In Kurt Vonnegut’s book Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death, the main character Billy Pilgrim is captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden. In Dresden, Billy is held in an unused slaughterhouse, “Slaughterhouse number 5.” From this location, Billy, as well as his captors, survive the bombing of Dresden, which killed some 25,000 people in the ensuing firestorm.
This fictional account almost perfectly mirrors Vonnegut’s real experience in the war. In WWII, Vonnegut was imprisoned in Dresden, was beaten, and made a prisoner in Schlachthof Fünf or Slaughterhouse Five, a real slaughterhouse in Dresden. When Vonnegut emerged from the slaughterhouse, he saw what “looked like the surface of the moon,” the result of the massive Dresden bombing by the allied forces. In Vonnegut’s words: “There were too many corpses to bury. So instead the Germans sent in troops with flamethrowers. All these civilians’ remains were burned to ashes.” It would be these horrific experiences that inspired Vonnegut’s 1969 book, named after the place that likely saved his life.
Curiously, most residents of Dresden couldn’t tell you who Kurt Vonnegut was, let alone where the actual Slaughterhouse Five is. Today, the Slaughterhouse Five complex has been converted into a convention and event center, but the original architecture is largely intact and is now protected. The basement itself has been renovated, but now includes a memorial wall to Kurt Vonnegut and his novel. Recently, it has become possible to visit it on a two-hour tour with a guide.
Know Before You Go
Tours of the facility can be booked at http://www.kurtvonnegut-tour.com/