Editor's note: The following recounts a true story from a Nazi prisoner of war camp in WWII. This story was first published on LDS Living in December 2018.
The winter had turned very cold, and there was no coal for the fireplace. Terry and his fellow prisoners were struggling to survive. They gathered every piece of wood, every stick, and anything else that would burn from around the camp yard, dug a small hole in the center of the dirt floor, and built a small fire pit. There they huddled around trying to stay warm and keep their spirits up.
They would sing Christmas carols, tell each other stories of their Christmases at home, and long for their families. In one way, this helped to cheer them and raise their morale. In another way, it made their despair and misery all the more real. Often as they stood huddled together, tears of longing would streak their faces.
Christmas Day dawned bright and bitter cold. Around nine o’clock that morning, to everyone’s surprise, the camp commandant ordered all of the prisoners outside, even though they had already assembled for roll call before they were given their meager breakfast. Bundled in anything and everything they could find to keep warm, they moved in closely together to conserve their body heat. Then the German officer over their compound made a stunning announcement: the camp had just received a shipment of Red Cross parcels from the United States. A roar of delight exploded from the prisoners.
The cheers quickly died, however, as he went on to explain that there were not enough parcels to give one to every man. Not even close. In fact, there were only enough to give each of the barracks two packages. Since you couldn’t practically divide these small gift boxes up between 250 men—the approximate number in each barrack—the commandant had come up with another solution. They would hold a raffle. Small strips of paper and pencils were passed around, and the men wrote their names on the paper. These names were put into a hat, and then the senior officer of each barrack drew out two names. As the names were read, Terry was stunned. His name was called out.
Wendell Terry signed this card confirming that he had been the lucky recipient of Red Cross “Christmas package No. 2.”
Terry could scarcely believe his good fortune. He found his windfall not only amazing but strangely rejuvenating. It seemed to him to be evidence that his Heavenly Father had not forgotten him. As Terry sat down on his bunk and began to remove the brown paper wrapping from the package he had been given, the 23 other men in his room pushed in close around him. There was disappointment and envy on their faces and yet excitement that someone in their room had been one of the lucky ones. They watched Terry’s every move as he slowly opened the box.
The parcel was not a large one, and no one expected much, but as Terry opened the box, cries of amazement were heard. Inside was one small can of powdered milk, a packet of sugar, two squares of unsweetened chocolate, and a few other small non-food items like gloves, pencils, tooth powder, a toothbrush, and other such things. ...
What would he do with the food items he had just received? Consume them now? Save them for another day? Share them with his fellow prisoners? He pushed that last idea aside. How could he share so little with so many? Finally it came to him. He hadn’t eaten anything sweet in almost six months. With the sugar, chocolate, and powdered milk, Terry realized that he could make some chocolate fudge. Even back home he rarely had an opportunity to indulge in such an extravagance. Here it would not only be an enormous luxury; it might even help him survive, for with food shortages in the camp, he was not certain that he would live until spring. Fudge would be a perfect Christmas gift to himself. There would be no other presents, but fudge would bring a small touch of humanity into his life and help him remember home and the love and happiness he had known there. It would perhaps soften a little the impact of the most dismal of any Christmas he had ever experienced.
And then, as Terry looked around at the faces encircling him, something deep inside him pushed away those self-indulgent feelings. Every eye was on him or on the box and its contents. The envy and disappointment were clearly evident in their eyes. And in that moment, a powerful thought came to him. These were his fellow prisoners, his friends. They shared his misery, his hunger, his nights shivering beneath a thin blanket. They too were missing their families. They too longed for home and warmth and safety. But there would be no joy for them this Christmas. There would be nothing for them.
These thoughts hit Terry with great force. He thought about the Savior and his Heavenly Father. He remembered the answer to his prayer as he had desperately tried to get out of their burning plane. He thought of a bullet that had passed closely between his arm and his ribs but had not killed him. He thought of the German soldier who had kicked and beaten him nearly to the point of death but had ultimately spared his life. How could he forget those things?
Then Terry contemplated the life of Jesus, whose birthday they were about to celebrate. He remembered that the Savior had sacrificed His very life for all mankind because of His great love. And in that moment, Lieutenant Wendell B. Terry felt a great desire welling up inside him. He knew what he had to do. He had a strong desire to be the kind of person Jesus wanted him to be—expected him to be. After all, Terry did consider himself a follower of the Master.
Another feeling came strongly into his heart. He realized that he had grown to love these inmate friends with whom he had spent the last five months. They too had left families and willingly risked giving up their own freedom in order to protect the freedom of those back home. They were as lonely and discouraged and desolate and miserable as Terry was. Why should he be the one to get the package and not them?
And then, at one of the lowest points in his life, he made a decision. He decided he would share all that he had received, for he felt that was what Jesus would do. And he would do it gladly.
It was Christmas Day, 1944. Outside, winter held the world in its grasp. Inside, 23 men huddled together around a young second lieutenant from Salt Lake City, Utah. They were all fully dressed—uniforms, boots, woolen flight jackets—and many had their thin woolen blankets wrapped around their shoulders as well. The room was so cold that their breath turned to puffs of mist that lingered in the air before melting away. But they paid no attention to the cold. Their attention was riveted on their fellow prisoner, Mike Terry, who was removing various items from the small parcel he had received earlier that morning.
In that place, so far away from their own hearths and homes, their hearts were filled with a strange emotion—strange considering their circumstances. They were happy, excited, delighted, and yes, even joyous for a few moments. Their eyes were fixed on Terry’s every move, and they eagerly helped in any way they could, even though they knew that what he was doing was not for them.
Terry opened the can of powdered milk, mixed it with water, and poured it into a small saucepan they had in their room. Then he set to work with what few tools they had. He cut the can lengthwise and flattened it out into a square piece of tin. He next carefully folded the four edges upward, creating a small baking dish just a few inches square. Finally, he crimped the edges together so that the dish wouldn’t leak and set it on the small table in the room.
Second Lieutenant Wendell B. Terry fashioned this makeshift baking pan out of a tin of powdered milk.
Satisfied, Terry added the sugar and the two squares of unsweetened chocolate to the saucepan with the milk and set it on the flames of the small fire in the center of their dirt floor. As the milk warmed, the chocolate began to melt. Terry slowly, carefully, and solemnly stirred the mixture. The men leaned in closer, watching him closely as if he were performing some kind of intricate surgery. Beaming smiles and excited cries broke out as the first faint aroma of chocolate filled the air around them.
When the chocolate was melted and the mixture stirred together, Terry very carefully poured the liquid into the tiny homemade pan. The men pointed excitedly as they watched the dark brown liquid begin to solidify, which it did quickly in the cold air. Finally, Terry looked up at the circle of faces and quietly said, “I think it’s ready.” ...
Brimming with joy, Terry retrieved a small knife from a shelf and then bent over the tiny pan of fudge. The others stared in astonishment. What was he doing? Could it be?
Taking great care to make the pieces equal in size, he cut that small slab of fudge into 24 squares. Twenty-four! Did that mean ... ? Surely not, for each man knew what he would be doing if he had been the fortunate one. This was a pan no bigger than the palm of their hands. Each square was barely large enough to cover the tip of their index fingers. Their eyes lifted, and they stared at Terry in astonishment.
Looking up, eyes shining with pleasure, Terry smiled. “Merry Christmas,” he said softly. It was a moment that he would never forget. The men erupted with joyful cries. As Terry carefully removed each tiny square and placed it on a fingertip or in the palm of a fellow prisoner’s hand, his own heart swelled with gratitude and joy. Here was a tiny chocolate treasure, a piece of Christmas joy in a tiny German prison camp barrack. Who could have dreamed of such a gift?
Some of the men popped the entire square into their mouths and closed their eyes in sheer delight. Others carefully licked the chocolate, eyes closed, savoring the moment. Still others broke off tiny bits so as to make the moment last as long as possible. Tears were shed. Hands were clasped. Hugs were given all around. “Merry Christmas” was heard over and over. Because of one man’s selflessness, 23 other men were filled with gratitude and love on that Christmas Day. They were in a lone and desperate place on the shores of the Baltic Sea, far from home and separated from their loved ones, for who knew how much longer. But here, the Christmas spirit burned as brightly as they could ever remember.