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Dresden marks WWII bombing in far-right stronghold

dw.com logo dw.com 2/13/2020 Ben Knight

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier did his best to balance German aggression and victimhood at the 75th anniversary of the Dresden bombing, one of the most politically difficult events marking the end of World War II.

Provided by Deutsche Welle © picture-alliance/dpa/J. Büttner Provided by Deutsche Welle

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier choose his words carefully while marking maybe the most difficult of all anniversaries linked to the end of the World War II — the bombing of Dresden — on Thursday.

"When we remember the history of the bombing war in our country today, then we remember both: the suffering of the people in German cities, and the suffering that Germans inflicted on others," he said during a speech at Dresden's Kulturpalast concert hall in a ceremony attended by British Ambassador Sebastian Wood and a host of Saxon politicians.

"We don't forget," he continued. "It was Germans who started this horrific war, and by the end it was millions of Germans who carried it out — not all, but then many out of conviction."

Some 25,000 people lost their lives, with many burning to death, over the initial three days of the British bombing. The military operation was continued by other Allied forces in the weeks that followed, just months before the end of the war.

"Within a few hours the bombs destroyed much of what people here in Dresden had built over centuries," said Steinmeier. "Who the bombs struck was left to chance. They fell on children, women, and men, on Dresdeners and on refugees from East Prussia and Silesia. They fell on soldiers and on prisoners of war, on Nazis and on Gestapo members as well as on resistance fighters, forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners."

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An alternative vigil

The official mourning ceremonies in Dresden on February 13 always take place under a cloud of wariness. As dignitaries gather in concert halls to listen to speeches and Mozart requiems, so too does the country's far-right scene, which has made the 1945 Dresden bombings the symbol of how the Allies rewrote the history of World War II.

For many years, there was a bitter debate about the true death toll of the attack. Using inflated numbers first propagated by the Nazi regime, neo-Nazis still portray the bombing as a war crime that murdered up to 300,000 people. A 2010 historical investigation commissioned by the city, which established that 25,000 were killed over the three nights, did little to assuage the day's fraught nature.

Annual processions by the far right have become a regular feature of the Dresden anniversary, an event which in recent years has been taken over by the Alternative for Germany (AfD). Members of Germany's most successful far-right party since the war were on hand again this Thursday, setting up an "info-point" on Dresden's Altmarkt Square ahead of a vigil in the evening, a nationalist parallel to the official commemorations.

"We decided not to talk about the numbers at all this year," one AfD member told DW guardedly, referring to the procession. "It doesn't matter how many it was."

"The other events try to relativize this devastating bombing of Dresden, and put it into the context of what happened around the world," said Jörg Urban, head of the AfD in Saxony, told DW. "They talk about the civil wars that happen around the world, saying that this kind of thing happens everywhere, and forget that we as a city had an individual fate. For Dresdeners, commemorating the victims has always been an identity-forming event. We want to keep it as a local Dresden event."

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Author: Ben Knight

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