Thursday, December 23, 2010

Kurt Vonnegut's Christmas Present to My Mom

My father and author Kurt Vonnegut, who first met each other as "intelligence" scouts during WWII, remained close friends throughout my Dad's life. My Dad could speak fluent French and Vonnegut was supposedly fluent in German. For days before the Battle of the Bulge, they had been warning of a troop buildup, but no one took them seriously.

They were among the first soldiers captured when the Panzer divisions began rolling in. When they tried to surrender, my Dad discovered that Vonnegut didn't know a damn word in German. As the Supermen drew closer, they frantically fumbled through a phrase book to find the expression, "Don't shoot!"

"Nein scheisse!" they both shouted out, and the Germans began to laugh. The Americans had just asked their captors not to shit.

Vonnegut and my father went on to spend the next five months together as German POWs. They were corralled into a slaughterhouse when the Allies decided to firebomb Dresden, killing somewhere around 250,000 innocents in the span of just 24 hours. Up until that time, Dresden had been considered the Venice of Northern Europe.

As they huddled in the slaughterhouse, listening to the strange roar produced by raging flames, Vonnegut claims that one of them (and it sounds just like my dad) said, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight."

Many years later, Vonnegut sent my mom a copy of the letter he sent to his family after their release. It was his Christmas present to her. In many ways, it's a shortened version of Slaughterhouse Five, the novel that made him famous.

I've shared this before, but always think about it at this time of the year. So I'll share it again. If you'd like to see a pdf copy of the original, just click this link.

Merry Christmas! See 'ya on Monday.

Dear people:

I'm told that you were probably never informed that I was any­thing other than "missing in action." Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do - in precis: I've been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler's last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium. Seven Fanatical Panzer Divisions hit us and cut us off from the rest of Hodges' First Army. The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren't much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight - so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Mont­gomery for it, I'm told, but I'll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren't wounded. For that much thank God.

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, un-heated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations - the floors were covered with fresh 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 wore 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.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden - possibly the world's most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to [...] the Checkoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39's) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way-through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We've since been flown to Le Havre.

I'm writing from a Red Cross Club in the Le Havre P.O.W. Repat­riation Camp. I'm being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I'll have to be patient. I hope to be home in a month. Once home I'll be given twenty-one days recuperation at Atterbury, about $600 back pay and - get this - sixty (60) days furlough!

I've too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can't receive mail here so don't write. May 29, 1945

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Many thanks to Kurt and your Pops for helping stop the Axis tirade.

And God bless all of our troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sanctifying Grace said...

May you, your family, and your readers have a safe, peaceful, blessed and fruitful Christmas and new year.

Can you do lunch on Tuesday or Wednesday?

Peace be with you, ~~~~alex+

Bernie O'Hare said...

It would be great, Fr. Alex. I'll contact you back channel this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Oh God not this again... The 250,000 people also killed 5 million Jews and countless elderly and handicapped whether they knew it or not, and bernie.... how could they not know!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Henry Schaadt

Bernie O'Hare said...

At least half of these casualties, probably more, were children. I think it's safe to say they did not know.

Anonymous said...

thats war bub I saw 5 year olds in Nazi uniforms, just for fun but they were still brainwashed into the nazi way.I saw a breadpan with swastikas stamped in it so the bread would have them in the crust when baked. Henry Schaadt

Anonymous said...

What a gem.. Thanks for sharing again. Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

Don't think it can't happen again, Obama is trying his best to do it national sociolist party...obama, pelosi"you have to pass the bill to find out whats in it" Henry Schaadt

Clem said...

Never stop posting this. Maybe, just maybe, it will touch just one of the ingrates who squander the freedoms provided through the sacrifice and courage of the greatest generation.

UNALIENABLE said...

THE COMMON INTEREST BEFORE SELF-INTEREST - THAT IS THE SPIRIT OF THE PROGRAM. BREAKING OF THE THRALDOM OF INTEREST - THAT IS THE KERNEL OF NATIONAL SOCIALISM.-Adolph Hitler

What's the difference? The only real difference between progressive movement since 1900 and the Socialist Nazi party is that one was practiced with a gun and the other pretends to be democratic.
First, Hitler, like Obama, was well liked by the people when he was ELECTED. Yes, Hitler was "elected" on March 13, 1932. He promised things like better wages, free health care, We all know how that worked out. He fundamentally changed the form of Government in Germany (Sound familiar?). Like all mass movements, Nazism thrived in times of great national distress. It took WW-1 Sanctions and the Great Depression - which hit Germany hard to turn Nazism into a true mass movement. Does any of this sound familiar? Has anyone been wondering why they put their energy into taking over the Health Care Industry, the Automotive Industry, The Banking Industry, etc.
So, let's do some comparison:
Progressive's give full support to unions and so did Hitler. He gave speeches for the largest trade unions in Germany.
Progressive's want the governmentt to be the primary supporter for the people. So did Hitler- quote..."We demand the state shall make its primary duty to provide a livelihood for its citizens."
Progressive's attack the rich for existing on unearned income(investments) and taxes So did Hitler- quote, "abolition of incomes unearned by work..."
Progressive's have been trying to use government to take control of large corporations for decades. So did Hitler...quote- "Nationalize all business which have been formed into corporations."
Progressive's bitterly complain about business making profits off war. So did Hitler- quote, "...personal enrichment from war will be regarded as a crime against the nation...therefore, ruthless confiscation of all war profits."
Progressive's and unionist insist that industry must pay employees a share of profits in addition to wages. So did Hitler- quote, "We demand profit sharing in large industrial enterprizes."
Progressive's have for years tried every trick in the book to take private land from owners. Progressive's have used tools like environmental issues, right of way, etc. So did Hitler- quote, "We demand a land reform suitable to our national requirements, the passing of a law for the expropriation of land for communal purposes without compensation; the abolition of ground rent, and the prohibition of all speculation in land."
Here's a real goodie:To put the whole of this programme into effect, we demand the creation of a strong central state power for the Reich; the unconditional authority of the political central Parliament over the entire Reich and its organizations; and the formation of Corporations based on estate and occupation for the purpose of carrying out the general legislation passed by the Reich in the various German states.

Source: http://www.hitler.org/writings/programme/

There are many more but, why bother? If anyone can't see the comparison to what's going on in America today, they are either blind, in denial, or just plain stupid.

Don't take my word for any of this SEARCH:
The Center for American Progress
Congressional Progressive Caucus
Liberalism
New Deal
Progressive Christianity
Progressive Era
Progressive Party (United States)
Progressive States Network
Roosevelt Institution
Social democracy
Welfare state