The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: places/germany/dresden/press/jwb.022395

Archive/File: places/germany/dresden/press/jwb.022395
Last-Modified: 1995/03/02
Source: The Jewish Western Bulletin (Vancouver, B.C.) (A1)w


Gestapo had plans for small Dresden community

By Gil Sedan

Dresden, Germany (JTA) - On Feb.  12, 1945, most of the 2,000 Jews who
still lived in the eastern German city of Dresden received a brief
letter from Gestapo headquarters.

They were ordered to report at exactly 6:45 a.m.  on the following
Friday, Feb.  16, to Zeughausstrasse 1, with light luggace sufficient
for "a march of two to three days."

"You must take into account that you will be taken on work duty
outside Dresden," the letter read.  The letter, in fact.  was an
invitation to Theresienstadt, the Czech ghetto that served as a major
transfer point to the extermination camps.

The next evening, the sirens howled.  signaling the start of a
saturation bombing raid that has had few historic parallels.

In a twist of fate for the Jews of Dresden.  the massive air strike
that nearly destroyed their city 50 years ago also saved their lives.
On Feb.  13.  1945, at 9:45 p.m., an armada of the Royal Air Force
covered the skies of Dresden.  showering the city with bombs.  Another
British bombing raid took place a few hours later.  American bombers
completed the devastating attack the next morning.

Between 25,000 and 35,000 Germans were killed in the raids, either
from direct hits or from the ensuing incineration of the city,
Phosphorus bombs dropped by the Brltish created fires so strong that
they generated a Whlrlwind which sucked oxygen from all directions
suffocating those who were not immediately burned to ashes.

Some 12,000 buildings were destroyed, among them the magnificent
Zwinger Museum and the Church of Our Lady, which was considered at the
time the most beautiful Protestant church in all of Europe.

But the bombs also brought deliverance for the city's Jews.

"I wasn't glad about the bombs," said Heinz Hoachim-Aris, the head of
the small Jewish community still living in Dresden.

The community numbers about 90 people, half of them recent immigrants
from the former Soviet Union.

"How can you be glad at death and destruction?" he said.  "But it is a
fact that thanks to those bombs, our deportation to Theresienstadt was

Another Jewish resident of Dresden remembered how she and her mother
went the next morning to the local Gestapo headquarters.  They wanted
to make sure it was no longer there.

Yet another resident, Sara Sabastinsky, returned to Dresden later that
year - from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

She, too, had no desire to rejoice over the tragedy of Dresden.

"But as I looked at the ruins, I was glad at one thing only - that I
survived," she recalled.

The bombing of Dresden is one of the more controversial chapters in
the history of World War II.

Germans maintain that Dresden at the time had no strategic importance.
Far from having military installations worth targeting, the city was
crowded with civilians - mostly elderly people, women, and children -
as well as refugees who were fleeing from the advancing forces of the
Red Army.

The Allied command maintained in turn that it had decided to bomb
Dresden as part of a concentrated effort to put a quick end to the
war.  British and American military leaders also sought to reach
Berlin before the advancing Red Army, whose forces were only about 140
miles from Dresden when the bombing took place.

Against this backdrop, Germany commemorated the 50th anniversay of the
bombing of Dresden last week in a series of state ceremonies that were
attended by some 2,000 guests from around the world.

Among the visiting guests was Gen.  John Shalikashvili, chaiman of the
U.S.  joint chiefs of staff, who joined with his British and German
counterparts - and with the Duke of Kent, who represented Queen
Elizabeth - to lay wreaths at a vast local cemetary where many of
those killed in the Dresden raid were buried.

Among the speakers at the various events was German President Roman
Herzog.  Speaking at the Hall of Culture, a large Communist-era
auditorium in Dresden, Herzog urged the nations of the world to pledge
an end to all wars.

But the main point Herzog wanted to drive through was the fact that
Germans, too, had suffered during the war.

He thoroughly rejected the notion that the Dresden bombing was the
price Germany had to pay for its wartime atrocities.

"One canot calculate life against life, pain against pain, horror
against horror," he said.

"If one looks at history merely in terms of states and nations, the
settlement of accounts seems simple.  The Germans started the war, and
just punishment was meted out to them for doing so.

"But this is too simplistic a view," he said.  "Only if one imagines
all those different people who must have died in that night of
destruction does the human tragedy of modern warfare become apparent."

Among those who died in the Dresden raid, Herzog pointed out, were
"Gestapo officers who drew up the lists for the deportation of Jews,"
as well as "the Jews on those lists."

Herzog, as other speakers at the series of commemorative events, did
not attempt to diminish the responsibility of Germany for the horrors
it committed during the war.

Instead, he and other German leaders attempted to strike a balance
between Germany as perpetrator of war crimes and Germany as victim,
particularly during the Dresden bombing.

This line of reasoning was the subject of much debate among Germans in
the days leading up to the commemorations and is likely to continue as
the country attmepts to confront the full reality of its ugly wartime

As Herzog spoke, small groups of demonstrators both inside the Hall of
Culture and outside on the street to protest against what they termed
the "cult of sacrifice" - the glorification, as they saw it, of the
victims of the Dresden bombings.

Other demonstrations were held during the series of commemorations,
with some protesters saying the focus on the Dresden bombing belittled
Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

The German media devoted their full attention to the series of
commemorations.  Newspapers ran article after article about the
Dresden bombing.  Television devoted prime-time hours to an elaborate
account of the historic background of the raid.

Perhaps one of the more memorable statements about the bombing was
made by a veteran British pilot who offered his own viewpoint to a
German television reporter in London.

"At the time," the pilot said, "we were not aware of the dimensions of
Nazi crimes.  Had we known in 1945 what we had learned later, I would
have justified a dozen Dresdens."

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