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Dresden: the forgotten war crime? Part 1 of 2

Dresden,  well known for its cultural importance - sometimes referred to as "Florence on the Elbe" -  the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. The city center of Dresden was bombed and burned down by Allied forces near the end of the war on the 13th to 15th of February 1945.

There were many reasons given by the British Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces for this act. But up to this day, after several historians, philosophers, politicians, military, survivors and even the (neo-)Nazis had their say, still this mater isn't really closed.

The military reasons given ...

… for what the Allied Forces considered to be a strategic bombing of Dresden was to destroy as they put it a vital communication center, the major rail transportation and military facilities insuring an earlier end to the Second World War. To some Dresden, at the time of the Second World War the 7th largest city of Germany, was also seen as a replacement governing city after Berlin. During the war there were several other major cities of Germany bombed, like Hamburg in the north. Still the only one that sparked so much controversy to this day is that of Dresden.

Reasons not to bomb Dresden

At the time certain facts about Dresden were well known by the British and United States leaders:

  • The city was a save haven for up to 300,000 refugees, especially women, children and the injured fleeing from the Russian Red Army that was advancing at the eastern front of Germany, to find a sanctuary and medical assistance in Dresden. So there was a great number of refugees, and there for an increased number of civilians in the city.

  • The remarkable military facilities were in the outskirts of Dresden, in the north not in the city centre.

  • But these military facilities never played an important role during the war. For Dresden didn't have a military garrison at the time.

  • The extensive industrial areas were also outside the city center in the suburbs.

  • Dresden was a cultural landmark of little to no military significance to the war effort.

  • Not Dresden but Munich the capital city of the Free State of Bavaria where Hitler had his retreat the Berghof in Obersalzberg, was considered to be the capital of the Nazi movement and there for a replacement governing city, because it was of importance to the rise of National Socialism. And the NSDAP headquarters as well as many so called Fuhrer-buildings were located there around the Konigsplatz.

  • The British royal family, the Windsors had a special bond with Dresden through the Royal House of Wettin of which they descent on paternal side.

What was also known to the Allied Forces was:

  • The Russian Red Army was advancing steadily at the German eastern front and that it wouldn't be long before take Dresden in.

  • The British experienced the Blitz, the bombing of England by the Luftwaffe of the Nazis, and experienced there for the destructive effects of fire bombing.

  • The war was already at an end, and that the Allied Forces would win the war, which actually happened on the 30th of April 1945 by seizing the Reichstag, parliament in Berlin. So holding the Nazi regime accountable for whatever they did in Europe, would be a matter of a short while.

Even if it was really necessary to bomb the city of Dresden, it was possible to do this in a different way. In Italy where the fascist regime of Mussolini was in power during the war, Florence suffered one year of German occupation as well from 1943 to 1944. After Mussolini lost power and fled trying to reach Germany, only to be caught and executed by Partisans, the Germans moved into Italy trying to claim territory while plundering for example the works of art of Florence. To liberate Florence the Allied Forces successfully applied precision bombing on selected targets like trains stations - an American Army Air Force bombing method already successfully used on certain targets in Nazi Germany - which resulted in Florence keeping most of its buildings of cultural interest, unlike Dresden would.

Dresden, a cultural landmark, wasn't to be treated the same way as the city of Florence!

Result of the fire bombing of Dresden

Despite the knowledge of all these facts the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who was the ultimate person responsible for the air raid, for he was heavily involved in both the planning and the organization of it, insisted that an air raid should be carried out also over Dresden by pressing the Secretary of State for Air Archibald Sinclair for a plan of operation. But even when they decided to carry on, they could have been extra careful by applying more precision during the attack and supply the pilots with accurate information both about the targets and their actual position on the ground.

Instead the British - advocating for indiscriminate city bombings as a method of terror to demoralize the enemy into surrender - and the United States - initially introduced aerial precision bombing, done by the American Army Air Force as a way of destroying the elements of the war economy while avoiding to many civilian casualties. - applied a disproportionate, indiscriminate area bombing of Dresden inhabited city center, that in addition caused a fire storm that almost completely destroyed it. Even those seeking shelter in their basement could not escape the heat and smoke. Those days that the bombs fell on the city of Dresden, on all with no distinction of individual peoples. Just like when the sun sets, it sets for all.

The ultimate result of the fire bombing of Dresden? A maximum of 25,000 civilian casualties, mostly women and children of which 20,100 are known by name was reported by an independent investigation commissioned by the city council of Dresden, which was published in 2010. It took the German Dresden historians 5 years of research to finish their report. Others maintain a higher casualty rate. And the military objectives, were they met? No! Not all of the communication infrastructure, such as the bridges and railway were in fact targeted. As for the military facilities, they remained intact to this day.

Not to endorse people's agenda on this matter, but only to give an impression of the devastation caused in Dresden: The bombing of Dresden

Winston Churchill in a top secret telegram, which he later after the bombing of Dresden changed to accommodate the Chief of the Air Staff and the AOC in C of RAF Bomber Command and also to distance himself from the fire bombing of Dresden: 

"It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing of German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror, though under other pretexts, should be reviewed... I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive." [Source Wikipedia]

Which other pretexts? An unanswered question to this day.

The Jewish people in Dresden

After the synagogue of Dresden was burned during Kristallnacht on the 9th of November 1938, the Jews living in Dresden were gradually deported to Riga, Auschwitz and Theresienstadt between 1941 and 1945. The remaining Jews in the city also had to leave, they were ordered to report for deportation on the 16th of February.

One of them was Victor Klemperer who recorded his experiences at the time of the Dresden bombings in one of his diaries:
“… on the evening of this 13 February the catastrophe overtook Dresden: the bombs fell, the houses collapsed, the phosphorus flowed, the burning beams crashed on to the heads of Aryans and non-Aryans alike and Jew and Christian met death in the same fire storm; whoever of the [Jews] was spared by this night was delivered, for in the general chaos he could escape the Gestapo.” (source Wikipedia)

And escape he did, by removing his yellow star and joining a column of refugees he escaped to an American controlled territory. A short account of him surviving the Dresden bombing in I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-1941

The German resistance to Hitler and the Nazis

At that point in time and amongst such circumstances, what could possibly justify killing and burning civilians mainly women and children, and wounded soldiers like that? Winston Churchill's reaction? He distanced himself from the Allied actions of those two February days in Dresden. If nothing was wrong, why did he do so?

Some would say, “ they were the Nazis, look what they did to us, so they deserved it”.
But shouldn't one take into account that not all of the German people were Nazis? Roughly about two thirds were not - approximately one third of the German population supported Hitler by voting for him in the 1932 presidential election. Hitler lost the election to Von Hindenburg, but was appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 when his party became part of the German government in order to in able the formation of a majority coalition government. - and they were terrorized by the Gestapo, the Nazi regime's secret police. Many Germans, not forgetting the Holocaust of the Jewish people - some of them were German citizens - were also abused and killed in concentration camps. So, Hitler and his Nazi regime were not acting on behalf of all the people of Germany.

There was also an active German resistance which tried to over throw the Nazi government, planed and executed assassination attempts on Hitler a couple of times. They all, more than 5000 people paid with their lives when they were executed by the Gestapo after the coup failed. Including Colonel Claus Graf von Stauffenberg who took part in the planning and executing of the assassination attempt on Hitler in the July 20 Plot in 1944 and once he is dead to implement Operation Valkyrie to overthrow the Nazi government. Helmuth James Graf von Moltke a lawyer in international law who declined the chance to become a judge for being reluctant to join the Nazi Party, who tried by several means - such as helping victims of Hitler's regime to emigrate - to impose non-violent resistance to the Nazis. He did oppose the assassination of Hitler for two reasons, being: if killed, Hitler would become a martyr, and if the plan failed the German resistance would be eliminated. He was tried for treason and executed.

Reconciliation: bombing Dresden a war crime?

Taking all these into account, is it strange to say that it is justified to cast doubts on the necessity or justification of the bombing of Dresden? Is it fair to say that it is just impossible not to condemn the fire bombing of Dresden? Both morally and military. Wasn't bombing, burning and shooting civilians down like this a war crime? That would be a matter for the courts to decide. Which one? What about the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands?

Why should any one, lets say the city of Dresden, the surviving victims even bother? For one, to render justice to the victims and survivors. Second, to insure the process of reconciliation wont be hampered by resentment by the German people, and in doing so take away the wind out of the sails of the (neo)-Nazis' boat. So they would not have the chance to continue to abuse this like Hitler did concerning the resentment against the huge reparations imposed on Germany after WW I by the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, that placed by the so-called “guilt clause” the full blame of WW I on Germany.

Reparations of 132 billion Deutsch Mark, that is about 400 billion US-dollars, which Germany have paid in full by 2010. Historians see this as symbolical closure of that matter. Germany has also been paying reparations to the Jewish people and have been apologizing for the Holocaust -

a genocide which caused the death of at least six million Jewish people. The Jews were systematically targeted, labeled, isolated in ghettos, imprisoned in concentration and extermination camps, where they were used, abused and eventually murdered in an attempt to exterminate them. This evil master plan was meticulously planned down to the last details, methodically implemented in such a massive scale that a multitude of millions of innocent people were murdered in such a short period of time. All of this and more is what made it so horrific.

- caused by Nazi Germany. In Germany it's even forbidden by law to deny that the Holocaust happened. Germany has been showing its commitment and credibility up to now. This nation has been held accountable for its role during WW I and WW II, the German government and people complied, which on its turn set of the reconciliation process which is still in progress.

This reconciliation process have been well on its way, and if war crimes have been done to the German people, these should also be at least recognized as such. Until then the question remains. Was fire bombing Dresden a war crime?


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Author: © Mrs A. vd Laan-LeitoPosted in: Opinion