Friday, February 14, 2020 at Dresden, Germany
Over a dozen members of the Berlin Guides Association traveled to Dresden last month to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the controversial Allied bombing on the Saxon capital during the late night and early morning hours of 13./14. February 1945.
Our day was kicked off early with organized transportation picking us up at the former main entrance to Berlin’s iconic Tempelhof Airport, which was once dubbed “the mother of all airports” after the National Socialists expanded it under the direction of Ernst Sagebiel in the 1930s and which eventually became the nerve center of the Berlin Airlift from 1948-1949.
Upon arriving in Dresden, our first stop was the Military History Museum. There, we were given a private and exclusive tour by the museum curator, Dr. Jens Wehner, who provided us with an overview of the permanent exhibition and detailed information about the USAAF and RAF raids on Dresden in February 1945. Dr. Wehner informed us that over 700 heavy bombers of the RAF and over 500 USAAF planes collectively dropped close to 4,000 tons of high explosive bombs and various incendiary tactics, killing around 25,000 people and destroying nearly 2,000 acres of the city’s historic center, which, hitherto, had been dubbed as “Venice on the Elbe”. It’s worth mentioning that the National Socialists first wrongly claimed that over 200,000 people had perished during the air raids to boost their deplorable propaganda, but leading historians now agree that approximately 25,000 innocent lives were lost during this horrific event.
Following our guided tour at the Museum, we then headed into the Alt Stadt (Old Town) to the Neumarkt where members of the Berlin Guides Association’s Board of Directors (Vorstand) laid a wreath of remembrance at the surviving ruins of original Frauenkirche. Built in the 1700s, this church – arguably the heart and soul of Dresden – miraculously survived the bombing raids and only collapsed within hours afterward due to extensive heat caused by the Allied fire bombs. Today, we can all take sober satisfaction in knowing that the newly and beautifully designed Frauenkirche has stood in the same spot of its original predecessor since 2005, and thus once again serves as the heart and soul the city’s historic old town.
Our members then dispersed to all parts of town to explore areas that interested them the most for the rest of day. Several of us visited the Yadegar Asisi panorama, a partner institution of the Berlin Guides Association, which focused on the themes of war and destruction as a result of the devastating air strikes on Dresden in February 1945. This exhibition provides the scenery of the destroyed city, as it looked directly after the bombing with the flames and columns of smoke still seen in many of the countless ruined houses. Victims, as well as survivors, covered with layers of ash who sought refuge during the catastrophe, are discernible amidst the apocalyptic, dystopian landscape that this moving exhibit palpably shows.
Finally, we all rendezvoused at the King Johann statue, in front of the Semperoper, where our transportation back to Berlin was waiting for us. And standing in the middle of that ravishing square, facing east toward the Hofkirche and Residenzschloss, thinking in the context of hundreds of years of the House of Wettin pride, it’s hard to believe that over 80% of the historic city center had been destroyed during that fateful night in February of 1945 given how the old town had been meticulously rebuilt according to its original state over the last forty years.
Before hopping onto the bus back to Berlin, and taking into consideration everything that we’d learned today, it was hard not to reflect on the bombing of Dresden itself and come to realize that, by February of 1945, what had changed during the war was a redefinition of what was a ‘legitimate target’ – that is to say, a ‘legitimate target’ was no longer just simply a city, but rather people in that city who were primarily non-combatant, in what what would result in a virtually redefined total war, so that everybody would become a target.
Unfortunately, this ‘legitimate target’ would be pressed to the max a few months later in Japan.