Chaplains of the
36th Infantry Division


Chaplain (Colonel) Herbert E. MacCombie
Division Chaplain

Interviewing Religious Leaders At Kitzbuhel

At Kitzbuhel I was assigned the duty of interviewing three high ranking religious personnel.  One was Mitropolitul Visarion.  He was the Archbishop of Bucharest, Romania, of the Greek Orthodox church.  He told me that the Germans had been paying him several hundred marks a month, plus food and lodgings to support their cause.  He asked what I thought the Americans would pay him to switch sides.

Since he had not been much help to the Germans, I did not think the Americans would pay him anything.  I arranged quarters and rations for him.  He had his “niece” with him.  I arranged separate quarters for her.

A second religious leader was the Serbian Patriarch Gavril.  Because he refused to support the Nazis, he had been confined to a Concentration Camp.  Our troops released him.  In his church he was regarded as in the same category as the Roman Catholic Pope.  He was highly regarded by all the Serbian troops.

One day he sent Bishop Nicholai to see me.  The bishop said to me, “I am a very ascetic man, but His Holiness has mingled with kings and men in high authority and has developed some secular tastes.  He wants to know, if you can get him some American cigarettes”.

I had been asked for cigarettes by the street urchins of Italy, and by many other individuals.  This was the first time I had been asked by an individual in so high a position.  I got some.

Later the Patriarch asked to see me. He granted me a personal interview. He asked me to help him draft a letter to General Eisenhower seeking permission to go to England or to the United States.  I prepared the letter and started it through military channels.  His request was granted.  Sometime later I read a magazine account of his presiding at a royal function in England.

My third contact at Kitzbuhel was with Bishop Nicholai of Serbia.  He had been in a German concentration camp.  He was a very gracious individual who spoke good English.  We had several conferences.  He conducted a Thanksgiving service for our Victory for the Serbian personnel, which I attended accompanied by a group of officers and men from Division Headquarters.  He was also present at our Protestant Thanksgiving Service, and offered a prayer of thanks in English.

When it came time for me to leave, he told me that the Germans had taken everything from him except three small note books.  He offered me my choice of one of them as a souvenir of our friendship.  I selected the red one, and asked that he inscribe some message.  He wrote, “Peace will come not by diplomatic gymnastics, but by Christian ethics”.  He signed his name with the Bishop’s Cross.

Some months later, after the war, I was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I read in the newspapers that Bishop Nicholai was in Pittsburgh as the guest of the Episcopal diocese.  I called up the chancellery and asked to speak to him.  They told me that his schedule was so full, he had no time to confer with any individual.  I requested them to tell him that Chaplain MacCombie sent his greetings.

The next day I had an urgent call.  Would I please come as soon as possible to the Hotel William Penn.  The bishop refused to meet any other appointments until he could see the chaplain.  When I reached the hotel, the bishop was there dressed in his robe and wearing a large pectoral cross.  He rushed across the lobby, threw his arms about me, kissed me on both cheeks, and exclaimed, “My liberator!  My liberator!”  He had not forgotten Kitzbuhel.

He asked to meet some of our Baptist leaders.  A meeting was arranged.  He made a very gracious speech, praising me, and closing by saying, “He almost persuaded me to be a Baptist, not by words, but by deeds.”


Copyright 2001 by Mary MacCombie Fietsam
Printed by Permission

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