Typed Letter Signed [TLS]

IMPORTANT AND IMPASSIONED EARLY KURT VONNEGUT LETTER ON THE ISSUES THAT WOULD DEFINE HIS CREATIVE LIFE: THE BOMBING OF DRESDEN AND HIS FEAR OF A FUTURE WORLD WAR.

On May 29, 1945, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his first letter to his family after being released as a prisoner of war. In that famous letter–which must have been a shock to his family since they had every reason to think he had been killed–Vonnegut recounts in horrifying detail his time since December 19, 1944, when he was captured by the Germans. He notes, in particular, how, when he was a prisoner in the German city of Dresden, “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.”

Vonnegut and his fellows prisoners of war survived the bombing in an underground slaughterhouse, but afterwards when he and the other prisoners emerged, they were given the grim duty of “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.” (Letter of May 29, 1945 quoted from Wakefield, ed., Kurt Vonnegut Letters).

Now, a year (almost to the day) later, the experience is still haunting him and in this letter, written on Memorial Day (May 30), 1946 to his brother Bernard and Bernard’s wife “Bow” (Lois Bowler Vonnegut), Vonnegut – in extremely strong language – warns of what he sees as the near-certainty of human annihilation from another world war, citing what he endured in Dresden as evidence.

The letter reads in full:

[Handwritten]
Memorial Day – 1946
Huzzah!


[Typed in all caps]

DEAR BERNARD AND BOW:

THIS IS AN URGENT FLASH: IF YOU GIVE A DAMN ABOUT YOURSELVES AND YOUR SON, THEN YOU MUST WRITE PRESIDENT TRUMAN AT ONCE AND DEMAND THAT THE UNITED STATES MAKE A DEFINITE ATTEMPT TO ORGANIZE A REAL WORLD FEDERATION. THE UNITED NATIONS IS AN ENFEEBLED FIASCO. IF SOMETHING IS NOT DONE WE SHALL ALL BE KILLED. IT IS AS SIMPLE AS THAT--CLEAN CUT, A CHOICE: LIFE OR DEATH. THE NEXT WAR WILL BE THE END OF LIFE ON EARTH. IT WOULD TAKE FIFTEEN HIROSHIMA BOMBS TO WIPE OUT GREAT BRITAIN. THE U.S. STOCKPILE IS ESTIMATE AT FIFTEEN-HUNDRED.

MAKE YOUR FRIENDS WRITE. THE DECISION IS FOR OUR GENERATION TO MAKE. IF WE MAKE THE WRONG ONE, YOU, BOW, AND YOU, BERNARD, AND YOUR SON WILL BE KILLED DEADER THAN HELL. THERE WILL BE NOTHING LEFT. IF YOU DON’T TRY TO DO SOMETHING, IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I HAVE SAID IS TRUE--THEN YOU ARE EITHER INCREDIBLY STUPID OR CRAZY AS BED BUGS. BOTH OF YOU: WRITE TRUMAN EVERY DAY; PLEAS, SCREAM, TEAR YOUR HAIR, KICK, BITE AND SCRATCH. THIS IS IT. THIS IS WHERE WE MUST DECIDE: SHOULD HUMANITY GO ON OR END IN OUR TIME? IT MAY END NEXT YEAR OR NEXT MONTH.

I'LL NOT FORGET DRESDEN. VICTORY: OVER ONE-HUNDRED THOUSAND HUMAN BEINGS VERY MUCH LIKE YOU TWO AND YOUR SON BURNED, CRUSHED AND SUFFOCATED IN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. THAT WAS TNT. IF THERE IS ANOTHER WAR AND IF WE “WIN” IT, LIFE WILL NOT BE WORTH LIVING. AND ONE DAY SOME SMALL COUNTRY WILL SPRINKLE US WITH INFANTILE PARALYSIS GERMS AND THAT WILL BE THE END OF THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH.

LOVE (THAT CEASES TO BE WHEN HUMANITY CEASES TO BE)


[signed]KAY–––

–––––––––––––

The bombing of Dresden:

Vonnegut’s experience of war - particularly the bombing of Dresden – was the defining experience of his life. It haunted him his entire career. Even early in his career when he was trying to get stories published on a variety of topics, he was still struggling with how to write about the transformative and haunting experience of Dresden. As he wrote in the opening pages of Slaughterhouse-Five: “Over the years, people I’ve met have often asked me what I’m working on, and I’ve usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.” But he struggled for over two decades with how to tell his story:

“I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home rom the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.

“But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then – not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart...”

But the words did eventually come. “I’LL NOT FORGET DRESDEN” was indeed true, and he turned his memories into his masterpiece, Slaughterhouse-Five.

Typed letter signed "Kay". (Vonnegut was known as "Kay" to his family.) With underlinings in pen. One 8.5x11 inch page. Usual folds, mild toning to top two inches; bottom edge a trifle rough. Housed in custom cloth presentation folder.

ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT VONNEGUT LETTERS TO APPEAR ON THE MARKET.

Price: $11,000 .

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