Dundas playwright Bob Knuckle has fashioned a stage play based on the tragedy of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, an American soldier who was executed for desertion in World War II.
Slovik, a poor Polish kid from Detroit, is the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since 1864 (the American Civil War).
Marked as a coward by the military authorities as well as by his infantry comrades, Slovik was shot January 1945 in the courtyard of a French country estate. His body was buried nearby in a U.S. military graveyard of shame and dishonor.
A 1954 book and 1974 TV film offer encyclopedic intelligence into this historic reality but Knuckle’s play extends the story by giving breath to Slovik’s private life which was grounded in a passionate marriage to his wife Antoinette.
Slovik was a draftee. He was originally classified 4-F because of his prison record (grand theft auto). But he was reclassified 1-A when the draft standards were lowered to meet the growing need for soldiers in Europe. In January 1944, he was trained to be a rifleman. But combat was against his gentle nature and caused him traumatic anxiety.
Slovik was shipped to France to fight with an American Division which suffered massive casualties in France and Germany. In the chaos of battle Eddie became lost and joined up with a Canadian unit. Weeks later, when returned to his original U.S. Company, he signed a written confession of desertion and refused to return to the front lines. Slovik claimed he was “too scared and too nervous” to take up arms. To avoid combat he was willing to do jail time in the Division stockade. However, contrary to his plans, Slovik was court-martialed and sentenced to death. Subsequent appeals to the court and to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, were rejected.
On January 31st 1945, Slovik, a month shy of his 25th birthday, was shot by a twelve-man firing squad in eastern France. It’s reported none of the rifleman even flinched, firmly believing that Slovik had gotten what he deserved. Nick Gozik, a fellow soldier and witness to the event says, “Slovik did not cry or whimper or beg for his life. The execution was a blatant injustice. If he died as a deterrent to eliminate the possibility of further deserters, it really didn’t make a difference. It (his execution) was just awful as far as I’m concerned.”
Slovik’s wife Antoinette, who died in 1979, was shielded from the truth. She was led to believe that her husband Eddie had been killed in action.
Knuckle’s play, directed by Willard Boudreau, extends the information in both the book and the TV movie by presenting Antoinette’s struggle to establish normalcy after discovering her husband, who was her hero, had been executed. She spent the rest of her life trying to have Eddie pardoned.
Performances are scheduled at Dundas Little Theatre May 21, 22, 23, 28, 29 and 30.
Tickets can be purchased by calling 905-628-0220