Wilhelm Lamszus: Human Slaughterhouse

Wilhelm Lamszus wrote a disturbing prophecy with his bestseller "The Human Slaughterhouse – Pictures of the Coming War". In 1912, the German teacher anticipated the horrors of World War I in his novel.

In 1908, the German philosopher Rudolf Eucken won the Nobel Prize for Literature; in 1910, the German novelist Paul Heyse followed him in this honor; in 1912, the playwright Gerhart Hauptmann was another German following both of them. But none of them, nor any other known German poet, writer, author or scholar, wrote of or against the threat of an impending world war. The government and the arms industry it belonged to saw to it that there was no fame to be gained in telling the truth. Parallels to today are not completely impossible.

At the turn of the last century, a lot of generally pacifist writings were publishes, such as Bertha von Suttner's famous novel “Lay Down Your Arms!” published in 1889 or “The History of War and the Future of Peace” by French physician Charles Richet published in 1907. They were in a minority and published in the sense you would publish the latest interpretation of Nostradamus: as curiosities which also sold a few books. But for the exponents of exalted modern literature, war was not an issue except to idolize and adulate it much like today’s print media and games console producers do. And so it was left to an elementary school teacher from Hamburg to utter the great warning. His novel, you may call it his prophecy, “The Human Slaughterhouse - Pictures of the Coming War” was published in the summer of 1912. It triggered a scandal, or rather a series of scandals.

Wilhelm Lamszus’ slender work had been intended for a young adult readership, but it still amazes by its eloquence and visionary description of the world war horrors that would unfold two years later. His vision is more realistic than any of the hero mongering movies produced by government agencies for lots of money under the guise of a free market.

Wilhelm Lamszus was born in Altona in 1881. He grew up there as a single child of a shoemaker. He discovered early that he was passionate for education. In 1902, he joined the public school service of Hamburg as a teacher. He became part of a group of teaching rebels that went against an education system they perceived and recognized as completely rusted and inhumane; a system that was nothing more than the breeding ground and recruiting station for the army. At that time, he wrote educational pamphlets exposing the shortcomings of the system. Their style, polemic force and emphasis carried them far beyond contemporary literature.

Wilhelm Lamszus had the idea for “The Human Slaughterhouse” while on a military reserve training course. "What a marvel of technology people had invented and constructed," he wrote later about the beginnings of his famous book. "The war machine had become ingenious, had developed into an art form. Someone was allowed to let a machine gun purr and it squirted bullets denser than rain falls! As if death had thrown its scythe on the scrap heap and had become a mechanic instead!"

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