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Archive/File: places/germany/dresden/press/dresden.001
Last-Modified: 1995/02/24

Times Colonist, Feb. 9, 1995 (A20)        

Old city bombed to hell

Some Germans put Allied raids on historic target on equal
footing with Auschwitz

By Terrence Petty
The Associated Press
DRESDEN, Germany

The night rained incendiary bombs.  Dresden was in flames. Even the
pavement burned.

Eight-year-old Matthias Griebel cowered in a park with his family,
watching bodies blasted into the treetops while British and American
bombers pounded his city.

"We Dresdeners will never be freed of these images.  They are
impossible to wash away,'' says Griebel, now 57 and director of the
Dresden City Museum.

The air raids on Feb.  13-14, 1945, have been likened to the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima because of the carnage that resulted.  The scenes
of Dresden's terror were replayed in the novel Slaughterhouse Five by
Kurt Vonnegut, who witnessed the attack as a prisoner of war.

A formation of 244 Lancaster bombers dropped incendiaries on Dresden
at 10:15 p.m.  on Feb.  13 and twice as many struck three hours later.
Most of the Lancasters were British but 77 were Canadian.

American B-17s also dropped high explosives shortly after noon on Feb.
14.  No Allied losses were recorded in the raids as the Luftwaffe had
few planes, fewer pilots and no fuel at this point in the war.

The concentration of bombs un leashed a mammoth firestorm tha
destroyed most of Dresden - a ba roque city renowned for its architec
tural splendors.  After seven days of fires, it was a wasteland of
rubble and smouldering corpses.

Some 11,916 buildings were wrecked.  The flames could be seen 100
kilometres away.

"In an old city like Dresden, once the fires got going it was very
difficult to stop them," said Richard Overy, a history professor at
London University's King's College.

The city had been spared earlier bombings because it was not
considered an important military target.  But the Soviets pressured
the Americans and British to bomb such cities in eastern Germany to
wreck railway and road centres and hinder the movement of Nazi troops
to the eastern front.

The Nazis first said about 70,000 people died but then raised it to
250,000, saying the extras were refugees.  The Communists put it at
about 320,000.  Both figures are considered propaganda.

A new study by Griebel's museum found the death toll was probably
between 25,000 and 35,000.

Young Griebel saw horrors he had never imagined.  Everything was
searing hot.  The sky was orange.

Dresden had celebrated pre-Lenten Carnival on Feb.  13 and some
corpses were still in costumes.  "A dead boy was wearing an Indian
bonnet," Griebel recalls.

People have debated the fire-bombing since it happened.

Some on both sides see it as cruel and senseless because it targeted
civilians and because the Nazis' surrender, on May 8, was so near.
Others argue the raid was pardonable since Germany started the war and
carried out terror bombings on British cities.  

Ralph Giordano, a German-Jewish essayist who barely escaped being sent
to the Auschwitz death camp, believes many Germans who condemn the
firebombing are trying to erase their own guilty feelings over the
Holocaust and the Second World War.

Hans-Joachim Freiershausen, like many Dresdeners, carries a grudge
against British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, who as head of
Britain's Bomber Command ordered the nighttime saturation-bombing of
German cities with incendiary bombs.

"Germans were correctly convicted as war criminals after the war.  But
Harris was one as well," said Freiershausen, who was a 14-year-old
member of the Hitler Youth when Dresden burned.

Most of Dresden's architectural treasures were destroyed or severely
damaged.  The East German Communists rebuilt Dresden in mostly
Stalinist style utilitarian blocks, but restored many of the old
structures.

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