By CH (CPT) Ernst Lorge
Morale was not good. We had been stuck in the same trenches for almost a month. We could see the Siegfried Line, but we had not yet crossed it. Every day there were casualties from enemy fire, and even more from trench foot. To make matters worse, that February seemed to be the wettest in anyone’s memory. For three solid weeks an unbearably cold, driving rain lashed at the men.
So I was really only thinking out loud when, on the night of February 26, I turned to my assistant and wonderful friend, Isaac, and asked, “What are we going to do tomorrow for Purim?”
“Conduct services in the line, what else?” he responded without hesitation.
“It would be a hollow mockery,” I argued. “Some of these men still have memories of hilarious Purim celebrations and hamantashen. Will they really appreciate the Megillah standing in the rain and shivering like even Haman didn’t shiver?”
“Hamantashen and maybe a schnapps,” Isaac remarked.
The mention of schnapps struck home. “I’ve got it,” I said. “I still have my liquor ration from Liege. I’ve been dragging it around for a month now and never had the heart to open it.”
“One bottle of whiskey and a thousand Jewish men in the division,” Isaac observed. “How many drops of whiskey does that make per man?”
The next morning we left in the jeep to make our scheduled stop for services at the various specified points along the line. We were armed with our Chaplains’ kit, a Megillah, some prayer books, some special Purim cards from the JWB on which the boys could write home about the Purim cheer in Belgium, and one bottle of whiskey.
Isaac looked at the bottle. “Want to start a riot, Chaplain? It’s even colder up front, and you really haven’t the right to tease the boys.”
“Maybe you’re right, but I can’t see letting that bottle go to waste. The Maccabees used one little jug of oil and somehow it worked out all right.”
After a miserable ride over miles of swamp made passable by tree trunks set side by side to form what we called a “corduroy road,” we finally arrived at our first destination, the Ordnance Company. The Company had 400 men, 46 of them Jewish, and 8 officers of whom two belonged to “the tribe.” Services were started. I tried to be as relaxed as possible… It actually went better than I expected.
Then came the piece de resistance. One solitary bottle of whisky divided into 40-odd paper cups, enough for everyone to have a sniff and a swallow and an illusion of cold bones being warmed up a bit. The services over, I wanted to say goodbye to Major Walsch, whom I had noticed leave the tent area a few moments before. He called from a distance and asked me to wait a few minutes. About 15 minutes later, he and several other officers returned with eight bottles of whiskey, which they asked me to distribute at the other Purim services! The officers had just received their liquor rations, the first since leaving England. At the end of the service, the Major went to fetch his own bottle for me. When his colleagues asked what he was doing with the liquor so early in the day he explained, and all eight of them, Jew and non-Jew alike, insisted that I take their rations too.
Not all the Jewish men could attend the services along the line, but I am certain that at least 500 of them had a taste of whiskey out of what had originally been one single bottle. This was the miracle of Purim of the 69th Infantry Division.
Reprinted from Rabbis in Uniform