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Mother night, p.1
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       Mother Night, p.1

           Kurt Vonnegut
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Mother Night



  "UNIQUE ... one of the writers who map our landscapes for us, who give names to the places we know best."


  The New York Times Book Review

  "OUR FINEST BLACK-HUMORIST. ... We laugh in self-defense."

  --The Atlantic Monthly


  --Harper's Magazine


  --The Charlotte Observer


  --Chicago Sun-Times


  --The New York Times


  A Man Without a Country Armageddon in Retrospect Bagombo Snuff Box

  Between Time and Timbuktu Bluebeard

  Breakfast of Champions Canary in a Cat House Cat's Cradle

  Deadeye Dick

  Fates Worse Than Death Galapagos

  God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater Happy Birthday, Wanda June Hocus Pocus


  Like Shaking Hands with God (with Lee Stringer) Mother Night

  Palm Sunday

  Player Piano

  The Sirens of Titan Slapstick

  Slaughterhouse-Five Timequake

  Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons Welcome to the Monkey House


  THIS IS THE ONLY story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.

  My personal experience with Nazi monkey business was limited. There were some vile and lively native American Fascists in my home town of Indianapolis during the thirties, and somebody slipped me a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I remember, which was supposed to be the Jews' secret plan for taking over the world. And I remember some laughs about my aunt, too, who married a German German, and who had to write to Indianapolis for proofs that she had no Jewish blood. The Indianapolis mayor knew her from high school and dancing school, so he had fun putting ribbons and official seals all over the documents the Germans required, which made them look like eighteenth-century peace treaties.

  After a while the war came, and I was in it, and I was captured, so I got to see a little of Germany from the inside while the war was still going on. I was a private, a battalion scout, and, under the terms of the Geneva Convention, I had to work for my keep, which was good, not bad. I didn't have to stay in prison all the time, somewhere out in the countryside. I got to go to a city, which was Dresden, and to see the people and the things they did.

  There were about a hundred of us in our particular work group, and we were put out as contract labor to a factory that was making a vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. It tasted like thin honey laced with hickory smoke. It was good. I wish I had some right now. And the city was lovely, highly ornamented, like Paris, and untouched by war. It was supposedly an "open" city, not to be attacked since there were no troop concentrations or war industries there.

  But high explosives were dropped on Dresden by American and British planes on the night of February 13, 1945, just about twenty-one years ago, as I now write. There were no particular targets for the bombs. The hope was that they would create a lot of kindling and drive firemen underground.

  And then hundreds of thousands of tiny incendiaries were scattered over the kindling, like seeds on freshly turned loam. More bombs were dropped to keep firemen in their holes, and all the little fires grew, joined one another, became one apocalyptic flame. Hey presto: fire storm. It was the largest massacre in European history, by the way. And so what?

  We didn't get to see the fire storm. We were in a cool meat-locker under a slaughterhouse with our six guards and ranks and ranks of dressed cadavers of cattle, pigs, horses, and sheep. We heard the bombs walking around up there. Now and then there would be a gentle shower of calcimine. If we had gone above to take a look, we would have been turned into artifacts characteristic of fire storms: seeming pieces of charred firewood two or three feet long--ridiculously small human beings, or jumbo fried grasshoppers, if you will.

  The malt syrup factory was gone. Everything was gone but the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been baked like gingerbread men. So we were put to work as corpse miners, breaking into shelters, bringing bodies out. And I got to see many German types of all ages as death had found them, usually with valuables in their laps. Sometimes relatives would come to watch us dig. They were interesting, too.

  So much for Nazis and me.

  If I'd been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snowbanks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides. So it goes.

  There's another clear moral to this tale, now that I think about it: When you're dead you're dead.

  And yet another moral occurs to me now: Make love when you can. It's good for you.

  Iowa City, 1966


  IN PREPARING THIS, the American edition of the confessions of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., I have had to deal with writings concerned with more than mere informing or deceiving, as the case may be. Campbell was a writer as well as a person accused of extremely serious crimes, a one-time playwright of moderate reputation. To say that he was a writer is to say that the demands of art alone were enough to make him lie, and to lie without seeing any harm in it. To say that he was a playwright is to offer an even harsher warning to the reader, for no one is a better liar than a man who has warped lives and passions onto something as grotesquely artificial as a stage.

  And, now that I've said that about lying, I will risk the opinion that lies told for the sake of artistic effect--in the theater, for instance, and in Campbell's confessions, perhaps--can be, in a higher sense, the most beguiling forms of truth.

  I don't care to argue the point. My duties as an editor are in no sense polemic. They are simply to pass on, in the most satisfactory style, the confessions of Campbell.

  As for my own tinkerings with the text, they are few. I have corrected some spelling, removed some exclamation points, and all the italics are mine.

  I have in several instances changed names, in order to spare embarrassment or worse to innocent persons still living. The names Bernard B. O'Hare, Harold J. Sparrow, and Dr. Abraham Epstein, for instance, are fictitious, insofar as this account goes. Also fictitious are Sparrow's Army serial number and the title I have given to an American Legion post in the text; there is no Francis X. Donovan Post of the American Legion in Brookline.

  There is one point at which my accuracy rather than the accuracy of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., can be questioned. That point is in Chapter Twenty-two, in which Campbell quotes three of his poems in both English and German. In his manuscript, the English versions are perfectly clear. The German versions, however, recalled from memory by Campbell, are so hacked up and smeary with revisions as to be illegible, as often as not. Campbell was proud of himself as a writer in German, indifferent to his skill in English. In trying to justify his pride in his German, he worked over the German versions of the poems again and again and again, and was apparently never satisfied with them.

  So, in order to offer some idea in this edition as to what the poems were like in German, I have had to commission a delicate job of restoration. The person who did this job, who made vases out of shards, so to speak, was Mrs. Theodore Rowley, of Cotuit, Massachusetts, a fine linguist, and a respectable poetess in her own right.

  I have made significant cuts in only two places. In Chapter Thirty-nine, I have made a cut that was insisted upon by m
y publisher's lawyer. In the original of that chapter, Campbell has one of the Iron Guardsmen of the White Sons of the American Constitution shouting at a G-man, "I'm a better American than you are! My father invented 'I-Am-An-American Day'!" Witnesses agree that such a claim was made, but made without any apparent basis in fact. The lawyer's feeling is that to reproduce the claim in the body of the text would be to slander those persons who really did invent "I-Am-An-American Day."

  In the same chapter, incidentally, Campbell is, according to witnesses, at his most accurate in reporting exactly what was said. The actual death speech of Resi Noth, all agree, is reproduced by Campbell, word for word.

  The only other cutting I have done is in Chapter Twenty-three, which is pornographic in the original. I would have considered myself honor-bound to present that chapter unbowdlerized, were it not for Campbell's request, right in the body of the text, that some editor perform the emasculation.

  The title of the book is Campbell's. It is taken from a speech by Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust. As translated by Carlyle F. MacIntyre (New Directions, 1941), the speech is this:

  I am a part of the part that at first was all, part of the darkness that gave birth to light, that supercilious light which now disputes with Mother Night her ancient rank and space, and yet can not succeed; no matter how it struggles, it sticks to matter and can't get free. Light flows from substance, makes it beautiful; solids can check its path, so I hope it won't be long till light and the world's stuff are destroyed together.

  The dedication of the book is Campbell's too. Of the dedication, Campbell wrote this in a chapter he later discarded:

  Before seeing what sort of a book I was going to have here, I wrote the dedication--"To Mata Hari." She whored in the interest of espionage, and so did I.

  Now that I've seen some of the book, I would prefer to dedicate it to someone less exotic, less fantastic, more contemporary--less of a creature of silent film.

  I would prefer to dedicate it to one familiar person, male or female, widely known to have done evil while saying to himself, "A very good me, the real me, a me made in heaven, is hidden deep inside."

  I can think of many examples, could rattle them off after the fashion of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. But there is no single name to which I might aptly dedicate this book--unless it would be my own.

  Let me honor myself in that fashion, then:

  This book is rededicated to Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a man who served evil too openly and good too secretly, the crime of his times.




  To Mata Hari

  Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

  Who never to himself hath said,

  "This is my own, my native land!"

  Whose heart hath ne'er within him


  As home his footsteps he hath turn'd

  From wandering on a foreign strand?





  MY NAME is Howard W. Campbell, Jr.

  I am an American by birth, a Nazi by reputation, and a nationless person by inclination.

  The year in which I write this book is 1961.

  I address this book of mine to Mr. Tuvia Friedmann, Director of the Haifa Institute for the Documentation of War Criminals, and to whomever else this may concern.

  Why should this book interest Mr. Friedmann?

  Because it is written by a man suspected of being a war criminal. Mr. Friedmann is a specialist in such persons. He had expressed an eagerness to have any writings I might care to add to his archives of Nazi villainy. He is so eager as to give me a typewriter, free stenographic service, and the use of research assistants, who will run down any facts I may need in order to make my account complete and accurate.

  I am behind bars.

  I am behind bars in a nice new jail in old Jerusalem.

  I am awaiting a fair trial for my war crimes by the Republic of Israel.

  It is a curious typewriter Mr. Friedmann has given to me--and an appropriate typewriter, too. It is a typewriter that was obviously made in Germany during the Second World War. How can I tell? Quite simply, for it puts at finger tips a symbol that was never used on a typewriter before the Third German Reich, a symbol that will never be used on a typewriter again.

  The symbol is the twin lightning strokes used for the dreaded S.S., the Schutzstaffel, the most fanatical wing of Nazism.

  I used such a typewriter in Germany all through the war. Whenever I had occasion to write of the Schutzstaffel, which I did often and with enthusiasm, I never abbreviated it as "S.S.," but always struck the typewriter key for the far more frightening and magical twin lightning strokes.

  Ancient history.

  I am surrounded by ancient history. Though the jail in which I rot is new, some of the stones in it, I'm told, were cut in the time of King Solomon.

  And sometimes, when I look out through my cell window at the gay and brassy youth of the infant Republic of Israel, I feel that I and my war crimes are as ancient as Solomon's old gray stones.

  How long ago that war, that Second World War, was! How long ago the crimes in it!

  How nearly forgotten it is, even by the Jews--the young Jews, that is.

  One of the Jews who guards me here knows nothing about that war. He is not interested. His name is Arnold Marx. He has very red hair. He is only eighteen, which means Arnold was three when Hitler died, and nonexistent when my career as a war criminal began.

  He guards me from six in the morning until noon.

  Arnold was born in Israel. He has never been outside of Israel.

  His mother and father left Germany in the early thirties. His grandfather, he told me, won an Iron Cross in the First World War.

  Arnold is studying to be a lawyer. The avocation of Arnold and of his father, a gunsmith, is archaeology. Father and son spend most all their spare time excavating the ruins of Hazor. They do so under the direction of Yigael Yadin, who was Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army during the war with the Arab States.

  So be it.

  Hazor, Arnold tells me, was a Canaanite city in northern Palestine that existed at least nineteen hundred years before Christ. About fourteen hundred years before Christ, Arnold tells me, an Israelite army captured Hazor, killed all forty thousand inhabitants, and burned it down.

  "Solomon rebuilt the city," said Arnold, "but in 732 B.C. Tiglath-pileser the Third burned it down again."

  "Who?" I said.

  "Tiglath-pileser the Third," said Arnold. "The Assyrian," he said, giving my memory a nudge.

  "Oh," I said. "That Tiglath-pileser."

  "You act as though you never heard of him," said Arnold.

  "I never have," I said. I shrugged humbly. "I guess that's pretty terrible."

  "Well--" said Arnold, giving me a schoolmaster's frown, "it seems to me he really is somebody everybody ought to know about. He was probably the most remarkable man the Assyrians ever produced."

  "Oh," I said.

  "I'll bring you a book about him, if you like," said Arnold.

  "That's nice of you," I said. "Maybe I'll get around to thinking about remarkable Assyrians later on. Right now my mind is pretty well occupied with remarkable Germans."

  "Like who?" he said.

  "Oh, I've been thinking a lot lately about my old boss, Paul Joseph Goebbels," I said.

  Arnold looked at me blankly. "Who?" he said.

  And I felt the dust of the Holy Land creeping in to bury me, sensed how thick a dust-and-rubble blanket I would one day wear. I felt thirty or forty feet of ruined cities above me; beneath me some primitive kitchen middens, a temple or two--and then--

  Tiglath-pileser the Third.



  THE GUARD who relieves Arnold Marx at noon each day is a man nearly my own age, which is forty-eight. He remembers th
e war, all right, though he doesn't like to.

  His name is Andor Gutman. Andor is a sleepy, not very bright Estonian Jew. He spent two years in the extermination camp at Auschwitz. According to his own reluctant account, he came this close to going up a smokestack of a crematorium there:

  "I had just been assigned to the Sonderkommando," he said to me, "when the order came from Himmler to close the ovens down."

  Sonderkommando means special detail. At Auschwitz it meant a very special detail indeed--one composed of prisoners whose duties were to shepherd condemned persons into gas chambers, and then to lug their bodies out. When the job was done, the members of the Sonderkommando were themselves killed. The first duty of their successors was to dispose of their remains.

  Gutman told me that many men actually volunteered for the Sonderkommando.

  "Why?" I asked him.

  "If you would write a book about that," he said, "and give the answer to that question, that 'Why?'--you would have a very great book."

  "Do you know the answer?" I said.

  "No," he said. "That is why I would pay a great deal of money for a book with the answer in it."

  "Any guesses?" I said.

  "No," he said, looking me straight in the eye, "even though I was one of the ones who volunteered."

  He went away for a little while, after having confessed that. And he thought about Auschwitz, the thing he liked least to think about. And he came back, and he said to me:

  "There were loudspeakers all over the camp," he said, "and they were never silent for long. There was much music played through them. Those who were musical told me it was often good music--sometimes the best."

  "That's interesting," I said.

  "There was no music by Jews," he said. "That was forbidden."

  "Naturally," I said.

  "And the music was always stopping in the middle," he said, "and then there was an announcement. All day long, music and announcements."

  "Very modern," I said.

  He closed his eyes, remembered gropingly. "There was one announcement that was always crooned, like a nursery rhyme. Many times a day it came. It was the call for the Sonderkommando."

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