“On the evening of February 13 the catastrophe overtook Dresden: the bombs fell, the houses collapsed, the phosphorus flowed, the burning beams crashed…” – Viktor Klemperer, diary 1945
It is ironic that a German city would come to symbolize a war of such brutality and inhumanity. Dresden was an architectural and cultural prize representing a baroque and humanist gem on the Elbe River. The city would become a very different symbol in 1945. The bombing of Dresden between February 13-15, 1945 caused great controversy over the necessity for such catastrophic Allied bombings when Germany was already close to defeat. Almost 4,000 tons of bombs were dropped on Dresden, resulting in approximately 25,000 casualties (although German propaganda certainly attempted to inflate the number of estimated casualties). Indeed, Dresden’s industry was a crucial component of the Nazi war machine, having housed over 50,000 workers who supported the German war effort. Dresden was symbolic, but it remains a stain on an already bloody war.
The controversy around the bombing of Dresden has not waned 70 years since it occurred. The moral and ethical debate has remain impassioned and historical research is ongoing. Reports of Soviet pressure on British and American forces to carry out the bombings to ease Soviet advances has been suggested, in addition to off-handed remarks by Allied officials about “destroying German morale” have continued to fuel emotions on both sides of the debate. What is known is that Allied bombings over Dresden largely targeted the civilian and city-centre district – leaving most of the city’s industry untouched. Dresden had also become by 1945 a convergence point for German refugees fleeing the horrors of the Soviet army on the eastern front. It becomes rather easy to succumb to the emotional aspects of WWII, but the atrocities that were carried out by Nazi Germany – and those from among Allied forces (and particularly the Soviets) – will, perhaps unknowingly, always remind us and bring us back to the ‘moral fog’ that surrounds the war, and the countless millions of innocent civilian lives lost. From this viewpoint, no one really won the war.
For more reading and sources investigate the following links:
The official Dresden 1945 memorial page
Two letters (one of which was never sent) by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 1945
Op-ed piece in the Deutsche Welle on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden
The Royal Air Force Account of Dresden 1945
360-degree panorama display of the city of Dresden in 1945