As hard as the small dark-haired girl tried, she could not shut out the screaming. Her mother and the burly butcher, Schubert, were “sticking” the pig and the animal’s cries distressed little Dagny who was covering her ears with her hands. The pig had to be “stuck” or bled before Schubert could take it away for processing so Dagny’s family could have a feast to celebrate Jul, the Danish Christmas.
Dagny’s town of Gjesing (pronounced GER-sing) had little more than a dairy, a school, a town hall and one grocery store. Times were hard there as they were through out Denmark at the end of 1942. This was the third Jul under German occupation and there was little money for daily necessities much less Christmas gifts. So families either made what they needed or did without.
It was on one of her trips to the lone grocery store for her mother that December when Dagny saw it. There on a shelf was a row of dolls. “We had not seen any new toys for two years and I was excited!” she said. “I was ten years old and had never had a doll.” And one of those dolls was special.
Like most Danish children the other dolls had blond hair and blue eyes. But that one had dark hair and brown eyes, like her. “I identified with the dark doll – and she became mine in my heart.” Dagny, unlike most Danes, was so dark that German soldiers would stop her parents when she was out with them and ask if she was Jewish. She did not understand why. There were no Jews in Gjesing and it was not until after the war that word of the Holocaust reached her rural area.
Now Dagny offered to go the store every time her mother needed anything. Schubert the butcher asked once why she was looking at the dark doll. “He said that one day it would make a little girl very happy,” Dagny recalled. “The next day the black doll was not there. I was very sad.”
When Jul eve came the family decorated the evergreen tree Dagny’s father had cut in the forest. Then everyone, including her three sisters, their husbands, her brother and his wife, sat down to the feast. “It seemed that we all forgot about the War for one evening,” she says. “Everybody brought homemade presents. Among them was a big box that looked like a portable sewing machine.
“After dinner there was rice pudding, singing carols, holding hands and walking around the Jul tree,” Dagny remembered. “After that everyone got presents. They all kept asking Mother to open her sewing machine and she asked me to help her. When we got the paper off, it was not a sewing machine! It was a doll bed my brother Ove (16 years older) had made. My mother had made a beautiful white pillow and blanket. When I lifted off the blanket, there was … the black doll!”
Years after the war Dagny’s mother told her it was Schubert who had bought the doll and given it to the family for her. But there is something we should know about Schubert. He was German. Having moved to Denmark before the war, he was not viewed as one from the occupying country but rather as one of the respected citizens of Gjesing.
Still with dark hair, Dagny Bruus became a hair stylist in Denver, Colorado. Even into her seventies, she loved spending her evenings dancing. Like most hairdressers she also loved to tell stories. And this was one of her best.
By Cooper Wood