” N A P O L E O N ‘ S A R M O I R E S ! “
by T. Matthew Phillips, Esq.
THE BATTLE of DRESDEN
On August 26, 1813, Napoleon led the French — as they battled Allied forces from Austria, Prussia and Russia — in the Battle of Dresden. At 9 a.m., the French cavalry charged! Through the morning fog, heroic Austrian gunners cannonaded the determined French cavalry, but the Austrians were beaten back. They formed defensive infantry squares in the rain-soaked battlefield, but to no avail. When the battle was done, it would be one of Napoleon’s greatest victories!
“When an army of 120,000 men, in the presence of 180,000 enemies, compels a whole division to lay down its arms in the open field, that is a quite undeniable victory.”
Caemmerer – “Die Befreuingskrieg”
Just before noon, under the weight of the mighty French cavalry charge, a battalion of battered and bewildered Bohemians threw their misfiring muskets into the maddening mud. Their firearms had been rendered useless by the persistent rain that morning. They promptly surrendered to the French who took them prisoner without a struggle.
EXPERT CABINET MAKERS
Among the Bohemians prisoners were about two dozen expert cabinet makers — master craftsmen from Prague — including the legendary Victor Laszlo (inventor of the monovalent pedal-operated sharpening stone). Pressed into wartime service, these genteel furniture builders were ill-suited to military life. They came from Prague’s storied tradition of skilled artisans who strove to achieve the pinnacle of utilitarian function and visual aesthetic. They were put on this Earth to create, not destroy.
AUDIENCE with THE EMPEROR
News of the cabinet makers’ surrender quickly made it through the French ranks — for the Bohemians had requested an audience with Napoleon. But when The Emperor heard of their audacious request, his response was swift and resolute — the Bohemians would be shot by firing squad at dawn the next morning — just because. To his beloved Ilsa back home in Prague, Victor Laszlo wrote what he believed would be his final correspondence: “You’ll remember me — when the West Wind moves upon the fields of barley.”
A DEAL is STRUCK
Just after midnight, with the mediation efforts of Sicilian art patron, Il Marchese Vittorio Boschetti, a deal was struck; Napoleon would spare their lives, which they now owed to the French state. They would remain in Dresden and become Napoleon’s personal armoire builders. Each would be assigned the task of designing and building an armoire — then adding new details each and every day — for the rest of their natural lives!
Using ancient Bavarian hardwoods, each of the Bohemians would build one four-door armoire, the interiors of which might contain shelves or drawers, or a horizontal pole for hanging clothes. Naturally, Napoleon wished for highly ornate armoires that visually displayed heroic Romantic themes — to celebrate human emotion, emphasize individualism, and glorify nature.
FURNITURE FIT for A KING
The continual adding of subtle refinements would ensure that the armoires would be highly ornate. The pieces would not be deemed completed until after their makers had died. The Bohemians worked every day but Sunday. If they skipped a day, they were subject to being shot, unless they had a valid excuse — like tuberculosis or dysentery.
Happily, none of the Bohemians were shot. And though they were POWs, the Bohemians were treated like royalty! They ate the finest continental cuisine and sipped the finest French wines! With painstaking care and devotion, they worked on the armoires for about two years.
THE CONGRESS of VIENNA
After Napoleon was sacked in 1815, the Congress of Vienna allowed the men to return home to Prague. And, thanks to the efforts of Austrian Prince von Metternich — and over the bitter protests of French delegate Monsieur Talleyrand — it was ultimately decided that Napoleon’s armoires, 42 in all, would remain in the City of Dresden — to forever remind the world that beauty can indeed arise amidst the horrors of war.
The armoires must’ve been a spectacular sight to behold! On a visit to Dresden in 1842, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, described the pieces as: “enchanting elegance.” Rumored to be the most divine and miraculous furniture ever conceived — the pieces struck a perfect balance of functional utility and visual aesthetic. Many featured moving parts, e.g., expandable joints and hinges, and many had whimsical accoutrements — like secret drawers and compartments. Most were topped with fanciful crowns. Ironically, Napoleon never saw any of his armoires.
WHATEVER BECAME of the ARMOIRES?
Sadly, the armoires were destroyed during WWII, when the U.S. and Britain fire-bombed Dresden in February 1945. To hasten the war’s end, the Allies would stop at nothing. Allied terror bombers dropped incendiary devices that set Dresden ablaze — and the resulting inferno consumed the armoires.
“NO LENGTHS of VIOLENCE to which WE WILL NOT GO”
On Feb. 13, 1945, the Allies unleashed unprecedented violence upon the inhabitants of Dresden — a city rich with towering medieval spires, irreplaceable art treasures, and wondrous antique armoires. Many estimates place the civilian death toll at half a million perished, but the true numbers will never be known because many bodies simply melted like butter into the liquid asphalt or vaporized into the rubble.
END of the WORLD
For survivors, it must’ve seemed like the end of the world. Remarkably, more perished from incendiary bombs in Dresden — than from the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
The British and American press used the polite euphemism, “carpet-bombing,” but they weren’t dropping carpets, they dropped fire. Truth is, the “fire-bombing” of Dresden was a calculated terror campaign — the likes of which had never before been inflicted upon humanity. It was planned that way:
“German cities will be subjected to an ordeal the likes of which has never been experienced by a country. To achieve this end, there are no lengths of violence to which we will not go.”
On the first day, Allied bombers bombed the shit out of Dresden. B-29s dropped high-explosive blockbuster bombs that literally turned entire city blocks to rubble. After the first wave, British and American terror flyers unleashed incendiary bombs — filled with highly flammable, jelly-like, petroleum-based “goo” — which rained down from the nighttime sky turning the entire city into a furnace of flame.
WE DID START the FIRE
The first wave of explosives caused thousands of small fires throughout the city — but after dropping the highly flammable napalm — the small fires would join together to form one ginormous inferno — a vortex of high wind and searing flame! The perfect firestorm! Thousands were burned alive, charred beyond recognition, curled-up like crispy bacon.
Dresden, Feb. 13, 1945, before and after:
RAF Lancaster bomber crashes into cathedral spire.
WAR is HELL
Many Dresdeners made the mistake of hiding in their cellars, which quickly became broiler ovens and cooked them to death. Many ran outside into the streets where tornado force winds sucked them into the vortex where they were quickly incinerated into nothingness. Still others got stuck in melted asphalt, invariably perched on their hands and knees, helplessly unable to move, screaming bloody murder as their flesh slowly cooked. All over the city could be heard the continuous and uninterrupted screams of the dying. And the hideous stench of sulphur, gasoline, and burnt human flesh permeated every breath drawn by every city inhabitant.
The Allies had literally turned Dresden into Dante’s Inferno — Hell on Earth! And, sadly, by resorting to terrorist tactics, the Allies demonstrated they were no better than the Nazis they sought to vanquish. The Allies showed no regard for who got burned alive — and no regard for the 26,000 Allied POWs interred in the city — including Kurt Vonnegut, an eyewitness to the terror:
“The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I’m in.”
Kurt Vonnegut – Palm Sunday
“The one thing we’re all waiting for — is peace on earth — an end to war. It’s a miracle we need.”
MORAL of the STORY
Wake up! War is over if you want it! Wachet auf! Meine damen und herren — for your dining ‘n dancing pleasure — Napoleon’s Armoires! [Click on mp3 below!]
T. Matthew Phillips, Esq.
Oct. 22, 2018
by T. Matthew Phillips
E P I L O G U E
“In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed — but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love — they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Orson Welles, The Third Man (1949)
Produced and Directed by TMP’s Midnight Minions
in association with Chapter Eleven Productions,
Fly-By-Night Management Services, and
Neurotica Entertainment Group
“War is over if you want it.”