Billy Pilgrim says he went to Dresden Germany, on the day after his morphine night in
the British compound in the center of the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of
war. Billy woke up at dawn on that day in January. There were no windows in the little
hospital, and the ghostly candles had gone out. So the only light came from pin-prick
holes in the walls, and from a sketchy rectangle that outlined the imperfectly fitted door.
Little Paul Lazzaro, with a broken arm, snored on one bed. Edgar Derby, the high school
teacher who would eventually be shot, snored on another.
Billy sat up in bed. He had no idea what year it was or what planet he was on. Whatever
the planet's name was, it was cold. But it wasn't the cold that had awakened Billy. It was
animal magnetism which was making him shiver and itch. It gave him profound aches in
his musculature, as though he had been exercising hard.
The animal magnetism was coming from behind him. If Billy had had to guess as to the
source, he would have said that there was a vampire bat hanging upside down on the wall
Billy moved down toward the foot of his cot before turning to look at whatever it was. He
didn't want the animal to drop into his face and maybe claw his eyes out or bite off his
big nose. Then he turned. The source of the magnetism really did resemble a bat. It was
Billy's impresario's coat with the fur collar. It was hanging from a nail.
Billy now backed toward it again, looking at it over his shoulder, feeling the magnetism
increase. Then he faced it, kneeling on his cot, dared to touch it here and there. He was
seeking the exact source of the radiations.
He found two small sources, two lumps an inch apart and hidden in the lining. One was
shaped like a pea. The other was shaped like a tiny horseshoe. Billy received a message
carried by the radiations. He was told not to find out what the lumps were. He was
advised to be content with knowing that they could work miracles for him, provided he
did not insist on learning their nature. That was all right with Billy Pilgrim. He was
grateful. He was glad.
Billy dozed, awakened in the prison hospital again. The sun was high. Outside were
Golgotha sounds of strong men digging holes for upright timbers in hard, hard ground.
Englishmen were building themselves a new latrine
Six Englishmen staggered through a hospital with a pool table on which several
mattresses were piled. They were transferring it to living quarters attached to the hospital.
They were followed by an Englishman dragging his mattress and carrying a dartboard.
The man with the dartboard was the Blue Fairy Godmother who had injured little Paul
Lazzaro. He stopped by Lazzaro's bed, asked Lazzaro how he was.
Lazzaro told him he was going to have him killed after the war.
'You made a big mistake,' said Lazzaro. 'Anybody touches me, he better kill me, or I'm
gonna have him killed.'
The Blue Fairy Godmother knew something about killing. He gave Lazzaro a careful
smile. 'There is still time for me to kill you,' he said, 'if you really persuade me that it's
the sensible thing to do.'
'Why don't you go fuck yourself?'
'Don't think I haven't tried,' the Blue Fairy Godmother answered.
The Blue Fairy Godmother left, amused and patronizing. When he was gone, Lazzaro
promised Billy and poor old Edgar Derby that he was going to have revenge, and that
revenge was sweet.
'It's the sweetest thing there is,' said Lazzaro. 'People fuck with me,' he said, 'and Jesus
Christ are they ever fucking sorry. I laugh like hell. I don't care if it's a guy or a dame. If
the President of the United States fucked around with me, I'd fix him good. You should
have seen what I did to a dog one time.'
'A dog?' said Billy.
'Son of a bitch bit me. So I got me some steak, and I got me the spring out of a clock. I
cut that spring up in little pieces. I put points on the ends of the pieces. They were sharp
as razor blades. I stuck 'em into the steak-way inside. And I went past where they had the
dog tied up. He wanted to bite me again. I said to him, 'Come on, doggie-let's be friends.
Let's not be enemies any more. I'm not mad." He believed me.'
'I threw him the steak. He swallowed it down in one big gulp. I waited around for ten
minutes.' Now Lazzaro's eyes twinkled. 'Blood started coming out of his mouth. He
started crying, and he rolled on the ground, as though the knives were on the outside of
him instead of on the inside of him. Then he tried to bite out his own insides. I laughed,
and I said to him, "You got the right idea now. Tear your own guts out, boy. That's me in
there with all those knives."' So it goes.
'Anybody ever asks you what the sweetest thing in life is-' said Lazzaro, 'it's revenge.'
When Dresden was destroyed later on, incidentally, Lazzaro did not exult. He didn't have
anything against the Germans, he said. Also, he said he liked to take his enemies one at a
time. He was proud of never having hurt an innocent bystander. 'Nobody ever got it from
Lazzaro,' he said, 'who didn't have it coming.'
Poor old Edgar Derby, the high school teacher, got into the conversation now. He asked
Lazzaro if he planned to feed the Blue Fairy Godmother clock springs and steak.
'Shit,' said Lazzaro.
'He's a pretty big man,' said Derby, who, of course, was a pretty big man himself.
'Size don't mean a thing.'
'You're going to shoot him?'
'I'm gonna have him shot,' said Lazzaro. 'He'll get home after the war. He'll be a big hero.
The dames'll be climbing all over him. He'll settle down. A couple of years'll go by. And
then one day there'll be a knock on his door. He'll answer the door, and there'll be a
stranger out there. The stranger'll ask him if he's so-and-so. When he says he is, the
stranger'll say, "Paul Lazzaro sent me." And he'll pull out a gun and shoot his pecker off.
The stranger'll let him think a couple of seconds about who Paul Lazzaro is and what
life's gonna be like without a pecker. Then he'll shoot him once in the guts and walk
away.' So it goes.
Lazzaro said that he could have anybody in the world killed for a thousand dollars plus
traveling expenses. He had a list in his head, he said.
Derby asked him who all was on the list, and Lazzaro said, 'Just make fucking sure you
don't get on it. Just don't cross me, that's all.' There was a silence, and then he added,
'And don't cross my friends.'
'You have friends?' Derby wanted to know.
'In the war?' said Lazzaro. 'Yeah-I had a friend in the war. He's dead.' So it goes.
'That's too bad.'
Lazzaro's eyes were twinkling again. 'Yeah. He was my buddy on the boxcar. His name
was Roland Weary. He died in my arms.' Now he pointed to Billy with his one mobile
hand. 'He died on account of this silly cocksucker here. So I promised him I'd have this
silly cocksucker shot after the war.'
Lazzaro erased with his hand anything Billy Pilgrim might be about to say. 'Just forget
about it, kid,' he said. 'Enjoy life while you can. Nothing's gonna happen for maybe five,
ten, fifteen, twenty years. But lemme give you a piece of advice: Whenever the doorbell
rings, have somebody else answer the door.'
Billy Pilgrim says now that this really is the way he is going to die, too. As a time-
traveler, he has seen his own death many times, has described it to a tape recorder. The
tape is locked up with his will and some other valuables in his safe-deposit box at the
Ilium Merchants National Bank and Trust, he says.
I, Billy Pilgrim, the tape begins, will die, have died and always will die on February
At the time of his death, he says, he is in Chicago to address a large crowd on the subject
of flying saucers and the true nature of time. His home is still in Ilium. He has had to
cross three international boundaries in order to reach Chicago. The United States of
America has been Balkanized, has been divided into twenty petty nations so that it will
never again be a threat to world peace. Chicago has been hydrogen-bombed by Angry
Chinamen. So it goes. It is all brand new.
Billy is speaking before a capacity audience in a baseball park, which is covered by a
geodesic dome. The flag of the country is behind him. It is a Hereford Bull on a field of
green. Billy predicts his own death within an hour. He laughed about it, invites the crowd
to laugh with him. 'It is high time I was dead..' he says. 'Many years ago.' he said, 'a
certain man promised to have me killed. He is an old man now, living not far from here.
He has read all the publicity associated with my appearance in your fair city. He is insane.
Tonight he will keep his promise.'
There are protests from the crowd.
Billy Pilgrim rebukes them. 'If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then
you have not understood a word I've said.' Now he closes his speech as he closes every
speech with these words: 'Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.'
There are police around him as he leaves the stage. They are there to protect him from the
crush of popularity. No threats on his life have been made since 1945. The police offer to
stay with him. They are floridly willing to stand in a circle around him all night, with
their zap guns drawn.
'No, no,' says Billy serenely. 'It is time for you to go home to your wives and children,
and it is time for me to be dead for a little while-and then live again.' At that moment,
Billy's high forehead is in the cross hairs of a high-powered laser gun. It is aimed at him
from the darkened press box. In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead. So it goes.
So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn't
anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.
Then he swings back into life again, all the way back to an hour after his life was
threatened by Lazzaro-in 1945. He has been told to get out of his hospital bed and dress,
that he is well. He and Lazzaro and poor old Edgar Derby are to join their fellows in the
theater. There they will choose a leader for themselves by secret ballot in a free election.
Billy and Lazzaro and poor old Edgar Derby crossed the prison yard to the theater now.
Billy was carrying his little coat as though it were a lady's muff. It was wrapped around
and round his hands. He was the central clown in an unconscious travesty of that famous
oil painting, 'The Spirit of '76.'
Edgar Derby was writing letters home in his head, telling his Wife that he was alive and
well, that she shouldn't worry, that the war was nearly over, that he would soon be home.
Lazzaro was talking to himself about people he was going to have killed after the war,
and rackets he was going to work, and women he was going to make fuck him, whether
they wanted to or not. If he had been a dog in a city, a policeman would have shot him
and sent his head to a laboratory, to see if he had rabies. So it goes.
As they neared the theater, they came upon an Englishman who was hacking a groove in
the Earth with the heel of his boot. He was marking the boundary between the American
and English sections of the compound. Billy and Lazzaro and Derby didn't have to ask
what the line meant. It was a familiar symbol from childhood.
The theater was paved with American bodies that nestled like spoons. Most of the
Americans were in stupors or asleep. Their guts were fluttering, dry.
'Close the fucking door,' somebody said to Billy. 'Were you born in a barn?'
Billy closed it., took a hand from his muff, touched a stove. It was as cold as ice. The
stage was still set for Cinderella. Azure curtains hung from the arches which were
shocking pink. There were golden thrones and the dummy clock, whose hands were set at
midnight. Cinderella's slippers, which were a man's boots painted silver, were capsized
side by side under a golden throne.
Billy and poor old Edgar Derby and Lazzaro had been in the hospital when the British
passed out blankets and mattresses, so they had none. They had to improvise. The only
space open to them was up on the stage, and they went up there, pulled the azure curtains
down, made nests.
Billy, curled in his azure nest., found himself staring at Cinderella's silver boots under a
throne. And then he remembered that his shoes were ruined, that he needed boots. He
hated to get out of his nest, but he forced himself to do it. He crawled to the boots on all
fours, sat, tried them on.
The boots fit perfectly. Billy Pilgrim was Cinderella, and Cinderella was Billy Pilgrim.
Somewhere in there was a lecture on personal hygiene by the head Englishman, and then
a free election. At least half the Americans went on snoozing through it all. The
Englishman got up on the stage, and he rapped on the arm of a throne with a swagger
stick, called, 'Lads, lads, may I have your attention, please?' And so on.
What the Englishman. said about survival was this 'If you stop taking pride in your
appearance, you will very soon die.' He said that he had seen several men die in the
following way: They ceased to stand up straight, then ceased to shave or wash, then
ceased to get out of bed, then ceased to talk, then died. There is this much to be said for it:
it is evidently a very easy and painless way to go. So it goes.
The Englishman said that he, when captured, had made and kept the following vows to
himself: To brush his teeth twice a day, to shave once a day, to wash his face and hands
before every meal and after going to the latrine, to polish his shoes once a day, to
exercise for at least half an hour each morning and then move his bowels, and to look into
a mirror frequently, frankly evaluating his appearance, particularly with respect to
Billy Pilgrim heard all this while lying in his nest. He looked not at the Englishman's face
but his ankles.
'I envy you lads,' said the Englishman.
Somebody laughed. Billy wondered what the joke was.
'You lads are leaving this afternoon for Dresden-a beautiful city I'm told. You won't be
cooped up like us. You'll be out where the life is, and the food is certain to be more
plentiful than here. If I may inject a personal note: It has been five years now since I have
seen a tree or flower or woman or child-or a dog or a cat or a place of entertainment, or a
human being doing useful work of any kind.
'You needn't worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended,
and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance.'
Somewhere in there, old Edgar Derby was elected head American. The Englishman
called for nominations from the floor, and there weren't any. So he nominated Derby,
praising him for his maturity and long experience in dealing with people. There were no
further nominations, so the nominations were closed.
'All in favor?'
Two or three people said, 'Aye.'
Then poor old Derby made a speech. He thanked the Englishman for his good advice,
said he meant to follow it exactly. He said he was sure that all the other Americans would
do the same. He said that his primary responsibility now was to make damn well sure that
everybody got home safely.
'Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut', murmured Paul Lazzaro in his azure nest.
'Go take a flying fuck at the moon.'
The temperature climbed startlingly that day. The noontime was balmy. The Germans
brought soup and bread in two-wheeled carts which were pulled by Russians. The
Englishmen sent over real coffee and sugar and marmalade and cigarettes and cigars, and
the doors of the theater were left open, so the warmth could get in.
The Americans began to feel much better. They were able to hold their food. And then it
was time to go to Dresden. The Americans marched fairly stylishly out of the British
compound. Billy Pilgrim again led the parade. He had silver boots now, and a muff, and a
piece of azure curtain which he wore like a toga. Billy still had a beard. So did poor old
Edgar Derby, who was beside him. Derby was imagining letters to home, his lips
Dear Margaret-We are leaving for Dresden today. Don t worry. It will never be bombed.
It is an open city. There was an election at noon, and guess what? And so on.
They came to the prison railroad yard again. They had arrived on only two cars. They
would depart far more comfortably on four. They saw the dead hobo again. He was
frozen stiff in the weeds beside the track. He was in a fetal position, trying even in death
to nestle like a spoon with others. There were no others now. He was nestling within thin
air and cinders. Somebody had taken his boots. His bare feet were blue and ivory. It was
all right, somehow, his being dead. So it goes.
The trip to Dresden was a lark. It took only two hours. Shriveled little bellies were full.
Sunlight and cold air came in through the ventilators. There were plenty of smokes from
The Americans arrived in Dresden at five in the afternoon. The boxcar doors were
opened, and the doorways framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever
seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a
Sunday school picture of Heaven to Billy Pilgrim.
Somebody behind him in the boxcar said, 'Oz.' That was I. That was me. The only other
city I'd ever seen was Indianapolis, Indiana.
Every other big city in Germany had been bombed and burned ferociously. Dresden had
not suffered so much as a cracked windowpane. Sirens went off every day, screamed like
hell, and people went down into cellars and listened to radios there. The planes were
always bound for someplace else-Leipzig, Chemnitz, Plauen, places like that. So it goes.
Steam radiators still whistled cheerily in Dresden. Street-cars clanged. Telephones rang
and were answered. Lights went on and off when switches were clicked. There were
theaters and restaurants. There was a zoo. The principal enterprises of the city were
medicine and food-processing and the making of cigarettes.
People were going home from work now in the late afternoon. They were tired.
Eight Dresdeners crossed the steel spaghetti of the railroad yard. They were wearing new
uniforms. They had been sworn into the army the day before. They were boys and men
past middle age, and two veterans who had been shot to pieces in Russia. Their
assignment was to guard one hundred American prisoners of war, who would work as
contract labor. A grandfather and his grandson were in the squad. The grandfather was an
The eight were grim as they approached the boxcars containing their wards. They knew
what sick and foolish soldiers they themselves appeared to be. One of them actually had
an artificial leg, and carried not only a loaded rifle but a cane. Still they were expected to
earn obedience and respect from tall cocky, murderous American infantrymen who had
just come from all the killing of the front.
And then they saw bearded Billy Pilgrim in his blue toga and silver shoes, with his hands
in a muff. He looked at least sixty years old. Next to Billy was little Paul Lazzaro with a
broken arm. He was fizzing with rabies. Next to Lazzaro was the poor old high school
teacher, Edgar Derby, mournfully pregnant with patriotism and middle age and imaginary
wisdom. And so on.
The eight ridiculous Dresdeners ascertained that these hundred ridiculous creatures really
were American fighting men fresh from the front. They smiled, and then they laughed.
Their terror evaporated. There was nothing to be afraid of. Here were more crippled
human beings, more fools like themselves. Here was light opera.
So out of the gate of the railroad yard and into the streets of Dresden marched the light
opera. Billy Pilgrim was the star. He led the parade. Thousands of people were on the
sidewalks, going home from work. They were watery and putty-colored, having eaten
mostly potatoes during the past two years. They had expected no blessings beyond the
mildness of the day. Suddenly-here was fun.
Billy did not meet many of the eyes that found him so entertaining. He was enchanted by
the architecture of the city. Merry amoretti wove garlands above windows. Roguish fauns
and naked nymphs peeked down at Billy from festooned cornices. Stone monkeys frisked
among scrolls and seashells and bamboo.
Billy, with his memories of the future, knew that the city would be smashed to
smithereens and then burned-in about thirty more days. He knew, too, that most of the
people watching him would soon be dead. So it goes.
And Billy worked his hands in his muff as he marched. His fingertips, working there in
the hot darkness of the muff, wanted to know what the two lumps in the lining of the little
impresario's coat were. The fingertips got inside the lining. They palpated the lumps, the
pea-shaped thing and the horseshoe-shaped thing. The parade had to halt by a busy corner.
The traffic light was red.
There at the comer, in the front rank of pedestrians, was a surgeon who had been
operating all day. He was a civilian, but his posture was military. He had served in two
world wars. The sight of Billy offended him, especially after he learned from the guards
that Billy was an American. It seemed to him that Billy was in abominable taste,
supposed that Billy had gone to a lot of silly trouble to costume himself just so.
The surgeon spoke English, and he said to Billy, 'I take it you find war a very comical
Billy looked at him vaguely. Billy had lost track momentarily of where he was or how he
had gotten there. He had no idea that people thought he was clowning. It was Fate, of
course, which had costumed him-Fate, and a feeble will to survive.
'Did you expect us to laugh?' the surgeon asked him.
The surgeon was demanding some sort of satisfaction. Billy was mystified. Billy wanted
to be friendly, to help, if he could, but his resources were meager. His fingers now held
the two objects from the lining of the coat. Billy decided to show the surgeon what they
'You thought we would enjoy being mocked?' the surgeon said. 'And do you feel proud to
represent America as you do?' Billy withdrew a hand from his muff, held it under the
surgeon's nose. On his palm rested a two-carat diamond and a partial denture. The
denture was an obscene little artifact-silver and pearl and tangerine. Billy smiled.
The parade pranced, staggered and reeled to the gate of the Dresden slaughterhouse, and
then it went inside. The slaughterhouse wasn't a busy place any more. Almost all the
hooved animals in Germany had been killed and eaten and excreted by human beings,
mostly soldiers. So it goes.
The Americans were taken to the fifth building inside the gate. It was a one-story cement-
block cube with sliding doors in front and back. It had been built as a shelter for pigs
about to be butchered. Now it was going to serve as a home away from home for one
hundred American prisoners of war. There were bunks in there, and two potbellied stoves
and a water tap. Behind it was a latrine, which was a one-rail fence with buckets under it.
There was a big number over the door of the building. The number was five. Before the
Americans could go inside, their only English-speaking guard told them to memorize
their simple address, in case they got lost in the big city. Their address was this:
'Schlachth.f-funf.' Schlachth.f meant slaughterhouse. Funf was good old five.