Bitter Conflicts emerge from Dresden’s ashes

February 8, 2015 8:53 pm

As 70th anniversary of bombing of city approaches, neo-Nazis clash with people who seek reconciliation. The city was quickly rebuilt.
On February 13, 1955, the restored Church of the Holy Cross
(Kreuzkirche) was packed for its reconsecration. Thirty years later, a
crowd of 200,000 gathered for the inauguration of the rebuilt opera
house. And, 60 years after its ruins had become a symbol of the city’s
destruction, in 2005, the Frauenkirche reopened.
The contrast
between the blackened original stones and their fresh, white
counterparts serves as a permanent memorial. “Its wounds have healed,”
says the Rev Sebastian Feydt, pastor of the church. “But the scars still
show.”

Groups such as Pegida, opposed to “Islamisation of the West”, choose
Dresden for protest rallies. This one was was held last month. Photo /
AP

On Ursula Elsner’s sideboard, Dresden survives intact. At the centre
stands a model of the Church of Our Lady, the Frauenkirche, with
worshippers lining up in the shadow of its dome. Above the model, an old
watercolour of the city’s baroque skyline hangs on the wall.
It
could have been painted any day of Elsner’s childhood, when she lived so
close to the church, where her father was the verger, that it became a
second playroom.
Any day until February 13, 1945, that is. That
is the day, she says now, when her childhood ended. As 4500 tonnes of
explosives fell from 800 British planes, 25,000 Dresdeners died in a
raging firestorm and the heart of their historic city was obliterated.
A
second wave of bombing, by the US Air Force, followed the next day. The
raids were designed to create panic behind the German front line, just
as Russian troops advanced.
The 14-year-old and her family survived, but half of her classmates died.

The cost of those two days of war was so great that, in the
weeks and years that followed, Dresden was invoked by those who
questioned the legitimacy of the RAF’s strategic bombing campaign. Even
Winston Churchill queried whether the bombs might have been “mere acts
of terror and wanton destruction”.
The city was quickly rebuilt.
On February 13, 1955, the restored Church of the Holy Cross
(Kreuzkirche) was packed for its reconsecration. Thirty years later, a
crowd of 200,000 gathered for the inauguration of the rebuilt opera
house. And, 60 years after its ruins had become a symbol of the city’s
destruction, in 2005, the Frauenkirche reopened.
The contrast
between the blackened original stones and their fresh, white
counterparts serves as a permanent memorial. “Its wounds have healed,”
says the Rev Sebastian Feydt, pastor of the church. “But the scars still
show.”
Wounded pride takes longer to heal. The flames that
skipped through Dresden have long since died out, but the passions
sparked that night burn on. As the city prepares to mark the 70th
anniversary of the raid, official talk is of reconciliation.
The
Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, will deliver a
sermon in the Frauenkirche, and the Duke of Kent will be presented with a
prize for his efforts to reunite the old enemies.
Away from the
town hall, some Dresdeners recoil from these overtures. Where once
February 13 was a day of quiet contemplation, it has now become a
violent clash of historical interpretations. Thousands of neo-Nazis
march across the city, hijacking the anniversary to claim moral
equivalence between the bombing and the worst crimes of the Third Reich.
Even larger crowds of left-wing activists throng the streets in turn,
trying to blockade the fascists’ advance.
“We will sit down in
the street to stop them demonstrating,” says Frank Kohler, a 19-year-old
student who will take part in this week’s blockade for the third year
running. “They can’t be allowed to abuse this date.”
The
commemorations have become so charged that editors of a local newspaper
supplement charting the raids have spent days debating their choice of
pictures. “Everything is political,” says Oliver Reinhard, heritage
correspondent of the newspaper, Sachsische Zeitung. “If we just used
pictures of the bombing, some people would ask ‘Why don’t you show what
the Nazis did, too?’.”
Dresden was never intended to become such a
contested chapter of World War II. Many more civilians had died during a
raid on Hamburg in July 1943, and by the time Dresden was bombed, most
other German cities had already been targeted.
For Harry Irons, a rear gunner who flew 60 raids, the city was “just another target”.
“It
was nothing out of the ordinary,” says Irons, now 91, who lives in
Romford. “I was used to seeing German cities going up in flames and
losing my comrades night after night. What went through our minds was
just to get there and to get back – we couldn’t have any feelings about
it.”
http://www.jokpeme.com/2015/02/bitter-conflicts-emerge-from-dresdens.html
Much of Dresden was obliterated by the still controversial bombing raids of February 1945.
Listening
as I read out his comments, Elsner, who is now 84 but has never moved
from Dresden, stays silent. At last, she nods. “From his perspective, of
course,” she says. “But for me, that was the worst night of my life.
The whole city became one enormous morgue.”
She and her
7-year-old brother, Dieter, had been celebrating Shrove Tuesday, and
Dieter was still in fancy dress as a tomahawk-toting cowboy when the
air-raid sirens began to sound. They sheltered in their cellar but when
they began to be sprinkled with ash, they leaped over a burning timber
to hurtle outside, Dieter still clutching his teddy bear.
In the
street, sparks singed their hair and hands, but they survived: the
families who remained in the cellar all succumbed to carbon monoxide
poisoning.
“Everywhere around me was death and destruction,” says
Elsner. “I most recall seeing the prams – the babies weren’t moving any
more.”
Yet, even though she remembers that night every day, she
is happy to forgive Irons and the rest of Bomber Command. “It was war,”
she says. “We can’t talk about blame.”
The British veteran plans
to fly to the city for the first time since 1945 this year, and Elsner
says she would happily invite him in for a cup of tea: there they might
sit, with the Frauenkirche between them, the bomber and the bombed.
“It’s difficult to be angry,” she says. “What good does it do to hold a
grudge?”
Elsner is typical of many of the remaining survivors, who have reconciled themselves with their former enemy.
But
their efforts to make peace with the past are being threatened by a
younger generation determined to exploit the legacy of that night. The
neo-Nazi march has been an annual fixture since the nineties, so that
the city that was destroyed in the battle against fascism is now the
epicentre of its revival.
“They’re young and they don’t know what
fascism is really like,” says Elsner. “The day is becoming more and
more political. There’s the right-wing here and the left-wing there: the
idea of remembrance is getting lost.”
Irons is also depressed by
the sloganising that surrounds Dresden. The far-right’s claim that the
raid was a “bombing Holocaust”, an Allied war crime on a par with the
Final Solution, used to trouble him.
“I had second thoughts about
Dresden for years,” he says. “But last year I went to visit Auschwitz
myself. Now I’ve seen it, my conscience is clear. We killed many
civilians but we lost many men, too. That was war – but Auschwitz was
something else.”
The neo-Nazis are far from the only group seeking to exploit the sense of loss that pervades Dresden.
“I
don’t think this will ever become just history,” says Colonel Matthias
Rogg, of the Dresden Military History Museum, detailing the emotions
still stirred by any reference to the raid. “The debate will never end.”
One uncomfortable truth is sometimes overlooked in all the furore.
“You
have to ask the question of responsibility,” says Rogg, pointing to a
skyline that once again resembles the landscape in Ursula Elsner’s
apartment. “The war started in Germany. And, that night, it came back to
us.”
Dresden
What: Capital of Saxony, Germany
Where: In a valley on the River Elbe
Population: 529,781
The bombing:
Involved four raids between February 13 and 15, 1945, by 1250 British
and US bombers which targeted the city centre and killed 25,000.

Tags:
shared on wplocker.com