Augusta Chiwy was a Belgian nurse who risked her life treating badly wounded American soldiers in the Battle of the Bulge. Her story remained unknown until very late in her life when the Belgian king awarded her the highest honor and a documentary about her courage won an American Emmy.
Augusta Chiwy arrived in Belgium when she was nine. It took her some time to get used to life in Bastogne after a childhood spent in Africa. Her father had worked as a veterinarian in the Belgian colonies. It was there that he had met her Burundian mother. Augusta grew up amidst awkward questions about the color of her skin and the texture of her hair. But the girl’s dreams were always much bigger than the obstacles she faced. Augusta decided on a career as a nurse, persevered, and landed a coveted job at a hospital in a university town.
The war would test Augusta’s resolve like nothing else. In 1944 she travelled to Bastogne to spend Christmas with her family. She had barely arrived when Hitler launched a massive counteroffensive on the Western Front. German troops surrounded her town and the American soldiers who helped defend it. An American doctor asked Augusta if she was willing to help. She never thought twice. Augusta and her friend and fellow nurse Renée joined an aid station in a basement amidst relentless shelling and bombardments. They feverishly cared for countless American casualties. On Christmas Eve a bomb tore into the cellar. Dozens of dead were pulled from the rubble. Among them was Augusta’s colleague Renée.
Augusta survived the war, haunted by her experiences in Bastogne. Still, in an interview much later, she insisted: “What I did was very normal. I would have done it for anyone. We are all children of God.”