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Hemingway a war criminal, German says
The American writer alleged to have killed 122 German prisoners, according to letters revealed by journalist
Antonio Gonçalves Filho
Don't ask for whom the bells toll. They certainly toll for the second death of american writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), the most recent case of hero turned villain, coming after the Günter Grass scandal. The German author, in the autobiography Peeling the Onion, still published in his lifetime, was able to recant for having been a member of the Hitlerjugend and the elite Waffen-SS. Hemingway died untouched as a heroic war correspondent who integrated the first American batallion that marched into Paris after the Allied victory. But two letters in which the writer confesses to having killed German prisoners with pleasure during the Second World War threaten to stain the name of another Literature Nobel Prize winner (for 1954).
While Grass swears not to have killed a single soldier during the world conflict, Hemingway takes pride in saying he shot unarmed prisoners, in an August 27, 1947 letter sent to his publisher Charles Scribner (1890-1952). The letter was disclosed by German journalist Rainer Schmitz, from Focus magazine. Its contents is not as literary as the description of the ethical conflict between Jordan, the impetuous brigadist, and the indifferent Pablo, narrated in Hemingway's best known book "For Whom the Bells Toll."
In that rough and resorting to no half-words letter, Hemingway states he killed a "Kraut" (as he pejoratively refers to the German soldier) that dared to defy his power. "You're going to kill me because you're afraid and you belong to a degenerate race," the German soldier allegedly said to Hemingway, invoking violation of the Geneva Convention (as a war correspondent Hemingway broke the law by keeping weapons and grenades in his Paris hotel). "You're wrong, I said, and I shot him thrice, first in the stomach, then in the head, making him spill his brains through his mouth," writes the author of A Farewell to Arms in his letter.
Three years later, in another letter, - to Cornell University's professor Arthur Mizener (1907-1988) -, Hemingway again boasts of his wartime behaviour, describing, in a macabre tone, his homicidal passion. "I've made a few calculations and I can affirm with precision that I killed 122 Germans." One of them, according to the writer, a 16 year old, shot while trying to escape in his bycicle.
Evoking wartime experiences with such callousness doesn't seem to fit the writer who gave the world books like The Old Man and the Sea, but it could explain his tragic end, in July 2, 1961. He killed himself with a gunshot to the head. Guilt? God only knows.