During late December 1944, the German counteroffensive in the West, known as the Battle of the Bulge, was in full swing. The important crossroad town of Bastogne, held by the 101st Airborne, had been surrounded by the Germans. Meanwhile, Europe was in the midst of one of its coldest winters in decades.

The Vincken family, which lived in the German border town of Aachen, planned to move from the town, which had been partially destroyed by the Allied bombing, to a hunting cabin in the Hürtgen Forest. The cabin was frequently used by Hubert, the father of the family.

Hubert, unaware of the upcoming German counteroffensive, sent his family to the cabin believing that they’d be safe. His wife Elisabeth and their 12-year old son Fritz stayed in the cabin while the father was ordered into the Civil Defense fire service in the nearby border town of Monschau about four miles away. 

As the fighting raged nearby, Elisabeth and Fritz huddled together listening to the booming guns and aircraft flying in the darkness.

On Christmas Eve, the two were spending a quiet night alone because Hubert was unable to make it to the cabin. 

Then they heard a knock on the door. Blowing out the candles, Elisabeth stepped outside to find three men. One of them was seriously wounded in the leg. The men were American soldiers who had been lost and were seeking some shelter, especially for their wounded friend. 

Fritz remembered some 30 years later that the armed Americans could have forced their way in but were standing back and asking with their eyes, despite the fact that no one could understand each other’s language. 

“Kommt rein,” Elisabeth said after a long pause, “Come in.” The soldiers carried their wounded comrade inside and placed him on Fritz’s bed. The men couldn’t speak German but Elisabeth and one of the soldiers spoke some French. She and Fritz set about trying to warm the freezing men and tending to him.