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Franz Werfel: How describe in a few words a world war?


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

Franz Werfel: Selections on war


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


“How can I, in just a few words, give you any impression of what we experienced in World War One or Two? Shall I describe the feelings of a relatively free young man who is unceremoniously jammed into a barracks with hundreds of others in order to be drilled, that is, to be subjected to a process of hardening and brutalization that fits him to be a soldier? How could I make highly developed people like you…understand the condition of men living by day and night for months on end in trenches, dugouts, and foxholes filled with water and muck, their lives endangered day in and day out by dive bombers, mortars, heavy artillery, field artillery, tank artillery, ships’ batteries, machine guns of every kind, and God knows what else, until they pray for a severe wound just to be delivered from this horrible exposure? And worse than that, how could you gentlemen…ever get an adequate concept of what it means when a boy, maddened by rum, benzedrine, and party fanaticism, crawls out of his foxhole, gun in hand, and stumbles over muddy clods, shell holes, land-mines, and barbed wire, over black, bloated corpses stinking to high heaven, on toward the enemy, filled with a breathless, insane lust to twist his bayonet in that enemy’s guts even when he has thrown up both arms and is screaming for mercy?”

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