A Story from World War II

I’m reading a very interesting book: Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle. It’s a biography of Hugh Nibley’s experience during WWII. I had no idea he’d been part of the 101st Airborne Division, that he’d been at Camp Ritchie, that he was part of D-Day at Normandy, and so on. I’m not all the way through the book yet but wanted to share one story that touched me so deeply. I hate war. I hate the evil that exists which causes people to treat others so horrifically. I won’t go on and on about this, because I really don’t know how to describe what I feel. One thing that caught my attention was (as I mentioned) that Nibley was at Camp Ritchie. I recently watched a documentary on “The Ritchie Boys” – young men who were from Germany, Austria, and other places where German was their first language, and now they were living in the USA. They were made part of a group which interrogated POW’s (among other things) and the movie had extensive interviews with many of these aging “Ritchie Boys.” And then I found out that Hugh Nibley had been there, and became friends with a few of them! Anyway, here’s the story which I read yesterday which touched me so deeply:  (Pgs 133-136)  As remembered by Hugh Nibley in an interview with his son Alex, who helped write the book:

Once we were in Carentan, the division set up headquarters by the canal that ran through the town. There was a brick building, a factory, there, and we saw a man looking out of the window. The Germans had cleared out of the building, but there was somebody peeking out the upper window seeing what was going on below. Somebody was observing us. Well, Major Danahy (now Colonel Danahy they’d made him) says, “Go up and see who that is.” So Dave Bernay and some others went to look, and they brought a guy down. He was dressed in civilian clothes, but he spoke German, so Colonel Danahy said, “Take that man out and shoot him,” and he assigned that to Dave Bernay. Well, Dave had done plenty of killing and he hated Nazis, so this was not a particularly tough assignment for him. He put his gun over his shoulder and said, “Come along, let’s get going,” and took the prisoner out across the fields. They came to a drainage ditch with a little water in it and Dave says, “Step over the ditch,” in German: “Eibe dein fluss.” “Ah, you speak German?” the prisoner says. Obviously the guy wanted to stall as long as possible. He saw this guy was going to shoot him, and he wanted to make friends with him, do something. I would certainly start talking, especially if the soldier spoke German. So they struck up a conversation. Dave says, “Yes, I speak German.” “Where are you from?” “I’m from Maxmiliansau,” Dave said.

Now Nibley describes the village (he served a mission in Germany): The village of Maxmliansau was hardly more than one factory on the Rhine where they made celluloid out of pine logs. When I was a missionary you’d find rafts of pine logs floating down the river, and you could get on and paddle across on them. Those came from the celluloid factory at Maxmiliansau. That was all there was to the town – not many people lived there, it was just a factory.

Back to the story: “Maxmiliansau?” the prisoner said. “Did you know Herr Bernay?” “He was my father,” Dave said. And the man looked at him and he said, “My little David!” and he threw his arms around him and took him in a fond embrace. It turned out this was the guy who got the Bernay family out of Germany and saved their lives! Dave’s father was the one who managed the factory, and this man was the Bernay house-servant. He had helped them escape the Nazis and saved their lives. He had been a laborer in the camp by Carentan, and the reason he had stayed behind to spy was because he wanted to desert to us, he was waiting there to give himself up. Dave told about it later and he just wept like a fish. “My little David!” That was a close call. Instead of shooting him, they took the guy and gave him a job working in the kitchen.

Wow. That really did touch my heart and soul. A sweet, rare experience in the midst of the hell that is war.

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