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Slaughterhouse-Five: 22-year-old POW Kurt Vonnegut writes home about the War

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Kurt Vonnegut was a 22-year-old Private serving in the U.S. Army, when he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge, in December 1944. Together with his fellow POWs, Vonnegut was marched to a work camp in Dresden, named “Slaughterhouse Five.” In this letter details these events and the infamous bombing in February 1945, that was to inspire his best-selling novel.

FROM:

Pfc. K. Vonnegut, Jr.,
12102964 U. S. Army.

TO:

Kurt Vonnegut,
Williams Creek,
Indianapolis, Indiana.

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, unheated 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….

 
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Via Letters of Note
 
The rest of Vonnegut’s letter home, after the jump…
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Kurt Vonnegut: The bombing of Dresden and the creation of ‘Slaughterhouse 5’

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It took Kurt Vonnegut more than twenty years to turn his experience of surviving the allied bombing of Dresden during World War II, into his novel Slaughterhouse Five. In this short interview with James Naughtie, Vonnegut recalls the horror of Dresden and how it shaped his vision of the world and led to the creation of his most famous work.

“A writer is lucky to be able to treat his or her neuroses everyday. We’re here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is. And teh Arts are one way to help people get through this thing. the function of any work of Art, successful work of Art is to say to a certain segment of the population, ‘You are not alone. Others feel as you do.’ We must have kids now, you know, saying the world is crazy - and indeed, it is.”

Recorded for the BBC’s This Week series in 2005, to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Creative Writing 101 with Kurt Vonnegut


 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment