Tag Archives: German

Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, chromolithography

Christmas Eve, chromolithography (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is Christmas Eve, 2013, the day most of us choose to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.  I say “choose,” because no one knows for sure on just what day Jesus was born.  In fact, even the year is disputed.  Getting right the day of his birth is not important.  That he was born is the single most important event is history.

For those of you who found time to read this humble blog entry, here are a few notable events that occurred on Christmas Eve in years gone by.

The first radio broadcast of both voice and music took place on Christmas Eve, 1906.  Sailors aboard vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea were astonished when at exactly 9:00 p.m. they received over their ship’s radio in Morse code the message, “CQ CQ CQ,” a general call to all stations within range.  The “dots and dashes” message was followed by the voice of Reginald Aubrey Fessenden.  After a brief introduction, Fessenden played “O Holy Night” on his violin, followed by his reading from the Gospel of Luke: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will.”  [A dramatic recreation of Fessenden’s broadcast:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Elu0HF4a8yI ]

Sixty-two years later the Apollo 8 astronauts were orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve.  Mimicking Fessenden’s historic broadcast, the astronauts took turns reading the opening verses from Genesis 1.  They ended their broadcast with “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you — all of you on the good Earth.”   [For live coverage of the Apollo 8 broadcast by CBS News:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aIf0G2PtHo ]

On Christmas Eve in 1818, a poem by Joseph Mohr titled “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht,” set to music by Franz Gruber, was performed for the first time during midnight mass at St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Germany.  On Christmas Eve, 1914, “Silent Night, Holy Night” was sung in German, French, and English during a spontaneous truce along the Western Front at the opening of World War I.  It remains one of the best loved Christmas hymns of all time.  [To hear the original German:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUb8ySdERKs ]

One of my most memorable Christmas Eves was that of 1968.  It was the 150th anniversary of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  I attended midnight mass at St. Stanislaus Church in my hometown of Bay City, Michigan.  St. Stanislaus is a neo gothic church in what was earlier the Polish section of the city.  Outside everything was covered in snow.  The beautiful crowded sanctuary was not much warmer.  At the front of the sanctuary were fresh cut pine trees and a lovely manger scene. The smell of fresh pine mingled with the smell of incense drifting through the air, added to the ambiance of the moment.  Since it was the anniversary of the first performance of “Silent Night, Holy Night,” the church’s orchestra and choir performed it in numerous languages, including of course, Polish.

I wish to complete these thoughts on Christmas Eve, 2013 with two of my favorite Christmas poems.  First, the better known “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCVnuEWXQcg

Second, the lessor known “Bethlehem BC” by Rod McKuen: http://www.rodmckuen.com/music/bethbc.mp3

Merry Christmas to one and all, and until next time, do good, be good, and always live under the mercy.

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Historian’s Almanac for September 7, 2013

Yesterday, September 6, 2013, Rochus Misch died.  He was 96 years old, when the angel of death called at his residence.  He was just one of many individuals who died on September 6.  So, why do we note his passing?

Rochus Misch was the last survivor from among those who chose to spend the last days of the Third Reich along with Adolf Hitler in a concrete and steel bunker beneath the streets of Berlin.  Above, those who once hailed Hitler as one sent from providence were enduring the wrath of the Russian army.

Hitler’s intimate entourage drank champagne while recalling days of glory.  Many of them must have believed that they were participating in a Wagnerian opera.  Meanwhile Hitler cursed the German people and blamed them for the fact that his dream of a new German Reich that would last for a thousand years was ending after only 12 years.

Rochus Misch became a part of Hitler’s inner circle in 1940 after being severely wounded and receiving the Iron Cross during the German conquest of Poland.  He served as a chauffeur and bodyguard to Hitler.  Wherever Hitler went, Misch went.

Misch was, and remained up until his death, a loyal servant of the man he referred to as a “wonderful boss.”  Misch was present when the door to Hitler’s room in the bunker was opened in order to remove his and Ava Braun’s bodies after they committed suicide.  “I saw Hitler slumped with his head on the table. Eva Braun was lying on the sofa, with her head towards him,” he recalled later in an interview.

He knew of Magda Goebbels’ plan to murder her six children following Hitler’s death.  It was unthinkable, she said, for her children to have to live in a world without Hitler.  After administering the fatal poison to the children, Misch recalled that their mother came out of the room crying, and then sat down at a table and began playing solitaire.  Shortly afterwards, Magda and Joseph Goebbels committed suicide above ground in the Chancellery gardens.

Misch always insisted that Hitler was a perfectly normal person.  “He was no brute. He was no monster. He was no superman,” claimed Misch.  He never indicated remorse for the concentration camps about which he said Hitler never spoke in his presence.

Misch left what he later referred to as “the bunker of concrete” on May 2. He became a prisoner of the Russians after the fall of Berlin.  The Russians took him to Moscow, where he was tortured repeatedly, as the Russians demanded that he reveal what he knew about Hitler’s fate.

In 1954, after spending 9 years in Russian prisoner of war camps, Misch was free to return to Berlin.  He and his wife, Gerda, whom he married in 1942, opened a paint and wallpaper shop in a Berlin suburb.  Gerda died in 1997.

Rochus and Gerda Misch had only one child, a daughter, Brigitta, who learned from her maternal grandmother that her mother was, in fact, Jewish.  It was a revelation that her father was never willing to believe.

Brigitta Jacob-Engelken became an architect.  She lived for a time on a kibbutz in Israel, and has supported and participated in a number of Jewish causes.

Rochus Misch served as a consultant for two recent and highly regarded movies about the end of the Third Reich, Downfall (2004) and Valkyrie (2008).

One is tempted to wonder if Herr Misch is once again serving as Hitler’s chauffeur.

Be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.