Thanks for all of your great reviews. For more information, check the bibliography at the end of this chapter. For a more sobering and serious look at this issue, please read my story, "He Who Saves a Single Life, Saves the Entire World."
It took no time at all for the men in Barracks two to sense that change. Hogan literally bounded through the door, slamming it shut as he waltzed in. "Meeting!" He sang out, snapping his fingers to gain everyone's attention.
The men looked at each other and hopped off their bunks, and moved away from the stove.
"In your office, sir?" Newkirk asked, assuming it was a new mission that warranted some secrecy.
"Nope." Hogan poured himself a cup of coffee and then straddled a chair. "I need every man in here to make this work."
Encouraged, and now excited, the men gathered around the table.
"Someone get me a piece of paper." A pad and a pencil quickly appeared in front of the colonel. He jotted something down and handed the sheet to Kinch. "Scramble the message and send it to London. It shouldn't take long to get a reply, so wait for an answer."
"Yes, sir!" Kinch headed to the tunnels.
"I suppose you all want to know what's going on?" Hogan, a gleam in his eye, reached into his pocket and placed the contents on a table.
"Tops?" Carter stated the obvious.
"No, Carter." Hogan answered. "Dreidels. Confiscated from Barracks 12."
"As in Hanukkah dreidels?" Someone asked.
"Yeah." Hogan picked one up, spun it and watched it fall.
"I've never seen one before," Carter exclaimed as he moved closer to the table. "Not too many Jewish people in North Dakota," he explained. He picked it up and examined it. "What do the carvings mean?"
"Those are letters. Hebrew letters. They control the game. It's really a gambling game." Newkirk, who had inched toward the table, said. "Saw a lot of these at home in the East End. But," he continued, "Nowadays, children play it during the holiday. They may use nuts or coins; or maybe candy in the pot."
"That's very interesting, Newkirk. But what do these tops have to do with us?" Olsen, who was glad at least to see the colonel apparently scheming and back to his old self, was still curious. "And where did the guys in Barracks 12 get them and why did you take them? If you don't mind me asking, sir?"
"Glad you asked, Olsen. Pasternak made them out of leftover clay he took from the pottery class, and…" Hogan hesitated. "I took them because if these were discovered by the SS or Gestapo…"
The men stared at their commander as if he had lost his mind. The contraband hidden in their barracks could get them all shot; never mind the entrances to the tunnel system hidden in all of the barracks.
"Look," Hogan said. "I know what you're thinking. What I did doesn't make sense. But listen. POW camps are usually segregated by nationality, race and religion. Hochstetter, or worse, an SS goon, could waltz in here, inspect the other barracks, and Klink's laissez-faire policies can end in a split second. We'd be turned upside down."
"That could put a damper on things," Carter said.
"Exactly. And," Hogan lowered his voice. "I've heard some really bad things about the treatment of Jewish prisoners at some other camps." His voice trailed off.
The men did not respond.
"Okay." Hogan perked up. "We're throwing a party!" As the men again remained quiet, he said, "Well, that's not the response I expected."
"Oh," LeBeau said, "I get it. A party for a diversion. What is it? Klink's birthday? Anniversary? A Swiss holiday?"
"No, no. A Hanukkah party."
"But, sir, you just said, how dangerous…" Olsen stopped talking as the bunk entrance opened and Kinch, carrying a piece of paper, climbed into the room.
"I have the answers, sir." He handed the paper to Hogan, who began to read.
"December 4th. Starts at sunset the night before. Potato pancakes, or anything fried in oil. Why are you requesting this information? And don't do anything stupid. Sunset December 3rd . We have two days." Hogan started issuing orders. "LeBeau, you're in charge of food. That should be easy for you. Then talk to some of the Jewish prisoners. See if there's anything else they eat on the holiday. Just don't let them know what's going on. Newkirk. You know what a menorah is, right? Sketch one out for the boys in the metal shop. Carter we'll need candles for the menorah."
"But we could set the tunnels on fire."
"Small candles, Carter." Newkirk rolled his eyes.
"Isn't this a bit dangerous?"
"Dangerous, Olsen? Yes. But not anywhere near as dangerous as what we usually do. Look. Most of these boys are spending their first Hanukkah trapped here, just like it's the first Christmas for a lot of us. We will hopefully be getting packages from home. We may have a tree. Klink may throw a party. Who knows? But they'll have nothing. I had a Jewish friend in Bridgeport when I was a kid. These holidays are just as meaningful to them as ours are to us. We already missed the most important ones. The Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. I think including them and making them realize they're not alone, will mean something for everyone."
"It's almost as if we're stabbing those Nazis in the back," Kinch said.
"That, too." Hogan grinned. "Kinch, your job is to find out who in the camp is Jewish. I really have no idea. The rest of you. Come up with decorations, small gifts and anything else you can think of. On December 3rd at sunset, we'll get the guys down in the tunnels, light the menorah, and have the party."
"It lasts eight days. You do know that, sir?" Newkirk asked.
"I know. We can't party for eight days. Just the first night. But we will light the candles every night."
"You're seriously telling me the main dish is potato pancakes," LeBeau grumbled.
"They are called latkes. At least that's what London said." Kinch wasn't sure if he was pronouncing the word correctly.
"Latkes, schmatkes. It's still potato pancakes. We eat these all the time." LeBeau stomped out of the barracks, in search of more information.
"Yes, I know what it is, Newkirk. I'm from New York City." Newkirk and Gibson, the sergeant in charge of the metal shop, were discussing plans for the menorah.
"So you think you can make come up with something quick?"
The sergeant scratched his head, thought a moment, and then answered. "Sure. I think so. It's just your basic candle holder."
"Great," Newkirk replied.
"You plan on lighting this every night, Newkirk? That's a lot of candles. Do the math," Gibson said as he started working on his own sketch.
"I'll talk with Carter. He's dealing with the candles." Newkirk headed for Carter's workshop.
It's hard to strike up a friendly chat, LeBeau mused, when it's colder than an icebox outside. He caught up with Kinch, who was heading towards Barracks three to speak with their chief. "There's no one outside,"LeBeau complained. "How am I supposed to get this information? I can't just talk to someone and asked them point blank what they eat during their holiday. "
"Eat in the mess hall, Louis," Kinch suggested. "Complain about the food. Start a conversation."
"You're joking right? Very funny. Eat in the mess hall." LeBeau laughed. Until he saw Kinch's face. The man was serious. "You're not kidding."
"I'll get you some names," Kinch whispered. "And then you can go over there for dinner."
"Merde," was LeBeau's response.
It took Kinch the rest of that day to speak to the chiefs, and get the names of the Jewish servicemen in camp. "Thirteen, that's it, Colonel." Kinch passed a list to Hogan. "Two guys from France. Three from London, and the rest from the states. All the chiefs are sworn to secrecy and a couple may bring over some gifts."
"Excellent. The guards aren't suspicious are they?"
"No, sir." Kinch smiled. "They're not paying attention. It's too cold."
Unfortunately, Schultz's suspicions were aroused when he spotted LeBeau heading for the mess hall that evening. The corporal was bundled up and did not look happy. Schultz intercepted him and asked, "LeBeau, where are you going?"
"To dinner, Schultz. It's dinnertime. Smell the cabbage? Yum," he said sarcastically.
"You, eating in the mess hall," Schultz laughed. "Jolly joker. Where are you really going?"
"Like I said, Schultz. To the mess hall." They were now at the door. A few confused prisoners walked past them and went into the building.
"You're up to monkey business." Schultz gave LeBeau a poke.
"Look. I didn't feel like cooking tonight."
Schultz turned around and to his surprise, every man in Barracks two, including the colonel, was heading their way.
"Hi, Schultz! Care to join us? After you." Hogan opened the door.
"Now I know you're up to monkey business." Schultz scurried away.
"Thanks for coming, Colonel."
"We all have to make sacrifices, LeBeau." The one perk of living in Barracks two was the frequent homemade culinary masterpieces, somehow formed from mess hall slop and rations, by LeBeau. These meals almost made up for being in the front of the line for the firing squad if they were ever caught. So the sight of every man in the barracks walking into the mess was, to say the least, a bit of a shock. Hogan quickly surrounded himself with a group of chiefs and grabbed a table. Newkirk spotted a contingent of Brits and headed over, while Carter and Kinch took some seats by the group of men from Barracks 12.
"Do you need some more information, Colonel?" McMahon asked pleasantly, as he contemplated the unappetizing pile of stew congealing on his plate.
"Food." The colonel picked up a piece of white bread and dunked it in the gravy. He ate it and then made a face. "Anything special they might want to eat, besides potato pancakes? LeBeau might be able to whip something up."
"Archer told me when he was a kid his parents would give him an orange. That meant a lot," McMahon answered.
"I'd say," Hogan chuckled. Oranges in London in the winter?" he stroked his chin. "That's a tough one. I can't remember the last time I had a fresh orange. Anything else?"
"I have some information, Colonel." Rogers said. "Pasternak told me his parents would give him some money, small coins. That's it. They lit the candles, though."
Newkirk, who was sharing a table with another group of East Enders, got initially distracted by joining in on a lively discussion about football and the rivalry between Arsenal and Manchester United. Remembering his assignment, he attempted to figure out a way to change the subject. However, two of the prisoners they were trying to surprise were at the table, so he had to be careful. "That reminds me," he said out of nowhere, "My cousin, he's a ticket seller at Arsenal stadium. Got a letter from him in the last post. He was down in Whitechapel, started talking about the area, but the whole bloomin' thing was blacked out. Wonder what he was writing about? Summers, isn't that where you're from?" Newkirk asked innocently. Summers had recently been shot down.
"Down that way," Summers replied. He shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know what's going on around there... I haven't had any specific news. Except," he lowered his voice. "It's pretty bombed out down there."
"I know," Newkirk said sadly. "Colonel Hogan told me, mate. The family all right, then?" Newkirk knew his fellow East Enders were fortunate in that no one had lost anyone from their families, but it was polite to ask.
"Last I heard. You?"
"Me mum and Mavis, that's my sis, they're fine. Probably thinking about Christmas, about now. Last year they sent me this scarf." Newkirk proudly showed it off and accepted the customary admiration of the rest of the table. "Funny," he added. "When I was a lad, I would have hated getting underwear, the gloves, that sort of thing. But now…"
"It's like, worth a fortune," someone interrupted. "Especially in this weather."
"Summers, once the mail comes, they'll be a lot of trading. Not much food, 'cause of rationing, but other things."
"I doubt I'll get anything special this month, Newkirk."
Bingo! Newkirk thought. "Oh, I'm sorry."
"No offense taken."
"Anything I can get for you? I can check with the colonel." Newkirk looked at Summers with a serious expression.
"Thanks, Newkirk. But, no. That's not safe." The rest of the men at the table tried to argue with the fairly new prisoner. "No, fellas, really."
Newkirk stopped the discussion. "He's probably right. So, Summers, tell me. I'm interested. What does your family do when it's Hanukkah?"
The team of conspirators gathered for a briefing back in the barracks after their not so appetizing dinner. Hogan was seated at the table, nursing a cup of coffee in hopes that the flavor would eradicate the taste left over from dinner. "Report, Newkirk?"
"Spoke with Summers, fellow East Ender. "
"He's fairly new, isn't he?" Kinch asked.
"Yes, so we have a recent perspective. His family eats the potato pancakes." Everyone groaned. "And here's something interesting. Not many presents really, a pencil or a book."
"Good. Next. LeBeau, Carter."
"Brisket, the pancakes."
"I have nothing to add," Hogan said as he continued writing some notes. "Except an orange was a much cherished gift."
LeBeau shook his head. "That's impossible, especially now. Although, I might be able to get hold of some orange marmalade."
"Stealing from Klink's pantry again, LeBeau?"
"I prefer to call it making use of what is available, Colonel. Besides what I can do with it on a chicken."
"Don't remind me." Hogan laughed. "Although, if you can pull something off?"
"I'll see what I can do in addition to the pancakes."
"The rest of you doing all right with the gifts?" Hogan asked the other men in the barracks.
"We'll try to make up small care packages," Olsen said. "We plan on working on scrounging tomorrow morning."
"Good." Hogan was satisfied. Now that he had something to do and plans to make and people to lead, he could forget about being in prison for the holidays and his spirits were lifting. Hopefully, the rest of the men stuck in camp could take comfort in that.
"Um, sir?" Carter had stayed behind at the table while everyone else had scattered into the tunnels.
"I may seem a little ignorant, but I don't even know what Hanukkah really is. I knew it was a holiday and all, but I actually have no clue what it means."
"First, Carter. You're not ignorant. You just grew up in an isolated area. Sit down." Hogan pointed to the chair. He grabbed one for himself and then started to explain. "I may get some of the details wrong, Carter. But I'll tell you what I know and then after the party we can get the gaps filled in. Okay?"
Hogan explained all that he knew about the story; information he had gathered from his boyhood friend and from his years of experience.
"I think I get the gist of it now, sir. Thanks." Carter got up and then paused. "Can I be frank with you, sir?"
"It's real nice of you to come up with this idea and all. But, I think…" Carter squirmed.
"Go ahead," Hogan urged.
"I think these guys are probably used to being sort of left out this time the year. And maybe that's okay or maybe it's not. I wouldn't know. But from what you tell me, about the holiday, I don't think they would want to just make it another Christmas."
"That's a good point, Carter. I agree." Hogan could sense Carter was done. " Anything else?"
"Are you doing this as much for yourself as for them?" Carter blurted out. "Sir? I'm sorry. I shouldn't question your motivations. Oh man." Carter was now afraid of Hogan's reaction.
Hogan was first taken aback by Carter's honesty, and then by the young sergeant's perception.
"I'm doing this for myself," Hogan said quietly. "Carter. What are you talking about?"
The words came spilling of Carter's mouth. "We were worried about you, sir. This morning some of the barracks' chiefs even came over."
"I shouldn't have told you that," Carter quickly said. "But you were so down and so worried about everyone else that you went out in the freezing weather and went to every barracks and…"
"Carter, slow down. No. Stop. It's my job to worry about everyone else in this camp, not the other way around." Carter's face fell. "But I appreciate your concern. Why do you think I'm doing this for myself? No, don't answer. I know. Maybe you're a bit correct. I'm now acting like what you would consider my usual self?"
"The idea did perk you up, sir." Carter smiled. "But, I know you care about everyone here, and these guys…"
"Deserve it." Hogan finished his sentence. "This is as important to me and everyone else here as one of our plans to smuggle out microfilm or to blow up a bridge. Now, you're working on the candles?"
"For all eight nights. And they'll fit. I've even got the dye to make different colors. They'll be pretty."
Hogan smiled at Carter's enthusiasm. It always rubbed off on people.
"We have to figure out how to get the 13 guys down in the tunnels without them getting suspicious, Carter. Any ideas?"
"Not at the moment. Am I dismissed? I have work to do."
"Go ahead, Carter." The colonel watched as the sergeant took a blanket to throw over himself and headed for the tunnels. Hogan then began pacing back and forth in the common room. It helped him think. Besides, it was still too cold to sit still for long.
Schultz was bribed not to come into the hut the afternoon of the 3rd, as LeBeau was busy preparing food for that evening's celebration.
"Smells good in here." Hogan had just returned from an impromptu meeting with all the barracks' chiefs. He called it to discuss how he planned to get the soldiers down into the tunnel area he had cordoned off.
"It's not much." LeBeau stirred the pot and held up a spoon. "Taste?"
"Yum. The orange marmalade?" Hogan asked.
"Wait. They will all have a taste of the chicken with an orange glaze. Plus potato pancakes." LeBeau wrinkled his nose in disgust, "And filled doughnuts."
"So what's the plan, Colonel?" Newkirk was putting some finishing touches on some small gifts donated by other men in camp.
"Sunset is around four. The camp knows I have a meeting with the chiefs, but they don't know what it is about. At 3:45, each chief will announce that there is a special mission briefing in the tunnels and that I ordered every barracks to send representatives. They'll take it from there."
"So, they'll pick who's going? "Carter, put your finger there." Newkirk expertly tied a bow.
"You're good with your hands, Newkirk."
"It's a gift, Carter." Newkirk grinned.
"They'll send them down. Plus, all the barracks will be represented, not just this one," Hogan said.
At 3:30, Hogan and most of the men in barracks two headed below to wait. At 3:50, men started making their way from their barracks' tunnel entrances to the main area of the system. By 3:55, the 13 VIP's, plus approximately 30 other men were crowded into every corner, nook and cranny. Hogan climbed up on a chair, so he could be heard.
"Listen up. First, this is a good way to see how many of you can be shoved in here, just in case."
The men groaned.
"I called you all down here, because this is a special night. Two days ago, I confiscated something from a barracks. Something that seems so trivial, especially considering the other stuff we've hidden around here." Several of the prisoners nervously snickered. "At that time," Hogan continued. "I thought I was doing it for your own protection, again, sort of bizarre, considering…"
Pasternak, now suspicious, whispered to Rogers, "What's going on?" Rogers shrugged, but they both began inching forward.
"I don't like to, or want to single out certain groups of prisoners. As long as I'm here, and Klink cooperates, this camp will not become segregated. But, unfortunately, because of where we are, during certain times a year, one particular small group of prisoners is singled out, by the simple fact that they and they alone in this camp, cannot practice their religion and customs out in the open. That's one reason why we are here. To fight this sort of crap." Hogan stopped. He could now see the bewildered faces of some of the prisoners. "And, well, we didn't want anyone to feel left out, especially at this time the year. Carter. Open the curtain."
Carter removed the cloth that had been placed in front of a table. A large menorah that had been made in secret by the metal shop was sitting on a silver tray and fancy tablecloth filched from Klink's linen closet. Two candles were in the appropriate holders. One for the first night and one in the middle, the Shamash, which would be used to light the other.
"Pasternak!" Hogan called out. The corporal inched his way forward. "You can have these back." Hogan held out the dreidels. "Care to handle a lighting ceremony?"
"If the rest the guys can join in, sir." The corporal was so shocked and touched he could barely speak.
The other Jewish prisoners made their way through the crowd. A British private whispered to another, "We never actually follow the holidays."
"Hitler wouldn't care," the other one said.
"You got a point," the private admitted.
The candles were lit and a blessing was recited.
"We've got a little celebration," Hogan, who was clearly enjoying his role as party host, announced. "A few gifts and food. LeBeau?"
The French chef began passing out pieces of chicken and the potato latkes, which, as expected, elicited huge groans of "not again" and also a few laughs.
"We're only partying tonight," Hogan explained. "But, the menorah will be down here for the rest of the holiday and I expect it to be lit."
"If any of you gentlemen would care to play dreidel?" Newkirk stopped as a familiar sound, the drone of planes, could be heard through the walls. Then the sound of anti-aircraft guns followed. Everyone froze.
"Party's over, at least for some of us." Hogan said. "Little early in the evening for a raid." Hogan sighed. He was disappointed. "Looks like we're back in business. Carter, LeBeau, Newkirk, time to count the parachutes. Let's go." Hogan stopped for a moment. "The rest of you, have fun. And clean up."
The soldiers left in the tunnels watched as the main team got changed and scurried out into the night. It was difficult for them to continue with their celebration, knowing that four of their comrades were out in the freezing weather, facing danger. But, they did the best they could. For the rest of the war, the small group of prisoners, whether they had been observant or not, continued to celebrate their holidays in the tunnels, with help from the rest of the men in camp.
A/N The story about the orange is true. My father recalled receiving an orange as a gift, in London, probably during the late 20's or early 30's. Perhaps it was imported from Palestine, or maybe my grandparents picked it up in the Harrod's food hall. (I doubt it!) Both my parents recalled that Hanukkah was celebrated as a minor festival before the war. Other Jewish holidays had more significance. The East End was the home to a great many Jews during this period. My father claims it was actually similar to the East Side of NYC, and most people grew up speaking Yiddish. It was heavily damaged during the Blitz.
The Shamash stands for servant, helper etc. It is an extra candle used to light the others.
The letters on a dreidel: Nun, Gimmel, Hey and Shin, stand for the Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means A Great Miracle Happened There.
I personally love potato latkes! With applesauce.
There is a recorded instance of Jewish prisoners removed from a Stalag and sent to a concentration camp. In early 1945, At Stalag IX-9, (one of, if not the worst, POW camps) Jewish prisoners were separated and along with other POW's needed to make a labor quota, were sent to the Berga concentration camp.
For more information on the treatment of Jewish POW's, see:
Mitchell G. Bard. The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II, second ed. C. 2004
Mitchell G. Bard. Forgotten Victims: The Abandonment of Americans In Hitler's Camps. CO: Westview Press, 1994.
American POWs of World War II: Forgotten Men Tell Their Stories. Contributors: Tom Bird - author. Publisher: Praeger Publishers. Place of Publication: Westport, CT. Publication Year: 1992.