Special Exhibit to Pay Tribute to 75th Anniversary of American St. Nick
BELGIUM, WISCONSIN, OCTOBER 22, 2019. Seventy-five years ago, American soldiers in the midst of World War II gave the small Luxembourg town of Wiltz a Christmas miracle meaningful enough to spur an annual celebration continued to this very day. This holiday season, the Luxembourg American Cultural Society is honoring the 75th anniversary of this heart-warming Christmas story with a temporary museum exhibit entitled, “A Soldier, a Town, and a Tradition,” opening November 1st and running through the holiday season.
The date was December 5, 1944, a misty day during a bleak time for the country of Luxembourg. Its citizens had recently been liberated after a nearly five-year Nazi regime, during which the people, and their heritage, had been suppressed. Their French streets had been renamed, their native language of Luxembourgish outlawed- only German could be spoken. Religious freedoms had been curtailed. Many of the children had never had the pleasure of the Luxembourg tradition of a visit from St. Nicholas, also known as the Kleeschen.
The 28th Infantry division of American GIs had been sent to Wiltz for rest following a two-week battle which had resulted in the loss of 6,000 soldiers.
Corporal Harry Stutz, a Jewish-American Soldier, had the idea to throw a Christmas party for the Wiltz children, and enlisted 22-year old Corporal Richard Brookins, a fellow soldier, cryptographer, and his roommate, to serve as St. Nicholas.
Dressed in a local priest’s surplice (which had to be returned by 4 pm for Mass), bishop’s mitre, and a scraggly beard fashioned from a mop, and carrying a taped-up scepter, St. Nicholas paraded down Wiltz streets in an Army jeep, flanked by two 11-year old girls dressed in angel costumes.
They eventually arrived at Wiltz Castle for a grand party. Army cooks prepared donuts and made hot chocolate from the soldier’s melted candy bars. Soldiers donated their own candy rations and gifts from home and handed them out as presents for the children. One soldier brought his guitar, and there was singing, skits, and merriment. The children sat on St. Nicholas’s lap, telling him what they wanted for Christmas, even though he did not understand most of which they said.
It was a day that was good for the souls of Luxembourgers and Americans alike.
Just a couple of weeks later, on December 16, the Battle of the Bulge hit Wiltz, destroying 80% of the little village, and killing many of the families. The town was devastated. Yet, it rebuilt, and every year since, has recreated the tradition of the American St. Nick in honor of the kind soldiers that made a difference in Wiltz that year, with someone new dressing up as the American St. Nicholas, and recreating that afternoon.
Brookins himself, who passed away last October at the age of 96, returned to Wiltz several times to watch the recreation. Upon looking back at the event, he once said, “We made a big difference, and we didn’t even know it.”
This story has been commemorated in a book, “The American St. Nick” by Peter Lion, and also featured in a documentary by the World War II Foundation.
The LACS is open to view the exhibit every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10 am til 4 pm, as well as the first Saturday of each month. The LACS is open by appointment only on Tuesdays, Sundays, and the remaining Saturdays.
**The Luxembourg American Cultural Society’s mission is to preserve the roots of our heritage and nurture the leaves of ongoing relationships between Luxembourg and America.**