Dresden still a symbol of death and destruction
9 February 2005, DRESDEN - For most of the Second World War, the city of Dresden was spared the bombing horrors which had befallen the rest of Germany's cities. Even the ruling Nazi war strategists had thought that Dresden - dubbed the "Florence on the Elbe" for its magnificent architecture and cultural heritage - was being made an exception by the Allies. The view was that the city was not a "rewarding" target. But that view was mistaken. On the night of 13 February 1945, less than three months before Naz
9 February 2005
DRESDEN - For most of the Second World War, the city of Dresden was spared the bombing horrors which had befallen the rest of Germany's cities.
Even the ruling Nazi war strategists had thought that Dresden - dubbed the "Florence on the Elbe" for its magnificent architecture and cultural heritage - was being made an exception by the Allies. The view was that the city was not a "rewarding" target.
But that view was mistaken. On the night of 13 February 1945, less than three months before Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler would commit suicide in a Berlin bunker and Germany would capitulate, Dresden's historic centre was reduced to smoking rubble in a wave of Royal Air Force carpet bombing.
In just a few hours, the city renowned for its magnificent baroque architecture and such gems as the Semper Opera House, the royal residence of the former Saxony monarchy and, most prominently, the mighty Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) were destroyed.
About 35,000 people perished in the destruction.
In the years and decades after the war, Dresden had become a symbol for the message of peace and reconciliation.
Despite the horrors they suffered, Dresden's people did not forget the part of the story which led to their city's destruction. Hitler's regime had first declared "total war" and had staged devastating air attacks on London, Birmingham and Coventry.
Although both sides had insisted that military targets were the aim of the bombing raids, there was no sparing of the civilian populations and buildings of historic-cultural significance.
More so than in any other German city, in Dresden a kind of "culture of memory" evolved from the pain of the losses even though over time many of the destroyed landmarks have been rebuilt.
"The city was not prepared for the attack," notes historian Reiner Pommerin. "In contrast to Cologne, Hamburg and Berlin, Dresden lacked the daily experience of bombing raids."
As a result, the deadly efficiency of the bombers and the high number of victims have obscured the thinking of some people.
"Sixty years of recalling the destruction of Dresden also means six decades of misappropriating this event for one's own political purposes," said Matthias Neutzner, a member of the citizens' initiative group "13 February 1945".
As the coming 60th anniversary ceremonies approach, this as has become blatantly apparent in the rhetoric of the extreme right-wing elements in Germany.
Deputies of the National Party of Germany (NPD) recently walked out of ceremonies in the Saxony state parliament in Dresden to commemorate the victims of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Instead, one of their speakers used the term "Holocaust" and "Anglo-American gangsterism" to condemn the bombing of Dresden.
The right-wing elements conveniently ignore the historical connections and instead spread a simple message accusing the Allies of war crimes and exaggerating the number of victims on the German side.
Historians like Pommerin or the British researcher Frederick Taylor never tire of putting the bombing of Dresden into the larger military historical context in order to make the inconceivable somehow understandable.
"The British wanted to make the advance of the Russian front easier," Pommerin said, noting that Dresden served as a railway hub for German troop reinforcements, thus making it a legitimate target in the eyes of military planners.
Nor was Dresden alone in being targeted in the waning days of the war, with other cities in the Saxony region like Chemnitz, Leipzig, Plauen and Zwickau also struck by carpet bombing.
Altogether, 39 major German cities were targeted by the Allied bombers during the war, one of the aims being psychological in trying to break the will of the civilian population and turn people against the Nazi dictatorship.
But later on, military analysts concluded that the destruction had had just as little influence on the final outcome of the war as had the blind "revenge attacks" by German bombers on Antwerp or London earlier on.
In the war from the air, people were the losers. In Dresden's case there was an added cultural dimension.
"The destruction of Dresden was not only a loss for Germany, but also for all of mankind," British historian Taylor believes.
Subject: German news