Updated: Feb 16, 2020
By Erika Anna Bahe Runnells as told to Kim Berry
It was a cold and bitter time of the year in Holtensen, Germany in December of 1943. A thick crust of snow blanketed the ground, and the air was unusually heavy with moisture. I was almost 7 years old, and my little sister Sylvia was 5. Usually, Christmas time would find us lifting our noses to inhale the heavenly aromas coming from the kitchen in our warm and
comfortable home. My mother was a wonderful cook and had been trained in all the classical cooking techniques at culinary school. We looked forward to the holidays when she would prepare all of our traditional German favorites like stolen, pound cake, and streusel cake. Her cookies were beautiful, and she presented everything with such a flair.
This Christmas would not be the same however. Papa had been off fighting in the war and had recently come down with an acute attack of rheumatoid arthritis. He had been sent off to a hospital for treatment, but we really didn’t know where he was. Because of the heavy bombing in Hanover where we lived, my family had been forced to leave our home in the city and move to Holtensen in the countryside where the bombing was less severe. The farming families who lived there were required by the government to take us in. This was difficult, because they resented having to share their homes with us and did everything they could to scare us off. At night, we would cower as people stood outside the little room we were in, banging on the walls and shining flashlights in the windows to frighten us away. But where would we have gone? We clung to each other and the hope that Heavenly Father would hear our prayers and protect us.
Even though our room was small, cramped, and overrun with mice, we were able to make the
best of our circumstances and enjoy happy moments. My sister and I played with dolls, sang songs, and played “Primary”. Mama taught us to always look to God and be thankful for what we had. We had the Gospel of Jesus Christ which gave us peace in our hearts and helped us know that even though our family was apart at this time, we could reunite and be together again someday, no matter what happened. As a young girl, Mama had been raised in a strictly religious home and practiced the Catholic faith. Two weeks before she entered the convent to become a nun, the missionaries knocked on her door. She invited them in and was able to receive answers to questions that had always perplexed her. She accepted the invitation to be baptized and remained a faither member of our church her whole life.
With Christmas upon us, Mama had the desire to help us feel a little holiday cheer. She wanted to make Christmas cookies but didn’t have any of the supplies she would need to accomplish the task. Because Papa was serving in the war, we received food vouchers to purchase things like butter and eggs. These vouchers did us little good, because the farmers, for the most part, refused to sell to us. Occasionally we would be able to pick up an egg here, or a block of cheese there, but it was never easy. Mama was determined to find what she needed however. She told us to stay right where we were, busy ourselves with little tasks, and play with our dolls. She would return as soon as she could. My sister and I were very obedient, and we did exactly as she had instructed us. Because Mama worked at a small dairy during the day, crating eggs and wrapping butter, out of necessity we would have to be by ourselves for periods of time, and this was not an unusual request.
So Mama put the food vouchers she had in her pocket, steadied herself with a little baby carriage to be used for her purchases and began the 3 hour walk to the university town of Goettingen. When she finally reached the city, it was late afternoon and many of the stores were beginning to close. She was able to purchase 2 pounds of powdered sugar, but that was all. Realizing that this might be the only thing she would be able to take home to her two little daughters, her heart sunk in despair. Tired and discouraged, she leaned on the stone wall of a Catholic church and began to sob. Hearing her cries, a Catholic priest emerged from the church and came to sit down beside her. He looked into her eyes and tenderly asked her what the trouble was. When she explained the situation to him, he looked down. He replied, “Well, I’m sorry to say that I cannot give you any flour or eggs or any of the ingredients you are looking for, because I do not have them myself. But maybe I can help you anyway. Inside, I have several boxes of communion wafers, which I will gladly share with you. Perhaps you can make a little frosting with your sugar, and sandwich it between the wafers to make a cookie. Then your little girls can have a special treat after all.” And with that, Mama took her sugar and her wafers and made the long trip back home on that silent Christmas Eve.
Thanks to Mama and the Catholic priest, we had beautiful wafer cookies to eat and enjoy on Christmas Day. We also received some little doll clothes that Mama had fashioned from unused butter papers. Her supervisor at the dairy had given her a few to take home, and she had stayed up cutting and gluing through the night, so that we would have a few presents to open in the morning. She was our Christmas angel, showing us that when you have love, you have everything.
Papa gradually got better, and we were able to see him more often. My youngest sister, Ilona, was born a little over a year later in January of 1945, right before the war would end. Even though we had our share of sicknesses and troubles after that, we were together and that’s what mattered. While we had little of what the world holds dear, we enjoyed great spiritual blessings as individuals and as a family. I shall always be thankful to my Heavenly Father for sending me my kind and loving mother, Margareta Anna Bahe.