South Dennis resident Arlette deMonceau Michaelis spent Christmas Day of 1944 singing songs to wounded Allied soldiers in a hospital in Brussels in an attempt to lift their spirits during World War II.
Although she was acting cheery, she remembers being terrified, she said. Michaelis was a teenager living in occupied Belgium during the war, which she wrote about in a a memoir, "Beyond the Ouija Board: A WWII Teenager in Occupied Belgium." She came to America in 1947. She later became a member of the Battle of the Bulge, South Jersey Chapter LXI, which marked its 68th anniversary of victory in a celebration on Dec. 5 at the Mad Batter Restaurant in Cape May.
"I remember when the Battle of the Bulge came about and we were terrified," she said. "We'd been occupied by the Germans from 1940 until September 1944, when we were liberated by the Allied Forces, mainly the English and the Americans, and everything was absolutely fantastic. We were unbelievably happy to have food and clothes again, but we were also absolutely petrified that the Germans would come back."
The Battle of the Bulge was a major German offensive launched toward the end of World War II in the heavily forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg. It lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945. Of the 600,000 Americans in the battle, 81,000 died.
"It was the largest land battle fought by the United States Army," chapter president Ed Steinberg, of the Rio Grande section of Middle Township, said. "Winston Churchill has said the Battle of the Bulge was 'undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory." Steinberg's father was a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge.
"He spent Christmas 1944 and 1945 fighting in the battle," Steinberg said."I believe it was the worst winter recorded in European history. There was fog, snow rain and ice."
Michaelis said the Allied Forces were held up because of the terrible ongoing weather conditions.
"It was snowing terribly and very foggy. The Americans were badly equipped to face those weather conditions. We never thought it would be this bad," she said. "We were praying. We were crying. We were so absolutely terrified of going through the same thing again."
Her book gives personal accounts about her family's fight against the Nazis, which included hiding Jews in their upstairs apartments, publishing underground anti-Nazi newsletters and giving their last name to Jewish children whose parents had been taken by the Nazis.
"We were not fazed by the Germans," Michaelis said. "I remember being slapped square in my face, and it didn't faze me. I was proud to stand up against them."
She said she wrote the book mainly to pass on the history but also to share life lessons about expressing opinions and fighting for what you believe in, regardless of consequences.
"My book tries to emphasize that fact that you can survive terrible ordeals by keeping your patriotism and being brave, even when you are afraid," she said. "It's about the importance of working for freedom and the basic need of helping one another, of coming to the rescue of the downtrodden and of forgiving your enemy, which is very, very difficult. Don't forget what they have done, but forgive them. People change. You can't live with hatred in your heart."
Steinberg said the Battle of the Bulge, South Jersey Chapter, still includes a handful of veterans who fought in the battle. Many of the veterans have died.
"Every Christmas, I think of my father and those men and what they went through for our freedom, and I'm grateful" he said.
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