Home > Uncategorized > Franz Werfel: Twenty thousand well-preserved human skulls of the Last War

Franz Werfel: Twenty thousand well-preserved human skulls of the Last War

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Franz Werfel: Selections on war

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Franz Werfel
From Star of the Unborn (1946)
Translated by Gustave O. Arlt

77

“This is the Monument of the Last War,” said someone near me, and I craned my neck to see something in the broad excavation within or below the railing that might resemble an equestrian statue or a group of heroically muscle-bound figures à la Rodin. But I discovered nothing of the sort. Finally my unfortunately naked eye settled upon a spherical, rusty framework, about six feet in diameter. At first I could not make the slightest sense out of this sphere consisting of warped metal bands. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it must be an ancient celestial globe, manufactured long after my death but still in darkest antiquity. As my eyes became more and more accustomed to the ruddy twilight in the excavation, which now seemed to me to resemble not so much a mine as the basin of a great pond from which the water had been drained, I perceived that the dilapidated and warped celestial globe surmounted a gigantic pedestal made of skulls, similar to but larger than the so-called cairns which are founds in valleys of the Styrian and Carpathian Alps. My understanding of the psychology of the present had by now become so keen that I clearly felt the mythical horror that the sight of this foundation of skulls must have provoked in the hearts of these contemporaries who had deleted the word “death” from their vocabulary.

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“{M]any, many more eons passed and many changes took place in the constellations before man finally…attained that mild freedom and dignity which made war and the concept of physical hostility an absurd nightmare that modern man regards as a tissue of lies of eccentric historians rather than as a hellishly real torment to which his own race was subject millennia ago…

“And this monument of hammered metal, erected upon the twenty thousand well-preserved human skulls of the Last War…”

At the words “human skulls” many children began to cry and wail. Their mothers tried to quiet them by soft words or by singing lullabies. A sorrowful buzzing ran through the crowd. The great throng retreated shyly from the fenced space about the monument as though no one had the courage to bear the sight of human skulls.

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