June 30, 2008

"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."

From a letter from Kurt Vonnegut Jr., dated May 29, 1945, in Newsweek and in his new book "Armageddon in Retrospect."

15 comments:

OldGrouchy said...

Mr. Vonnegut experienced pure hell during WWII. He was in an unprepared and poorly led US Army unit during the Battle of the Bulge, his train ride as described above, and then his time in Dresden during the fire bombing were more enough to scar him. I disagree with much of he's expressed about politics but he certainly deserved the right to express those views.

If nothing else, Mr. Vonnegut is a strong vocal witness of inhumane acts during wartime and how brutal otherwise civilized societies can be during those times of stress.

bill said...

Here's an interesting read on WWII: Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.

MadisonMan said...

My Dad came back to the US on the Queen Mary. He couldn't find room on the train out of Chicago to get back home to Iowa, but he knew all the stops along the way, so he hitched his way to -- I forget the town in Illinois -- and got on the train there, getting home to Iowa two days before Xmas 1945 to find that his Mom had converted all his old clothes for her own wardrobe 'cause she never expected to see him again.

Chip Ahoy said...

For half my life I had Vonnegut's race wrong, not that it made any difference, [did I tell you this already? Stop me if you've already heard this] due to a grainy photograph accompanying a description of him which included "America's finest writer of black comedy" on the back of Sirens of Titan. I think that was the same back cover that had a tiny doodle of his, a crudely drawn asterisk, which he labeled sphincter, or maybe it was ass hole. These things find lodgement in an impressionable mind and are never shaken. Later, I saw him in an interview and thought, "wow, is that really you?" I had no idea about this experience of his. Once again, my impression of him is completely altered. I must now see him as a man for whom Armageddon has already happened.

Chip Ahoy said...

Destined to Witness: Growing Up Black in Nazi Germany.

Wut? Ohferchristssake.

mcg said...

Fascinating. I know a man who was a WWII POW in Germany, and he related that he was treated better than POWs in Vietnam. I suspect, then, that he was an officer.

Skyler said...

And yet he still found a way to mock and belittle those that were fighting against these "supermen."

Just because one suffers does not make one wise.

ricpic said...

Kurt Vonnegut was a nihilist. You can respect the physiological and psychological toughness that got him through the horror of his WWII experience and at the same time be repulsed by what he made of that experience, as I do.

bill said...

Fascinating. I know a man who was a WWII POW in Germany, and he related that he was treated better than POWs in Vietnam. I suspect, then, that he was an officer.

Relatively speaking, the Germans generally treated American POWs well. At least in comparison to how they treated the Poles and the Russians.

bill said...

...well...

That's a poor choice of word. Maybe "less brutally than others" would be better.

mcg said...

Actually, I think that "well" would be a word my POW friend would use. Again, it could be because he was an American officer as opposed to an enlisted man or a solider from a different country.

mcg said...

He said he thought it was because the Germans had a certain level of respect for the military as an institution.

The Deacon said...

"Kurt Vonnegut was a nihilist. You can respect the physiological and psychological toughness that got him through the horror of his WWII experience and at the same time be repulsed by what he made of that experience, as I do."

Kurt Vonnegut was a Humanist. Meaning, he believed there is no god and that it is up to us humans to make the world a decent place to live for each other. The idea that he looked down on soldiers is just drek. To dislike war, and what it makes of people, is not to dislike soldiers. He realized that the mob mentality often makes madmen and monsters of people, but that the individuals swept up in the madness are usually just people trying to cope with chaos.

Skyler said...

Deacon, that's just absurd. In Slaughterhouse he made the soldiers who were trying to fight and protect him into evil automatons. He made it appear that his own cowardly actions, which helped them get killed as I recall, appear to be more enlightened.

Sam said...

Your analysis would be accurate if it weren't for the interview where he's asked if Billy Pilgrim represents himself and he says, "No. I was a good soldier"