On a favorite new site, Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, Shaun Usher posts original versions and transcripts of "fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos." While most are really interesting, this first letter from Kurt Vonnegut to his family after he survived being a German POW in World War II is gripping. As Vonnegut readers know, he survived the firebombing of Dresden because the POWs were routinely locked in an underground meat locker of a slaughterhouse; an experience that became the focus of his classic anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five.
The letter home, written in May of 1945, was Vonnegut's first since he was captured in December 1944.
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 Saxony-Czechoslovakian 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.
Go read the whole thing.
In an introduction to a 1976 edition of Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut wrote:
"The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in."
- Barry Orton