The anniversary of the Dresden Holocaust.
The city of Dresden is located on the River Elbe in the eastern part of Germany, in Saxony, near the Czech border. Previously known as the 'Jewel Box' of Europe due to its brilliant roccoco and baroque architecture, Dresden was the home to generations of Saxony Kings.
As the banker's 2nd World War was coming to an end, the Allies saved their biggest war crimes for 1945. Sort of like a 'Grand Finale' at a good 4th of July firework show in America. Except rather that eliciting 'Ooohs and Ahhhs' from the spectators, the Firebombing of Dresden and Atomic blasts over Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought death - the kind of mass death where the lucky ones quickly expire and the unfortunate are terrorized before succumbing.
I'm thankful for Don Harkins (RIP) of the Idaho Observer for making this eyewitness account from a Dresden survivor available:
The Dresden Bombing: An eyewitness account
by Edda West
My grandmother would always begin the story of Dresden by describing the clusters of red candle flares dropped by the first bombers, which like hundreds of Christmas trees, lit up the night sky - a sure sign it would be a big air raid. Then came the first wave of hundreds of British bombers that hit a little after 10 p.m. the night of February 13-14, 1945, followed by two more intense bombing raids by the British and Americans over the next 14 hours. History records it as the deadliest air attack of all time, delivering a death toll that exceeded the atomic blasts on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In 20 minutes of intense bombing, the city became an inferno. The second bombing raid came three hours after the first and was “intended to catch rescue workers, firefighters and fleeing inhabitants at their fullest exposure.” Altogether, the British dropped nearly 3,000 tons of explosives that shattered roofs, walls, windows, whole buildings, and included hundreds of thousands of phosphorous incendiaries, which were small firebombs that sprinkled unquenchable fire into every crevasse they rolled into, igniting the inferno that turned Dresden into a “hurricane of flames.”
By the time the Americans flew in for the third and last air raid, smoke from the burning city nearly obliterated visibility. One American pilot recollects, “We bombed from 26,000 feet and could barely see the ground because of clouds and long columns of black smoke. Not a single enemy gun was fired at either the American or British bombers.”
The Americans dropped 800 tons of explosives and fire bombs in 11 minutes. Then, according to British historian David Irving in his book, The Destruction of Dresden, American P-51 fighter escorts dived to treetop level and strafed the city's fleeing refugees.
My grandmother described the horrific firestorm that raged like a hurricane and consumed the city. It seemed as if the very air was on fire. Thousands were killed by bomb blasts, but enormous, untold numbers were incinerated by the firestorm, an artificial tornado with winds of more than 100 miles an hour that “sucked up its victims and debris into its vortex and consumed oxygen with temperatures of 1,000 degrees centigrade.”
Many days later, after the fires had died down, my grandmother walked through the city. What she saw was indescribable in any human language. But the suffering etched on her face and the depths of anguish reflecting in her eyes as she told the story bore witness to the ultimate horror of man's inhumanity to man and the stark obscenity of war.
Dresden, the capital of Saxony, a centre of art, theatre, music, museums and university life, resplendent with graceful architecture -- a place of beauty with lakes and gardens -- was now completely destroyed. The city burned for seven days and smoldered for weeks.
My grandmother saw the remains of masses of people who had desperately tried to escape the incinerating firestorm by jumping head first into the lakes and ponds. The parts of their bodies that were submerged in the water were still intact, while the parts that protruded above water were charred beyond human recognition. What she witnessed was a hell beyond human imagination; a holocaust of destruction that defies description.
It took more than three months just to bury the dead, with scores of thousands buried in mass graves. Irving wrote, “an air raid had wrecked a target so disastrously that there were not enough able-bodied survivors left to bury the dead.”
Confusion and disorientation were so great from the mass deaths and the terror, that it was months before the real degree of devastation was understood and authorities, fearful of a typhus epidemic, cremated thousands of bodies in hastily erected pyres fueled by straw and wood.
German estimates of the dead ranged up to 220,000, but the completion of identification of the dead was halted by the Russian occupation of Dresden in May.
Elisabeth, who was a young woman of around 20 at the time of the Dresden bombing, has written memoirs for her children in which she describes what happened to her in Dresden. Seeking shelter in the basement of the house she lived in she writes, “Then the detonation of bombs started rocking the earth and in a great panic, everybody came rushing down. The attack lasted about half an hour. Our building and the immediate surrounding area had not been hit. Almost everybody went upstairs, thinking it was over but it was not. The worst was yet to come and when it did, it was pure hell. During the brief reprieve, the basement had filled with people seeking shelter, some of whom were wounded from bomb shrapnel.
“One soldier had a leg torn off. He was accompanied by a medic, who attended to him but he was screaming in pain and there was a lot of blood. There also was a wounded woman, her arm severed just below her shoulder and hanging by a piece of skin. A military medic was looking after her, but the bleeding was severe and the screams very frightening.
“Then the bombing began again. This time there was no pause between detonations and the rocking was so severe, we lost our balance, and were tossed around in the basement like a bunch of ragdolls. At times the basement walls were separated and lifted up. We could see the flashes of the fiery explosions outside. There were a lot of fire bombs and canisters of phosphorous being dumped everywhere. The phosphorus was a thick liquid that burned upon exposure to air and as it penetrated cracks in buildings, it burned wherever it leaked through. The fumes from it were poisonous. When it came leaking down the basement steps somebody yelled to grab a beer (there was some stored where we were), soak a cloth, a piece of your clothing, and press it over your mouth and nose. The panic was horrible. Everybody pushed, shoved and clawed to get a bottle.
“I had pulled off my underwear and soaked the cloth with the beer and pressed it over my nose and mouth. The heat in that basement was so severe it only took a few minutes to make that cloth bone dry. I was like a wild animal, protecting my supply of wetness. I don't like to remember that.
“The bombing continued. I tried bracing myself against a wall. That took the skin off my hands -- the wall was so hot. The last I remember of that night is losing my balance, holding onto somebody but falling and taking them too, with them falling on top of me. I felt something crack inside. While I lay there I had only one thought -- to keep thinking. As long as I know I'm thinking, I am alive, but at some point I lost consciousness.
“The next thing I remember is feeling terribly cold. I then realized I was lying on the ground, looking into the burning trees. It was daylight. There were animals screeching in some of them. Monkeys from the burning zoo. I started moving my legs and arms. It hurt a lot but I could move them. Feeling the pain told me that I was alive. I guess my movements were noticed by a soldier from the rescue and medical corps.
“The corps had been put into action all over the city and it was they who had opened the basement door from the outside. Taking all the bodies out of the burning building. Now they were looking for signs of life from any of us. I learned later that there had been over a hundred and seventy bodies taken out of that basement and twenty seven came back to life. I was one of them -- miraculously!
“They then attempted to take us out of the burning city to a hospital. The attempt was a gruesome experience. Not only were the buildings and the trees burning but so was the asphalt on the streets. For hours, the truck had to make a number of detours before getting beyond the chaos. But before the rescue vehicles could get the wounded to the hospitals, enemy planes bore down on us once more. We were hurriedly pulled off the trucks and placed under them. The planes dived at us with machine guns firing and dropped more fire bombs.
“The memory that has remained so vividly in my mind was seeing and hearing humans trapped, standing in the molten, burning asphalt like living torches, screaming for help which was impossible to give. At the time I was too numb to fully realize the atrocity of this scene but after I was 'safe' in the hospital, the impact of this and everything else threw me into a complete nervous breakdown. I had to be tied to my bed to prevent me from severely hurting myself physically. There I screamed for hours and hours behind a closed door while a nurse stayed at my bedside.
“I am amazed at how vivid all of this remains in my memory. (Elizabeth is in her late 70s at the time of this writing). It is like opening a floodgate. This horror stayed with me in my dreams for many years. I am grateful that I no longer have a feeling of fury and rage about any of these experiences any more -- just great compassion for everybody's pain, including my own.
“The Dresden experience has stayed with me very vividly through my entire life. The media later released that the number of people who died during the bombing was estimated in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand -- over a quarter of a million people. This was due to all the refugees who came fleeing from the Russians, and Dresden's reputation as a safe city. There were no air raid shelters there because of the Red Cross agreement.
“What happened with all the dead bodies? Most were left buried in the rubble. I think Dresden became one mass grave. It was not possible for the majority of these bodies to be identified. And therefore next of kin were never notified. Countless families were left with mothers, fathers, wives, children and siblings unaccounted for to this day.” [end quote]
According to some historians, the question of who ordered the attack and why, has never been answered. To this day, no one has shed light on these two critical questions. Some think the answers may lie in unpublished papers of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Winston Churchill and perhaps others. History reports that the British and American attack on Dresden left more than 2-1/2 times as many civilians dead as Britain suffered in all of World War II, and that one in every 5 Germans killed in the war died in the Dresden holocaust.
Some say the motive was to deliver the final blow to the German spirit -- that the psychological impact of the utter destruction of the heart centre of German history and culture would bring Germany to its knees once and for all. Some say it was to test new weapons of mass destruction, the phosphorous incendiary bomb technology. Undoubtedly the need for control and power was at the root. The insatiable need of the dominators to exert control and power over a captive and fearful humanity is what drives acts of mass murder like the Dresden firebombing and Hiroshima.
I think there was also an additional hidden and cynical motive which may be why full disclosure of the Dresden bombing has been suppressed. The Allies knew full well that hundreds of thousands of refugees had migrated to Dresden in the belief that this was a safe destination and the Red Cross had been assured Dresden was not a target. The end of the war was clearly in sight at that point in time and an enormous mass of displaced humanity would have to be dealt with. What to do with all these people once the war ended? What better solution than the final solution? Why not kill three birds with one stone? By incinerating the city, along with a large percentage of its residents and refugees, the effectiveness of their new firebombs was successfully demonstrated. Awe and terror was struck in the German people, thereby accelerating the end of the war. And finally, the Dresden firebombing ensured the substantial reduction of a massive sea of unwanted humanity, thereby greatly lessening the looming burden and problem of postwar resettlement and restructuring.
We may never know what was in the psyche of those in power or all the motives that unleashed such horrific destruction of civilian life - the mass murder of a defenseless humanity who constituted no military threat whatsoever and whose only crime was to try to find relief and shelter from the ravages of war. Without the existence of any military justification for such an onslaught on helpless people, the Dresden firebombing can only be viewed as a hideous crime against humanity, waiting silently and invisibly for justice, for resolution and for healing in the collective psyches of the victims and the perpetrators.
A video showing a small portion of the destruction:
Before and After photos can be found here: