Noted historian spoke to students about wartime Christmasas

Historian Stanley Weintraub
Historian Stanley Weintraub
Photo by James Kuepper
Stanley Weintraub speaking on wartime Christmases in the Gallery Wednesday evening.

BY RACHEL DEL GUIDICE
STAFF WRITER

Stanley Weintraub, a professor, historian and noted author spoke to Franciscan University students Wednesday night about wartime Christmases throughout history.

In the crowded Gentile Galley, Stanley Weintraub opened the lecture by recalling Christmas memories from his time overseas during the Korean War.

“Hardly anyone knew it was Christmas until you heard songs like, ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’ over the radio.” As you can imagine, he said, “it was not good for the morale” of any of the men. A crowded audience chuckled in agreement.

In the 1980s, Weintraub began a book on the end of World War I. In the midst of his research, he discovered that there had been a truce. This fascinated him because many people either do not talk about the truce or, in many cases, the possibility of a truce is referred to as a fairy tale.

Weintraub dug a little deeper into history to learn the details of this truce. Surprisingly, he found many pieces to this story in the “Letters to the Editor” section of many newspapers. Soldiers would write back home to their town’s newspapers and begin letters with phrases like “You won’t believe what happened…” and then go on to talk about the truce in some way.

Many German families sent their men cigars, sausages, etc. English soldiers received gifts as well, but especially large amounts of plumb pudding. Soldiers from both sides got out of their trenches and swapped these goodies.

Something that intrigued the English soldiers out of their foxholes before the actual truce began were lighted objects off in the distance. These objects were relit, and the English soldiers shot at them again. Their curiosity piqued, the English soldiers crawled out of their foxholes, and realized that the Germans had set up many Christmas trees and lit them with candles.

The two sides cleared the large area between them, called “no man’s land”, cleared the dead bodies and bullet shells that littered this area and then played football (soccer) together.

Another book Weintraub has written that has undertones of Christmas is called “11 Days in December.” This book looks at the story of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

This battle ended on Christmas Day because of a “great general, but a lousy human being.”  Weintraub said that General George S. Patton wanted to end the war, so he went to a nearby chapel in Luxemburg, knelt down, and said, “God, you are a superior man. I need good weather in order to kill Germans.”

Weintraub assured the audience that these in fact were his authentic words because Patton had several aids in the chapel with him who heard and recorded these words. Patton’s prayer worked, though, because Patton broke the siege and the Battle of the Bulge ended.

“You never know when a story will turn into a Christmas story,” said Weintraub.

Junior Claire Nichols said, “I’ve watched TV shows about Christmas and I always like to be home then. The emotional aspect of this talk made me interested in coming.  This topic is very special.”