Rightists rally overshadows Dresden ceremony
14 February 2005, DRESDEN - In Germany's biggest neo-Nazi rally for decades, 5,000 rightists marched through Dresden on Sunday as the city marked the 60th anniversary of its World War II destruction. They were outnumbered by tens of thousands of mainstream Germans who paraded in demonstrations in Dresden against the right, attended memorial church services or pinned white, silk roses to lapels in a massive show of revulsion for latter-day admirers of Adolf Hitler. Thanks to a huge police presence there was
14 February 2005
DRESDEN - In Germany's biggest neo-Nazi rally for decades, 5,000 rightists marched through Dresden on Sunday as the city marked the 60th anniversary of its World War II destruction.
They were outnumbered by tens of thousands of mainstream Germans who paraded in demonstrations in Dresden against the right, attended memorial church services or pinned white, silk roses to lapels in a massive show of revulsion for latter-day admirers of Adolf Hitler.
Thanks to a huge police presence there was no violence apart from a scuffle or two between the opposing groups. After the neo-Nazis dispersed in the late afternoon, civic groups began lighting tens of thousands of tiny candles on a city square in an anti-Nazi vigil.
The dozens of city memorial services reached a climax after dark with a silent memorial service attended by 50,000 in the town centre.
Dresden's annual day of sorrow includes the bells of all the city churches tolling at 9.45 pm, the hour when the first wave of US and British incendiary bombs hit the city on 13 February 1945.
The fire-bombing, in three separate Allied attacks, has been described as Germany's Hiroshima, with between 25,000 and 35,000 people suffocated and many burned beyond recognition in the inferno.
The great majority saw the commemoration as a cry for peace and reconciliation between former enemies.
That contrasted with the "nationalist" demands of thousands of young men with shaved heads waving black flags, but also many older people, who gathered in frigid weather on a square next to Saxony's state parliament on the Elbe River for the far-right rally.
"What is the difference between cold blooded concentration camp guards ... and American bomber pilots?" said Franz Schoenhuber, a former Waffen SS member and ex-leader of Germany's far right Republikaner Party, in a speech to cheers and applause.
The march was led by four wooden crosses with the words "Dresden", "Hiroshima", "Vietnam" and "Baghdad" - and the anti-American tone of the protest was palpable with frequent reference to "US bombing terrorists".
"America and Britain should have stopped bombing innocent people in 1945," said Herbert Jeschioro, aged 77, who said he had spent six years as a prisoner of war.
Leftist protesters, kept away from the rally by police, shouted "Nazis out" and "Down with Nazi slime".
In Berlin, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warned against those who wanted to hijack the day of mourning and use it minimise Nazi guilt.
The Dresden protest was supported by the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) which is by far the best organised of Germany's three main rightist parties. Last September the NPD won 9.2 percent in Saxony state elections and entered the state parliament.
A police spokesman said about 5,000 people took part in the far- right demonstration making it bigger than a 4,500-strong rally in 1997 in Munich. There have been no bigger rightist rallies since at least the 1950s.
Mainstream German parties voiced alarm at the neo-Nazis seizing the limelight on a day of so much international attention.
In his statement, Chancellor Schroeder said: "We mourn today the victims of war and of Nazi dictatorship in Dresden, in Germany and in Europe." He attacked those trying to hijack the mourning, saying they denied the responsibility of Nazi Germany for World War II.
"We will fight with all our might against this attempt to rewrite history," said the Chancellor.
British and American bombers destroyed Dresden three months before the end of the war. Many of the dead were women, children and refugees fleeing the advance of the Soviet Red Army.
Saxony premier Georg Milbradt and the US, British and French ambassadors laid wreaths at a cemetery where 20,000 are buried. Milbradt later voiced relief that Dresdners had not let themselves be provoked to violence by the "insupportable" neo-Nazi parade.
Elderly survivors attended smaller memorial services in the different sections of the city rebuilt after the war.
As a protest against neo-Nazis, organizers called on Dresdners to wear the white rose as a symbol of new life without bitterness.
At a service in the crypt of the Frauenkirche, rebuilt over the past 10 years as a symbol of peace, pastor Stephan Fritz told the premier and ambassadors, "Christians say no to revenge and yes to forgiveness."
John Irvine, the dean of England's Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in a 1940 blitz by the Nazis, voiced sorrow at Dresden's destruction and told the congregation it should never have happened.
Subject: German news