted company in the morning having shared one night of peace on earth. Fritz eventually moved to Hawaii after the War and recollects this special night of peace between the enemies in the following interview.
Q:What do you remember most about your childhood?
A: War! I remember one night very well. It was April 11, 1944. My mother and I were sitting in the basement when the bomb went off and our home collapsed. Suddenly we were homeless. I was twelve years old when the heavy bombing raid on the city of Aachen left my family homeless. My parent's bakery had burned like a torch and together we were all evacuated out of the smoldering ruins to a village near the river Rhine, where we found shelter.
Q: Where did you go from there?
A: One evening my father arrived in our village with a small army truck, picked up mother and me, and drove all through the night to take us to be in his proximity. There, about 20 miles from where he was housed at the bakery, deep inside the Ardennes Forest on a wooded mountain stood a lonely hut that was to become my home for the next several months. A Belgian friend had shown father the way to get there. We intended to stay only a few weeks but were there from October through December.
Q: What was it like before the soldiers came that night in the forest?
A: By the 24th of December the weather cleared up. Temperatures dropped overnight to below freezing, but the sun rose on a cloudless blue sky. All day long, many hundreds of Allied planes flew on their deadly missions undisturbed. The gloomy, heavy, roar of their engines, would remain forever entrenched in my mind. When darkness fell in late afternoon, the sudden quietness was conspicuous, as countless stars reclaimed the heavens. There were even long icicles that had formed outside our windows.
Q: What happened when the American soldiers appeared at the door?
A: My mother knew the penalty for harboring the enemy, but when she looked into the young Americans eyes and saw that one was badly hurt, she opened the door and let them in. We did not speak English, but one of the Americans spoke French to my mother and she could converse with him in French. We learned that the stocky, dark haired fellow was Jim; his comrade, tall and slender, was Ralph. Herby was the wounded one. We added more potatoes to our dinner and made extra places at the table. Then there was a knock at the door.
Q: Were you frightened at who might be there?
A: Yes!, Germans! I was almost paralyzed with fear, for though I was a child, I knew that harsh law of war: Anyone giving aid and comfort to the enemy would be shot. Mother quietly talked to them outside and then invited them in, but made the German soldiers put their weapons in the shed before entering the cabin. She then took the American soldiers weapons. When they came in the feelings were awkward. After a while one of the German soldiers aided the wounded American. Then we added more ingredients to our stew and invited these enemies to sit down together for dinner. One of the German soldiers, an ex-medical student fixed the wounded American and then Mother read from the Bible and declared that there would be at least one night of peace in this war -- Christmas night in the Ardennes Forest. After a good-nights rest they said their goodbyes and went on their way. The German soldiers told the Americans which way their camp was and gave them a compass to find their way.
Q: What do you feel your mother's intentions were that night?
Q: Does humanity transcend war?
A: It depends. If you look at the diary of Anne Frank, she says man is naturely good, but situations bring out the good and bad of people.
Q: Why do you think that the German soldiers didn't turn you in?
A: I think it was my mother's personality and her persuasivness to have them rest for one peaceful night. There was a place to stay, hot food, and shelter from the cold and they appreciated that.
Q: If the soldiers that had knocked on your door were Russian, do you believe they would have been invited in?
A: Yes, Russian soldiers are very good hearted and good natured. The Russians had revenge, they killed women, children, and anything they were told to do they did it. But when they were "sober" they were very good people.
Q: Have you ever been reunited with the German or American soldiers you and your mother helped that Christmas Eve night?
A: Yes, I have been reunited with two of the American soldiers, but not the German soldiers. I was reunited with Ralph Blank at his nursing home. I waited 51 years for this moment and the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries" helped me become reunited.
Q: Where are your parents now?
A: My parents remained in their homeland after the war. My father passed away in 1963, and my mother followed three years later. I got married on February 28, 1958 and came to Hawaii.
Q: What are your feelings of that night in 1944?
A: Many years have gone since that bloodiest of all wars, but the memories of that night in the Ardennes never left me. The inner strength of a single woman, who, by her wits and intuition, prevented potential bloodshed, taught me the practical meaning of the words: "Good will Toward Mankind." Now and then, on a clear tropical winter night, I look at the skies for bright Sirius and we always seem to greet each other like old friends. Then, unfailingly, I remember mother and those seven young soldiers, who met as enemies and parted as friends, right in the middle of the battle of the Bulge.