- "You guys burnt the place down,
turned it into a single column of flame. More people died there in the
firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined." --Kurt Vonnegut, Jr
- On the evening of February 13, 1945,
an orgy of genocide and barbarism began against a defenseless German city,
one of the greatest cultural centers of northern Europe. Within less than
14 hours not only was it reduced to flaming ruins, but an estimated one-third
of its inhabitants, possibly as many as a half a million, had perished
in what was the worst single event massacre of all time.
- Toward the end of World War II, as Allied
planes rained death and destruction over Germany, the old Saxon city of
Dresden lay like an island of tranquillity amid desolation. Famous as a
cultural center and possessing no military value, Dresden had been spared
the terror that descended from the skies over the rest of the country.
In fact, little had been done to provide the ancient city of artists and
craftsmen with anti-aircraft defenses. One squadron of planes had been
stationed in Dresden for awhile, but the Luftwaffe decided to move the
aircraft to another area where they would be of use. A gentlemen's agreement
seemed to prevail, designating Dresden an "open city."
February 13/14 1945: Holocaust over Dresden, known as the Florence of the
North. Dresden was a hospital city for wounded soldiers. Not one military
unit, not one anti-aircraft battery was deployed in the city. Together
with the 600.000 refugees from Breslau, Dresden was filled with nearly
1.2 million people. Churchill had asked for "suggestions how to blaze
600.000 refugees". He wasn't interested how to target military installations
60 miles outside of Dresden. More than 700.000 phosphorus bombs were dropped
on 1.2 million people. One bomb for every 2 people. The temperature in
the centre of the city reached 1600 o centigrade. More than 260.000 bodies
and residues of bodies were counted. But those who perished in the centre
of the city can't be traced. Approximately 500.000 children, women, the
elderly, wounded soldiers and the animals of the zoo were slaughtered in
On Shrove Tuesday,
February 13, 1945, a flood of refugees fleeing the Red Army 60 miles away
had swollen the city's population to well over a million. Each new refugee
brought fearful accounts of Soviet atrocities. Little did those refugees
retreating from the Red terror imagine that they were about to die in a
horror worse than anything Stalin could devise.
Normally, a carnival atmosphere prevailed in Dresden on Shrove Tuesday.
In 1945, however, the outlook was rather dismal. Houses everywhere overflowed
with refugees, and thousands were forced to camp out in the streets shivering
in the bitter cold.
However, the people felt relatively safe; and although the mood was grim,
the circus played to a full house that night as thousands came to forget
for a moment the horrors of war. Bands of little girls paraded about in
carnival dress in an effort to bolster warning spirits. Half-sad smiles
greeted the laughing girls, but spirits were lifted.
No one realized that in less than 24 hours those same innocent children
would die screaming in Churchill's firestorms. But, of course, no one could
know that then. The Russians, to be sure, were savages, but at least the
Americans and British were "honorable."
So, when those first alarms signaled the start of 14 hours of hell, Dresden's
people streamed dutifully into their shelters. But they did so without
much enthusiasm, believing the alarms to be false, since their city had
never been threatened from the air. Many would never come out alive, for
that "great democratic statesman," Winston Churchill--in collusion
with that other "great democratic statesman," Franklin Delano
Roosevelt--had decided that the city of Dresden was to be obliterated by
What where Churchill's motives? They appear to have been political, rather
than military. Historians unanimously agree that Dresden had no military
value. What industry it did have produced only cigarettes and china.
But the Yalta Conference was coming up, in which the Soviets and their
Western allies would sit down like ghouls to carve up the shattered corpse
of Europe. Churchill wanted a trump card--a devastating "thunderclap
of Anglo-American annihilation"--with which to "impress"
That card, however, was never played at Yalta, because bad weather delayed
the originally scheduled raid. Yet Churchill insisted that the raid be
carried out--to "disrupt and confuse" the German civilian population
behind the lines.
Dresden's citizens barely had time to reach their shelters. The first bomb
fell at 10:09 p.m. The attack lasted 24 minutes, leaving the inner city
a raging sea of fire. "Precision saturation bombing" had created
the desired firestorm.
- A firestorm is caused when hundreds of
smaller fires join in one vast conflagration. Huge masses of air are sucked
in to feed the inferno, causing an artificial tornado. Those persons unlucky
enough to be caught in the rush of wind are hurled down entire streets
into the flames. Those who seek refuge underground often suffocate as oxygen
is pulled from the air to feed the blaze, or they perish in a blast of
white heat--heat intense enough to melt human flesh.
- One eyewitness who survived told of seeing
"young women carrying babies running up and down the streets, their
dresses and hair on fire, screaming until they fell down, or the collapsing
buildings fell on top of them."
There was a three-hour
pause between the first and second raids. The lull had been calculated
to lure civilians from their shelters into the open again. To escape the
flames, tens of thousands of civilians had crowded into the Grosser Garten,
a magnificent park nearly one and a half miles square.
The second raid came at 1:22 a.m. with no warning. Twice as many bombers
returned with a massive load of incendiary bombs. The second wave was designed
to spread the raging firestorm into the Grosser Garten.
It was a complete "success." Within a few minutes a sheet of
flame ripped across the grass, uprooting trees and littering the branches
of others with everything from bicycles to human limbs. For days afterward,
they remained bizarrely strewn about as grim reminders of Allied sadism.
At the start of the second air assault, many were still huddled in tunnels
and cellars, waiting for the fires of the first attack to die down. At
1:30 a.m. an ominous rumble reached the ears of the commander of a Labor
Service convoy sent into the city on a rescue mission. He described it
"The detonation shook the cellar walls. The sound of the explosions
mingled with a new, stranger sound which seemed to come closer and closer,
the sound of a thundering waterfall; it was the sound of the mighty tornado
howling in the inner city."
- MELTING HUMAN FLESH
- Others hiding below ground died. But
they died painlessly--they simply glowed bright orange and blue in the
darkness. As the heat intensified, they either disintegrated into cinders
or melted into a thick liquid--often three or four feet deep in spots.
Shortly after 10:30 on the morning of February 14, the last raid swept
over the city. American bombers pounded the rubble that had been Dresden
for a steady 38 minutes. But this attack was not nearly as heavy as the
However, what distinguished this raid was the cold-blooded ruthlessness
with which it was carried out. U.S. Mustangs appeared low over the city,
strafing anything that moved, including a column of rescue vehicles rushing
to the city to evacuate survivors. One assault was aimed at the banks of
the Elbe River, where refugees had huddled during the horrible night.
In the last year of the war, Dresden had become a hospital town. During
the previous night's massacre, heroic nurses had dragged thousands of crippled
patients to the Elbe. The low-flying Mustangs machine-gunned those helpless
patients, as well as thousands of old men, women and children who had escaped
When the last plane left the sky, Dresden was a scorched ruin, its blackened
streets filled with corpses. The city was spared no horror. A flock of
vultures escaped from the zoo and fattened on the carnage. Rats swarmed
over the piles of corpses.
A Swiss citizen described his visit to Dresden two weeks after the raid:
"I could see torn-off arms and legs, mutilated torsos and heads which
had been wrenched from their bodies and rolled away. In places the corpses
were still lying so densely that I had to clear a path through them in
order not to tread on arms and legs."
- Kurt Vonnegut was in Dresden when it
was bombed in 1945, and wrote a famous anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse Five,
- In February 1945,
Vonnegut was witness to another pretty good imitation of Mt Vesuvius; the
firebombing by Allied forces of Dresden, the town in eastern Germany, during
the last months of the Second World War. More than 600,000 incen-diary
bombs later, the city looked more like the surface of the moon. Returning
home to India-napolis after the war, Vonnegut began writing short stories
for magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post, and, seven
years later, published his first novel, Player Piano. ...
- Finally, in 1969, he tackled the subject
of war, recounting his experiences as a POW in Dresden, forced to dig corpses
from the rubble. The resulting novel was Slaughterhouse Five. Banned in
several US states - and branded a "tool of the devil" in North
Dakota - it carried the snappy alternative title: "The Children's
Crusade: A Duly Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, a fourth-generation
German-American now living in easy circumstances on Cape Cod (and smoking
too much) who, as an American infantry scout hors de combat, as a prisoner
of war, witnessed the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany - the Florence of
the Elbe - a long time ago, and survived to tell the tale: this is a novel
somewhat in the telegraphic schizopfrenic manner of tales of the planet
Tralfamodre, where the flying saucers come from, Peace." ....
- In December 1944, Vonnegut was captured
by the German army and became a prisoner of war. In Slaughterhouse Five,
he describes how he narrowly escaped death a few months later in the firebombing
of Dresden. "Yes, by your people [the English], may I say," he
insists. "You guys burnt the place down, turned it into a single column
of flame. More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame,
than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. I'm fond of your people,
on occasion, but I was just thinking about 'Bomber Harris, who believed
in attacks on civilian populations to make them give up. A hell of a lot
of Royal Air Force guys were ashamed of what Harris had made them do. And
that's really sportsmanship and, of course, the Brits are famous for being
good sports," he concedes.
- The Independent, London, 20 December
2001, p. 19
- The death toll was staggering. The full
extent of the Dresden Holocaust can be more readily grasped if one considers
that well over 250,000 -- possibly as many as a half a million -- persons
died within a 14-hour period, whereas estimates of those who died at Hiroshima
range from 90,000 to 140,000.*
Allied apologists for the massacre have often "twinned" Dresden
with the English city of Coventry. But the 380 killed in Coventry during
the entire war cannot begin to compare with over 1,000 times that number
who were slaughtered in 14 hours at Dresden. Moreover, Coventry was a munitions
center, a legitimate military target. Dresden, on the other hand, produced
only china--and cups and saucers can hardly be considered military hardware!
It is interesting to further compare the respective damage to London and
Dresden, especially when we recall all the Hollywood schmaltz about the
"London blitz." In one night, 1,600 acres of land were destroyed
in the Dresden massacre. London escaped with damage to only 600 acres during
the entire war.
In one ironic note, Dresden's only conceivable military target -- its railroad
yards -- was ignored by Allied bombers. They were too busy concentrating
on helpless old men, women and children.
If ever there was a war crime, then certainly the Dresden Holocaust ranks
as the most sordid one of all time. Yet there are no movies made today
condemning this fiendish slaughter; nor did any Allied airman--or Sir Winston--sit
in the dock at Nuremberg. In fact, the Dresden airmen were actually awarded
medals for their role in this mass murder. But, of course, they could not
have been tried, because there were "only following orders."
This is not to say that the mountains of corpses left in Dresden were ignored
by the Nuremberg Tribunal. In one final irony, the prosecution presented
photographs of the Dresden dead as "evidence" of alleged National
Socialist atrocities against Jewish concentration-camp inmates!
Churchill, the monster who ordered the Dresden slaughter, was knighted,
and the rest is history. The cold-blooded sadism of the massacre, however,
is brushed aside by his biographers, who still cannot bring themselves
to tell how the desire of one madman to "impress" another one
let to the mass murder of up to a half million men, women and children.