What were Bukowski’s politics? Late in life, he insisted he had none, that he was an apolitical and always had been.
This was certainly not true. As a young man, around the beginning of WWII, Bukowski had openly expressed pro-German ideas and had fraternized with people his government viewed as seditious. He read Nazi literature and carried about a personal copy of Mein Kampf.
Not that there was as much wrong with that as you might think. Hitler had only come to power in 1933, and the Holocaust was still years in the future. Moreover, Bukowski was a native of Germany, born to a German mother and a second-generation German-American father. He was proud of his German heritage and offended by America’s demonization of Germany.
There were many German-Americans in LA and the lonely teenager found a home at the Deutsches Haus, a meeting place for the German-American Bund and site of the Aryan Bookstore. This latter was run by Herman Max Schwinn and Hans Diebel, both of whom became role models for Bukowski, who famously despised his own father.
The D.H., as the Haus was called, was also a meeting place for members of the America First movement, whose most famous exponent was Charles Lindbergh. Bukowski attended a Lindbergh speech in June, 1941, and at once became an adoring fan.
The adoration did not last long, however, and Lindy’s luster faded for Buk when America entered the war and Lindbergh entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. When Schwinn and Diebel were arrested for sedition, Bukowski grabbed up his copy of Mein Kampf and hit the road for New Orleans.
(In this, he was not simply being paranoid. The government had begun rounding up Germans, the same as the Japanese. Though fewer Germans were interned than Japanese, nevertheless at least 11,500 were arrested and placed in camps across America. Unlike the Japanese internees, none of them ever received an apology.)
Several months later, Buk was arrested in Philadelphia and booked on a bogus charge of failing to register for the draft. He spent the next 17 days–not exactly hard time–at the Moyamensing Federal Prison, while the Selective Service determined his fate. In the end, he was released, with a brand-new “4-F” draft exemption.
The 4-F in a healthy, even robust young man in the war years, was the mark of Cain in the eyes of many. Bukowski saw his citizenship effectively downgraded to second-class, which served to further isolate the lonely young man with the pockmarked face. When eventually he returned home to L.A., the war still wasn’t over and neither was the ordeal of his friends Diebel and Schwinn. They were still in custody, charged with little more than expressing opinions contrary to the FDR administration. They would eventually find themselves defendants in the infamous show trial that became known as the Great Sedition case. That case dragged on interminably until, in December 1944, it ended abruptly in a mistrial.
Pro-Nazi? In those years, Charles Bukowski certainly was, to an extent. Yet he was anything but a totalitarian. He always had, in fact, a deep distrust of government–of any sort. (He was famous for saying that in a democracy, you vote first and take orders later. In a dictatorship, you don’t have to waste your time voting.) He had a personal aversion to being told what to do, or being expected to hop on board any national crusade of revenge, as he called America’s participation in WWII. His expressions of support for the cause of Nazi Germany were basically his way of disagreeing with authority. It was a disagreement he would pursue energetically for the rest of his life.