I submitted this story to Third Flatiron Publishing’s Hidden Histories anthology at the beginning of February. Unfortunately this time I was not accepted. So, I thought I would post up the story as I cannot think of another place where it would be accepted, with the theme being so specific. I enjoyed writing this story and researching some history, though I struggled somewhat with coming up with a hidden history for the overall theme. What drew me to write about the Dresden bombings was the controversy around whether the city was a valid target, coupled with Kurt Vonnegut’s vivid descriptions of the bombing and the fire in Slaughterhouse Five. So, without further ado, here is YELLOWJACKET.
The bombing of Dresden in World War II by Allied forces has been long accepted as a necessary, though unfortunate, military action. Many opine that the bombing and enormous damage of an old European city, paired with the extensive civilian casualties, were unwarranted for a city without clear military strategic importance. The Marshall inquiry and various other inquiries by the United States and Allied governments found the military and industrial infrastructure, such as the rail yard, weapons factories, and the Albertstadt military garrison all valid bombing targets. So, the fate of Dresden has been accepted as yet another horrific tragedy and senseless loss of life in World War II.
However, not all historians follow this line of events. I and my colleagues believe that there has been a massive conspiracy to cover up what really happened in the city of Dresden. A reality so horrible that it makes the conflagration of the citizens and thunderous bombing look almost pleasant in comparison. We have several damning pieces of evidence that demonstrate the war crimes perpetrated by the United States military in the lead up to the 13th of February, which marked the bombing of Dresden. The most important of these pieces of evidence is a diary written by a Dresden engineer working in the rail yards, Johann Bergmann. It has been hidden for the last seventy years by his granddaughter, and we were only recently able to procure it from her, such was her fear of retaliation from the U.S. government.
The diary is presented here unedited, as a part of a packet of documents to be sent to media organisations worldwide to expose the crimes of the United States government and military.
Diary of Johann Bergmann
January 31st, 1945
The air was sweet this morning in the rail yard. Crisp and cool, fair and bright, as I made my way through the warehouses to the workshop I was assigned to. We were beginning to finalise work on several new locomotives, beautiful engines polished and bright, ready to be sent out to help the Fuhrer’s war effort. There has been trouble lately bringing in the raw material for steelwork, and many delays procuring the resources needed to build the locomotives, but the foreman is confident the deliveries will start picking up soon.
Today some new Polish men started work at the boiler shop. I overheard their foreman talking to our own. It seems that they are an unskilled lot and will mainly be used for manual labour. One of them had showed up sick and been sent away. The man had broken out in fevers, and was deemed a risk to the safety of the other workers. There is no time for a sickness to be spreading among the men, there is still so much more work to do.
On the way home everywhere in the streets there were people huddled in groups, whispering of the end of the war. The Russians are fifty miles from Berlin, a communist scourge spreading like a grim plague into Deutschland. I hope only for peace, this war has taken its toll on us all. The Russians must not reach us here in Dresden. The terror of war cannot take my family away as it has for so many others.
February 1st, 1945
Those damned Polish have given me and half the other men their affliction. I’ve had a ringing headache all day and the heat of the workshop seemed unbearable. We are getting ever closer to releasing the new locomotives, but I can find no pleasure in my work because of this illness. All I could think of during the day was returning home to my Marie and resting, perhaps taking a day to recover. I am sure it is nothing serious but as I sit here to write my hand trembles, and every now and then I shiver as if a draught is blowing on the nape of my neck. Perhaps I will take the day tomorrow to rest, then come back recovered on Monday, and ready to put my full effort towards completing the locomotives.
February 4th, 1945
The ordeal I have been through these last days…have been worse than any Hell I can imagine. I remember only brief snatches of consciousness. My wife dabbed at my forehead with a wet cloth while I shivered and sweated in equal measure. I howled in pain and distress, gibbering like a madman at terrifying visions and hallucinations. Water repelled me, but my thirst knew no end. Marie sent for the physician, but he could not come…many others have been taken by the same affliction. We heard that Hahn Schneider, a man who lived two doors down from us, is dead.
This morning, at long last, I felt recovered. It was like awakening from some long nightmare. Naturally, I wanted to return to work as soon as possible. Marie forbid it. She visited the workshop on my behalf to report me sick again, and the foreman told her that half the men had not showed up, and that he had contracted the illness too. All production work has been halted on the new locomotives until the workers return, and God knows when that will be.
I can only hope that more lives are not claimed by the illness. It is the most terrible malady that I have ever been struck down with in my life, and I would not wish it upon my worst enemy.
February 10th, 1945
I have not returned to work this week. There is panic in the streets as the contagion has spread. The military is here now, quarantining entire neighbourhoods and urging people to keep calm. There are whispers that this is some new plague concocted by the Allies to weaken us for the Russians. A biological weapon. Such nonsense. The Allies would not poison a city of civilians and risk getting found out. The disease must merely be a result of the war, brought in by the Polish and their squalid living conditions.
My sickness returned today. I have tried to hide it from my Marie. She has fallen ill as well, and I do not want to reveal to her my own suffering. She lies comatose for hours, unable to be roused, her breathing coming short and ragged. I know her pain too well. Hallucinations do not assault her as they did me, but I can tell her dreams are troubled. I do not know what I will do if Marie is to perish.
The rumours I hear…that the military has taken over the rail yard and is preventing anyone from going nearby. They are shooting people in the streets if they try to push through quarantine checkpoints. There is no escape from the disease. Dresden is now a cursed city.
February 13th, 1945
This will be my last entry…I have not the strength to leave my bed. Marie has been dead for a day now. I could not stop her being taken and dragged to the funeral pyres. They burn the dead and the stench lingers over the city. The bombings began this morning too…word is that the Allies are raining explosives down upon the rail yard and the fire is spreading. I cannot bring myself to care. Death will come soon.
I will place this journal in the safe along with my will and other documents…Emma my daughter I speak to you now. Take good care of our sweet granddaughter Sofia. Marie and I love you both with all our hearts. Keep this journal safe. I feel in my heart now that there is more to this sickness than I first thought…not an act of God, but a dread contagion of war wrought by the hand of mankind.
Sofia, Marie, Emma, I love you all forever.
The end is n—-
The last entry from Johann trails off, as if the pen fell from his lifeless fingers. Fortunately, his journal survived the bombing, and made its way to his daughter and granddaughter. The military report, uncovered from a whistle-blower operating within the CIA with access to classified O.S.S documents, corroborates the suffering of Johann and the people he knew. It places the blame for the terrible sickness that struck Dresden squarely at the feet of the O.S.S in conjunction with a germ warfare division of the U.S. military. An operation with the codename YELLOWJACKET was enacted upon the city of Dresden, to test the capabilities of a new biological weapon developed by the U.S. government to be used on the Germans if necessary. Who knows how far the contagion could have spread if not contained in the firebombing of Dresden? Would the people of Paris, London, and Madrid have suffered the same fate?
We will now never know, but these accounts must be made public, and those responsible must be brought to justice. I can only hope by releasing these damning documents the people of Dresden and their descendants can find some peace, knowing the real reason their city was consumed in flame those fateful days in February 1945.