CHRISTMAS STORY of SUPPORT and GENEROSITY
Salt Lake City Catalyst
By Suzanne Wagner
My uncle Phillip had a children’s clothing business in Russia when the USSR had just opened the country to foreign corporations. This also happened to be at the same time as the Bosnian War.
My uncle Phillip speaks Russian fluently and routinely traveled to Russia to bring children’s clothing and things that the store might need, such as uniforms for the workers and interesting things for the store windows.
At that time in Russia the people were struggling to adjust to the fall of Communism and there were long food lines and major economic issues. My uncles comments would be that it was probably healthy to go to Russia at that time because he would loose twenty to thirty pounds while there for a few weeks.
He was returning from Moscow and regularly flew into Frankfurt, Germany for his return trip. He would spend the night in Frankfurt at his favorite hotel and then leave the next day to fly to New York. He looked forward to the stay over in Frankfurt to get a long hot shower and a robust meal to make up for all the pounds he lost in Russia.
So three days before Christmas, Phillip arrived in Frankfurt and went to the hotel. When he arrived he was told by the hotel’s front desk that they were having major plumbing problems and there was no water for showers. They apologized profusely and told him they were willing to transfer his reservation to another hotel. But if he stayed the food was on the house.
My uncle hadn’t had a bath for a week in Russia anyway so he didn’t think there was anything wrong with one more day without one.
He decided to stay. He had the bellmen take his luggage to his room and bring ten bottles of bottled water up to his room for him to take a sponge bath that evening.
He went into the dinning room and sitting at a table in the dinning room not eating was an elderly man in his sixties, with a dusty, ill fitting, black suit. His dusty old hat was sitting on the table next to him. He looked at my uncle as he came in and my uncle smiled at him. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable and not sure what to do. My uncle noticed that there were two ancient suitcases next to the wall. They were being held with rags tied together to keep them closed.
My uncle is a gregarious, personable person and is willing to talk to everyone from all his years of traveling. Phillip goes up to the man and tries speaking to him in his broken German. The man doesn’t respond. Then he tries English. That doesn’t work either. Finally he tries Russian and the mans face lights up in recognition. He is able to speak in a heavily accented Russian.
It seems the man is from Bosnia. He is the last survivor from his entire family line. He watched his wife and children die in front of him. All his neighbors were also dead. His home had been destroyed by fire. All he had left was in these two suitcases. He sold everything else to buy a plane ticket to Argentina to go to live with a distant cousin there.
He had made it as far as Frankfurt only to discover the flight to Argentina was in three weeks. He was completely out of money and hadn’t eaten in two days. The hotel was nice enough to allow him to stay because they didn’t have any guests while the water was out.
My uncle immediately asked the waiter to bring the man anything he wanted to eat. As the story came out of the man, my uncle was determined to find a way to get this man to Argentina sooner.
After they had both eaten my uncle took him to the Lufthansa Airlines counter at the airport. There he challenged the airlines to find a way to get him an earlier flight.
The agent looked at my uncle incredulously and tried to explain that it was three days before Christmas. It was going to be impossible to find any flight to Argentina that had any availability.
My uncle’s response was that what this man had lived through was truly impossible and the changing of a ticket was easy comparably. It was the least we could do was to try to get this man to his only remaining family as soon as possible.
My uncle can be very forceful and after three hours of negotiation and having all the higher ups come over to help convince him that what he was asking was impossible, one of the managers decided, out of the goodness of his heart, to give this Bosnian man a first class ticket to Argentina on Christmas Day.
My uncle was so happy. But then the manager asked my uncle if this man from Bosnia had a visa to enter Argentina.
My uncle turns and asked only to find out that he doesn’t!
So my uncle gets the Argentina Consulate in Bonn on the phone with the airlines. He explains what is happening and they say that they can fax the information to Bonn from the airport. But the problem is that the visa can only be issued from Argentina. Someone has to take the information to the Consulate in Argentina and then bring it back to Frankfurt so he can get on the plane with the visa. This is where the airlines came to the rescue.
They offered for one of their stewardesses to take the paperwork to the Argentinean Consulate and then returning it to Frankfurt. She was going to leave that day on a flight and would be returning the following day.
It seemed to all be suddenly handled. My uncle breathed a sigh of relief. He next concern was were was this Bosnian man to stay while waiting for the visa. He didn’t speak German and no one really spoke Russian.
The agent of Lufthansa smiled and gently told my uncle that she would take him home to be with her family. They would take care of him and make sure he got on the proper plane.
My uncle translated for the Bosnian man that he was to stick to the agent like glue. That she was to make sure he would be on the plane and he was to go home with her.
Everyone was all smiles and full of good cheer for the holidays with the good deed that was happening between all of them. It was as if the angels were helping all the pieces come together for this man to have a small miracle for Christmas.
My uncle and the Bosnian man hugged and my uncle opened up his wallet and handed the man a thousand dollars.
The man was shocked and tried to not take the money. But my uncle was insistent saying that he was going to have to totally start his life over and he was going to need some money to get started. He explained that my uncle’s business in Russia had done well and it was a gift for him. After all this Bosnian man had gone through, it was time that his luck turned.
The Bosnian man was crying. They hugged again, and parted.
My uncle went back to the hotel and fell into a deep sleep. He had to get up early to catch his plane. He makes his plane and is settling into his seat and the plane gets up to cruising altitude when the stewardess comes on the intercom and asked for Mr. Phillip Wagner to identify himself to the crew.
My uncle is thinking, “Now what has gone wrong!”
He presses the stewardess button and one of the stewardesses comes over as the intercom announces that this is Mr. Phillip Wagner and they proceed to tell the story of how he had helped this Bosnian man. They tell the entire story. Evidently the whole event had been told throughout all the Lufthansa group.
They asked the plane to give Mr. Phillip Wagner a round of applause and they gave him a free bottle of champagne.
My uncle was surprised but what made him even more grateful was that the airlines phoned him to let him know that the Bosnian man had made it to Argentina to his family Christmas Day.
And everyone had a miracle Christmas helping make the impossible possible.