Deceased literary icon Kurt Vonnegut has a new book coming out entitled, Armageddon in Retrospect, a collection of 12 essays about war and peace.? Included in the book is a letter written to his father in 1945 explaining his stint as a German POW at Dresden, which of course, formed the basis for his most famous work Slaughterhouse Five.
I had the chance to see Vonnegut speak back in 2000 and to this day it remains the singular best literary experience of my life.? His speech was both witting and life affirming, everything you would expect from the man.? All I can say is that he convinced me Hamlet was the greatest work ever produced and afterwards I’ve always appreciated lemonade, hammocks, and the dots on Indians foreheads that much more.
But back to his letter, which was recently republished in the June 14 issue of Newsweek.? Read the entire thing, it’s great and really captures the feeling of being a POW.
Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, unheated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations?the floors were covered with cow dung. There wasn’t room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood. We spent several days, including Christmas, on that Limberg siding. On Christmas eve the Royal Air Force bombed and strafed our unmarked train. They killed about one-hundred-and-fifty of us. We got a little water Christmas Day and moved slowly across Germany to a large P.O.W. Camp in Muhlburg, South of Berlin. We were released from the box cars on New Year’s Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. But I didn’t.
Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time?one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.