Friday 29th of May 2020

Die Bombardierung von Dresden (13-15/02/1945)...

The 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden should force us to understand that, unfortunately, as the Roman statesman Cicero said, “In war, the law falls silent.”

Dresden is like Auschwitz or Srebrenica, a terrible event elevated to almost mythical status because it is in fact the symbol of a wider phenomenon, in this case the bombing campaign conducted against a large number of German cities including Hamburg and Berlin. Dresden occupies this symbolic status because of the very high number of civilian deaths, most burned to death by incendiary bombs whose function was to set buildings alight, and because the town had little or no military significance.

Dresden remains today an open wound in German historical memory because German civilians were victims in their tens of thousands. Germany protested bitterly in 1991 when the British put up a statue to the chief of bomber command, Sir Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris, in central London. When the Queen visited Dresden in 1992, she was booed. A book by noted German historian Jörg Friedrich, ‘The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945’, published in 2006, became a bestseller.

Such German anger is understandable, especially since the Nazis at Nuremberg were not indicted for the Blitz bombing of London and other British cities in 1940-1941, precisely because the British wanted to prevent them from being able to say they had done the same thing to Germany at the end of the war.  The Americans, for their part, dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima within days from when the Nuremberg charter was promulgated, killing over a hundred thousand Japanese civilians in one go.


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Picture at top by Gus Leonisky




a cultural landmark...

The bombing of Dresden was a British/American aerial bombing attack on the city of Dresden, the capital of the German state of Saxony, during World War II. In four raids between 13 and 15 February 1945, 722 heavy bombers of the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) dropped more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city.[1] The bombing and the resulting firestorm destroyed more than 1,600 acres (6.5 km2) of the city centre.[2] An estimated 22,700[3] to 25,000[4] people were killed,[a] although larger casualty figures have been claimed. Three more USAAF air raids followed, two occurring on 2 March aimed at the city's railway marshalling yard and one smaller raid on 17 April aimed at industrial areas.Immediate German propaganda claims following the attacks and postwar discussions[5] of whether the attacks were justified have led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war.[6] A 1953 United States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a strategic target, which they noted was a major rail transport and communication centre, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort.[7] Several researchers claim that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were extensive industrial areas outside the city center.[8] Critics of the bombing have asserted that Dresden was a cultural landmark while downplaying its strategic significance, and claim that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the military gains.[9][10][11] Although not supported by any legal standard, as Dresden was both defended and constituted a major military transportation hub, and housed many war industries, some have claimed that the raid constituted a war crime.[12] Some, mostly in the German far-right, refer to the bombing as a mass murder, calling it "Dresden's Holocaust of bombs”.
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dresden2Picture by Gus Leonisky

remembering germany's misdeed...

Opinion: Steinmeier defends democracy, 75 years after Dresden bombing

With his surprisingly effective speech marking the 75th anniversary of the Dresden bombing, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier showed himself to be a staunch defender of German democracy, says Jens Thurau.

Any speech commemorating the horrific bombing of Dresden in February 1945 is a high-wire act. The firestorm that scarred the Saxon city on the banks of the Elbe has been repeatedly instrumentalized by various groups over the years — first the Nazis, then the East German government and today the neo-Nazis and those who remain stuck in the past.

Read more: Dresden marks WWII bombing in far-right stronghold

Often, such opportunistic misuse has ended in an absurd argument over the number of people that died in the attack. The Nazis, for instance, mendaciously claimed that several hundred thousand people were killed. Yet, since German reunification, the fight has mainly been over the question of whether the tragedy should be remembered as an isolated event, or whether the memory of victims would be better served when viewed in the larger historical context of the war.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier was well aware of the scrutiny his words would be subjected to when he wrote his speech. The German president not only mastered the task of presenting context, he also delivered a very timely speech that openly addressed the origins of the war and the destruction that followed. In fact, the word Dresden didn't even come up until he was three long paragraphs into his address. Instead, Steinmeier began by speaking about the German invasion of Poland and the ensuing violence that was unleashed across Europe.

Defending democracy

The president did not, however, relativize Dresden's suffering at any point during his speech. In fact, he did quite the opposite. He painted a visceral picture of that night with stark words — describing the howling drone of bombers, the blood-red sky, the fire that sucked the oxygen out of the city's streets.

But he also spoke of other cities across Germany and Europe: Hamburg and Würzburg, Naples and Genoa, Warsaw and Coventry. Steinmeier ended that portion of his speech with a clear statement: "Those who today seek to weigh the number of dead in Dresden against the dead of Auschwitz, who seek to downplay German misdeeds, who distort historic facts although they know better, it is those people that we, as democrats, must stand up to."

Read more: Commemorating the legacy of the WWII bombing of Dresden

With the words, "we, as democrats," Steinmeier also made it clear that he is well aware that some German politicians choose to deny the country's Nazi past, and he drew a clear distinction between them and himself. He also drew an altogether new interpretation of the role of the German president. Historically, the role of president has been to remain neutral — reflecting, summarizing and moderating the myriad opinions held by the country's populous. But now is not the time for such neutrality.

Steinmeier even dared to go a step further, addressing the resurgence of anti-Semitism and xenophobia: "When elected parliamentarians mock the institution in which they serve, they are attempting to destroy democracy from within." Right-wing populists in the Bundestag and state parliaments will know full well who he is talking about. And yes, all of that has its rightful place in a speech marking the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.

Steinmeier also spoke of the one thing that should unite all Germans: the Basic Law, the foundation of Germany's democracy. "Let us protect the dignity of every human, also here in Dresden," he said, referring to the rights of every person, not just every German.

Steinmeier will have no problem living with criticism of his speech from the far right; it won't be the first time he's faced it. But it's more comforting than ever to know the president clearly sees himself as a defender of living democracy. A democracy not solely defined by laws, regulations and parliamentary rules, but rather by insights, clear positions and historical responsibility. A clear majority of Germans share Steinmeier's views. And it's good that he has raised his voice in their defense.

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