Remembering Papa Hambone

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Posted by Good Blog on December 27, 2009 at 08:39:37:

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. The 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 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 air each year. 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 even recall which station I recorded this from-it was most likely WORT-FM. Erwin Knoll, the host of the show "Second Opinion" was a Madison legend too, having been the long time editor of the magazine "The Progressive" and having had been named on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

Here I successfully converted an audio cassette tape recording made back 1988 into a my first ever Youtube video. My 11-year old son gave me some pointers- he's a little expert. I expect him to show up here and comment. I had to split the tape into three parts to conform to Google's 10 minute limit. I made the original analog to digital 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 favorite letters. I hope that his voice and spirit can live on by my posting these. Enjoy!

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

(1) The extreme poignancy of the letters themselves;
(2) The charge that the letters were forgeries and what possible motives would exist for or against such charges;
(3) The extent that the left used these letters, year after year, to bolster the anti-Vietnam war movement, especially in Madison.

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