Remembering Dresden bombing:60th Anniv
#1

Correspondents Report - Sunday, 13 February , 2005

Reporter: Philip Williams

 

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Exactly 60-years ago one of the world's most exquisite cities, a jewel of art and architecture that had come to symbolise the cultural and intellectual achievements of European civilisation, was destroyed in just two successive days of bombing by British, Canadian and American aircraft.

 

Whether it was morally right to reduce Dresden to rubble, leaving tens of thousands of its residents as charred corpses, is still debated today.

 

It's a question that exposes some uncomfortable issues.

 

Is it even appropriate to regret the loss of so many fine buildings and priceless artefacts in the face of such immeasurable human suffering? And why focus so much attention on Dresden, when other German cities suffered equal destruction and loss of life?

 

Did the German people bring this catastrophe upon themselves by supporting an evil neo-pagan cult, or were they also the victims of the Nazis, who never won a majority of votes in the last free elections before civil liberties were abolished in 1933, and who manipulated their way into power, effectively staging a legal coup?

 

So should Britain and its allies officially express regret or is there, as some maintain, nothing to apologise for?

 

Well, currently in Dresden to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary is Canon Paul Oesterreicher, who's devoted his life to the cause of reconciliation.

 

He spoke to our Europe Correspondent Phil Williams.

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: I'm here in a dual capacity, both as representative of the city and the church in Coventry, which is a twin city of Dresden, but I'm also a trustee of the Dresden Trust, which is a group of British citizens who got together in order to make a contribution to the rebuilding of Dresden's Protestant cathedral, the Frauenkirche.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Why is that the name Dresden brings up so much emotion when a number of cities were bombed on all sides? What's special about Dresden?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: It's not an easy question to answer because I've often asked myself that question. I think the main thing is Dresden was a world centre of culture, music and art, to a degree that probably no other German city is. So people thought it was a kind of vandalism to destroy this jewel of architecture and of art and of culture.

 

As you say, Hamburg, for instance, was just as badly destroyed, and probably just as many people were killed. But, for some strange reason, some places take on iconic symbolism. How these symbolic things happen, it's a bit of a mystery, but I think it's the international significance of Dresden, and the fact that it was destroyed when the war was almost over, that it was packed with refugees, and that most intelligent people could see no military reason for destroying it.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Was there any justification that you can think of?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: None whatever. I don't think morally, or in terms of military strategy, there was any excuse for what was done to Dresden. We have to face it. Total war creates a mood of total revenge, and that's what it was.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Does it call now, 60 years later, for a heartfelt apology from the governments involved?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: Apology is something that certainly the British find very difficult, but there are different ways of apologising.

 

And if you consciously say, "We want to make a contribution to the rebuilding of your city, we know we are to blame for its destruction, we know this was great tragedy in the midst of war."

 

When the Royal Family itself as well as very simple people, poor people often, families of those who bombed the place, make a financial contribution to its rebuilding, it's a practical way of saying we're sorry even if the government doesn't make formal declarations.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: There was of course a visit recently by the Queen, there was some hope, locally, that she might say at least some comment of regret. That didn't happen. Was that an opportunity missed?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: I think it was and I was involved behind the scenes. The reason is, the British establishment were dead scared of Britain's gutter press, that there would be headlines, "Queen Licks The Arse Of The Huns."

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: What of the German people, the people of Dresden, there seems and extraordinary lack of bitterness?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: Germans who have some kind of historical memory, knowing what Germans did, which let's face it, the holocaust was something infinitely worse, it really was an attempt to wipe out a whole people, and who started this war? It wasn't Britain, it was Hitler invading one country after another to conquer Europe.

 

When you put that into the balance, then it's not surprising that intelligent Germans say we brought this on ourselves.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: When you look at how the deaths of soldiers, for example, in Iraq are covered in the press, huge amounts of publicity over a handful of people killed, can we really relate to the tens of thousands that were killed in one night, now, when we're horrified by the deaths of a couple of individuals.

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: Well, some people might say we've become a little more sensitive; that the war in Iraq, which I personally, and most British people find wrong, and in fact immoral, but nevertheless no one, now, no government would dare to say, "We're going to kill as many Iraqis as possible."

 

At least, there is some kind of attempt to say we have to limit the damage to other people. It's a small advance, but the kind of attitude of killing as many people as possible that was part of the psychology of the Second World War, I think, and I hope that that has gone. I'm not trying to belittle the tragedy of Iraq, but it is different.

 

PHILIP WILLIAMS: Do you think that the people of Dresden will get to the point where they no longer feel the need to commemorate what happened?

 

PAUL OESTEIRREICHER: I hope so, and I hope that they will recognise they're not a special case and I'm going to say that publicly in a speech I'm going to make here.

 

There were many, many Dresdens and this one has become symbolically important, but I hope the people of Dresden will sometimes think of what happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and what happened in Fallujah only a few weeks ago.

 

That's perhaps more important.

 

HAMISH ROBERTSON: Canon Paul Oesterreicher was speaking to our Europe Correspondent Philip Williams, in Dresden.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
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#2

Just thought I'd share this with you. I also posted this on another forum (no names or forums mentioned to protect the innocent!!) as a current news item. Well someone kind of went off on it. This is what he had to say. My reply follows.

 

I don't understand how you could debate such a thing. it happened 60 years ago!!! i say to just let it rest. The bombing of Dresden may have been a mistake, but why waste time debating? As I said, it did happen 60 years ago, its history, its already happened, you can't go back in time and stop it from happening. let those people of Dresden rest in peace, let the town just be a regular town, let the people be regular people. I think they want to forget that their parents and grandparents died so horribly, so whay bring it back to their minds by debating? so, in conclusion i say, lets these people live regular lives and try and let them live in peace so that they can still live prosperously and happily. So don't depress them by bringing back such horrible memories, just let them live in peace.

 

My reply:

 

You got me all wrong. I was introducing this because it was an article posted this week. Everything taken here is directly from the author, not me. I am not debating this issue, just showing that many people are still talking about it and contesting the idea.

 

If we treated all topics that way, then you'd have to say that all WWII is past history and shouldn't be brought up for debate and discussion. Well there wouldn't be any WWII forums. 

 

Just displaying the current events of the day.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply
#3

Quote: "HAMISH ROBERTSON: Exactly 60-years ago one of the world's most exquisite cities, a jewel of art and architecture that had come to symbolise the cultural and intellectual achievements of European civilisation, was destroyed in just two successive days of bombing by British, Canadian and American aircraft." Sorry, I cant feel the same way. We did not start that war. Also, what has been left out is that on the outskirts of Dresden were many "war machine" factories, railways and the likes. London

and Coventry were Kraut targets in bombings, remember? London was continually bombed and firebombed by the Krauts. It also had many art places destroyed. Just where is the difference?? It was war, and one we did not start. Someone always looses.

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#4

I agree. People have a hard time making distinctions concerning war. War is war. It is NEVER pretty, it always has consequences and it is always easy for people to make comments 40 or 50 or 60 years later and condemn the decisions made by generals and those in power at the time.

 

As you said, we didn't start the war, we just tried to end it. I loved the line,

 

London was continually bombed and firebombed by the Krauts. It also had many art places destroyed. Just where is the difference??

 

Why aren't those same people complaining about bombing of London? You certainly don't hear their voices. But they are so quick to condemn the Allies. :pdt33:

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply
#5

I heard an interesting comment on Dresden from a Veteran of the RAF Bomber Command recently:

 

"For One thing....Germany started the war....we didn't. Two....for every day of the war Germany averaged the slaughter of 10,000 people per day."

 

 

Out of curiosity I did the math, and it worked out correctly, and perhaps even a bit under.... to 21,120,000 people in 6 years. In Russia alone it has been estimated that the Nazis killed 19,000,000. The RAF veteran also pointed this out, noting that you seldom hear anything about the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed during the seige of Leningrad.

Certainly, all loss of life is tragic in war, but I would have to agree that far too much has been made of the bombing of Dresden when you look at the Big Picture. That's my opinion anyway.

 

Jim :woof:

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