December 15, 2008.By Jeanette Trompeter, WCCO.
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - There are all kinds of holiday musicals to choose from in the Twin Cities this time of year. They aim to lift our spirits and fill us with holiday cheer.
But there is one playing at the Pantages Theatre that's a little out of the ordinary. It was written by a Minnesota playwright and it's a touching, true story about Christmas of 1914, in the middle of a war zone.
Among the mementos and memorabilia spread across Peter Rothstein's kitchen table, is a history lesson. There are postcards, Christmas cards, pictures and letters home. There are also buttons from military uniforms, boxes sent to troops during World War I from Princess Mary.
And in the things he gathered on his travels to Europe, and from relatives of World War I soldiers, he found a touching story of the Christmas Truce of 1914.
"The story starts actually with recruiting men to go to war, which was pivotal to the story," Rothstein points out. "Because all the men were promised that they would be home for Christmas."
Instead, the soldiers found themselves living in trenches along a battle zone known as no-man's land.
"The trenches were so close that you could hear a guy coughing. You know you could hear your enemy cough across no man's land. They were just 30 to 40 yards apart in some places," explained Rothstein.
And on this unlikely stage of a war zone, a story of peace on Earth was played out between the tens of thousands of German and Allied Forces. Rothstein tells it in the musical "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914".
"I really can't even call myself the writer because 90 percent of it is found text," he said.
In the soldiers own words, we hear more camaraderie than most history books reflect, and the common language was music.
"As they began to sing songs from one trench to another, and calling for encores, and they would do this musical round robin," said Rothstein.
As the story goes, the war went longer than soldiers anticipated. Feeling lied to, they felt more in common with their enemy come Christmas time, than they did with their commanding officers. So a holiday truce began.
"They think there was seven locations along the front where men stopped fighting, and some of them lasted a couple of hours. But some them actually lasted up until New Years Day," said Rothstein.
"Here we were laughing and chatting to men that only a few hours before we were trying to kill," sings one of the actors in the musical during a recent rehearsal.
There is little documentation of the Christmas Truce, because it was breaking the rules. The war went on for another four years, and many who took part didn't survive the war to tell the story.
"They actually shifted the rotation and put new men to the front lines, just trying to get the war back on track," said Rothstein. "The Allied Forces issued a decree there would be no further fraternization, and if anyone was caught fraternizing with the enemy, they should be lined up and shot. And the Brits did actually execute some of their own throughout World War I."
Now the story is being told, thanks to Rothstein.
"I think what they did that Christmas of 1914 was heroic. And I hope this play gives them a little place in history that they deserve," he said.