Friday, December 25, 2009

Last Letters From Stalingrad: Special Audio Edition

The Battle of Stalingrad has been called "the worst battle of the worst war in human history." In early 1943, around 270,000 German 6th Army soldiers--surrounded by the Red Army--were either annihilated or imprisoned. Of those men, only around 5,000 ever returned home to Germany. 

Last Letters From Stalingrad, first published as Letzte Briefe aus Stalingrad in 1950 in West Germany, was purportedly written by German soldiers who knew they were doomed and could write to their families just once more. The thin anthology became an international bestseller, and an English translation appeared in 1962.

Each year around Christmastime in the 1960's, a local Madison radio personality nicknamed "Papa Hambone" would read selected letters live on the air. Years later, I happened to catch one of George "Papa Hambone" Vukelich's last times ever reading of the letters in 1988 (he passed away a few short years later).  I don't recall which station I recorded this from but it was most likely WORT-FM.  The late Erwin Knoll, host of the show "Second Opinion," was a Madison legend too, having been the long-time editor of the magazine "The Progressive" and having been named on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

Here I successfully converted an audio cassette tape recording made back 1988 into my first ever YouTube video.  I had to split the tape into three parts to conform to Google's 10 minute limit. I made the original analog-to-digital conversion using "Sound Studio," first making an "aiff" file and then converting that to an mp4 file using iTunes. I apologize in advance for the poor sound quality- I tried to filter it a bit, but had I known I would be converting this 20 years after the fact I would have taken better care all along.

The total listening time is about 30 minutes.  George Vukelich gives a great introduction and historical background for the letters and then goes on to read four of his favorites.  I hope that his voice and spirit can live "on the air" by my posting them into the ether.

IMO, there are three further levels of interesting discussion belonging to these letters:

(1) The extreme poignancy of some of the letters.

(2) The charge that the letters were forgeries and what possible motives would exist for or against such charges.

(3) The extent to which the left used these letters, year after year, to bolster the anti-Vietnam war movement, especially in Madison.


  1. Extra special soundtrack /mood music: Link.

  2. Great audio. Great series. Great work.

  3. In might not be appropriate on this thread, but Happy New Year to you and your family. I want to tell you that I really appreciate your comments and feedback. It is one the main reasons I continue to do it. Thanks for all the good work you do man. And have a healthy, happy and prosperous New Year.