It was Christmas Eve, 1947, but there was no Christmas tree in our apartment or in any of the other five apartments in our building. Our city, Dresden, had been firebombed and was now under Russian control. There were three pine trees left in what used to be a park, but anyone found cutting one of those down would’ve been shot if seen by a passing Russian patrol.
My brother (5) and I (10) stood at our kitchen window. Our sad faces pressed against the window pane as we watched the falling snow cover the piles of charred bricks on our street. Dad sat at the kitchen table, thumbing through a Christmas storybook. Mom, who had lit a candle and placed it on the windowsill, placed one hand on my brother’s shoulder, one hand on mine, and studied the swirling snow. Looking up at her reflection in the window, I saw her eyes narrow and felt her fingertips at my shoulder—then she suddenly turned and walked out of the kitchen. A few minutes later, I heard our front door close.
Dad kept reading, until my brother yelled, “Mom!” We had just seen her leave our building, wrapped in her old scarf, her right arm holding a bulging object under her coat. Dad put his book down and hurried to the window, but Mom had already been swallowed up by the blowing snow.
Dad sat my brother and me down and read us Christmas stories while we all waited anxiously. One hour later, Mom came into the kitchen, coated with snow. She waved to Dad to follow her and walked back out. Of course, my brother and I hurried right behind them. Mom led us down the stairs and out the front door, where a large pine tree lay in the snow.
Throwing all caution aside, Mom had gone to the park where the three pine trees had survived the firebombing. She chose one and cut it down, but due to the darkness and swirling snow, she hadn’t realized how big it was until it fell to the ground. Undiscouraged, she rolled, pulled, and pushed the tree back to our building. Dad scratched his chin and squinted nervously into the swirling snow. He shook his head. The tree was too big for our apartment.
Mom wiped the snow from her forehead, looked up at our dark building, and said, “Let’s share it.”
Mom and Dad pulled the tree into the building, and Dad sawed it into three pieces. They took one piece to each of the three floors. My brother and I rang all the doorbells.
People opened their doors only a little bit and looked carefully out. But when they saw it was us, everyone opened their doors wide and came out and smiled at their share of the pine tree. Soon, moving quietly in the dim light of candles, everyone decorated their pieces.
It was past midnight. The last ornament had been hung. A single voice began to quietly sing “Silent Night.” Very softly, not to give ourselves away to any passing Russian patrol, the rest of us joined in. ❖