Christmas I Remember Best: Girl with black hair, haunted eyes was gone

By John Evan Jones

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Dec. 23 2012 10:20 p.m. MST

The lit up tree is seen during the annual Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Trafalgar Square in London, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The tree is presented by the Norwegian capital of Oslo to the citizens of London as a token of gratitude for Britain's support during the World War II.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

This is the fifth of seven winners in the Deseret News' annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best."

They say time heals all wounds, but I am not sure about that. Certainly when the years drift into the mists of the past the ache dies gradually, but sometimes a little phrase of music or the unexpected comment of a friend resurrects an emptiness and a dark cloud floats across the heart.

In 1942 our little branch of the church in Birmingham, England, became part of a gigantic restless wave of people coming and going. We would see servicemen and refugees for a Sunday or two, and then they would disappear and we would never see them again. The whole world seemed to be in a huge flux.

As everyone else, Lisl appeared out of nowhere. She had long, black hair, but it was her eyes that drew me. There was something in them — a deep sadness — that seemed out of place for a lovely teenage girl. We became friends as the weeks went by and, remarkably, she was still here.

She didn't talk about herself very much; in fact, hardly at all. But I had the strange feeling that she desperately needed a friend. I had no idea how badly her situation was until unexpectedly she opened up.

It was getting close to Christmas, and I thought if I really tried I might be able to find a chicken and I could invite her to my folks' home for Christmas dinner. Food was tightly rationed, but once in awhile city people could get food from the countryside.

I invited her but she smiled sadly and said: "I don't think I will be here." I was used to this with other temporary friends, but I was very disappointed. We looked at each other for what seemed to be a long moment, and then she started to talk.

"I am a Jewish refugee from Germany. My friends helped me escape, but my parents were arrested and sent to a concentration camp, and we are expecting the worst."

I had absolutely no idea of what to say. I made some useless comments of sympathy and then went home.

I saw her once more. Very delicately I enquired if she had heard about her parents, and she said in a voice that nearly broke my hear, "They were sent to the gas chambers."

Then she told me she was being sent to work in a hospital as she had had some nurse training. "I feel I should do something for the injured soldiers as they are doing so much for us. It is all I have left to give," she said quietly.

I held her hand for a brief moment, and it was cold. "It was nice knowing you," she said, and the ghost of a smile briefly flickered across her lips. I wanted to hug her but for some reason I couldn't, and she turned and melted into the crowed.

I rode my bicycle home. My mother looked up from her sewing and asked, "Where's your girlfriend?" I replied, "She's gone," and she nodded.

A lot of people were "gone." They could be a victim of the blitz or a fatal sickness brought on by food shortages and long hours of work or just caught up in the flux and carried off.

Time moved along and I got married and had children. I was very happy. Still, in a corner of my heart, there is a picture of a lovely teenage girl with long, black hair and haunted eyes.

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