Feb 16, 2015
Seventy years ago, the U.S., allied with Britain, unleashed a massive firebombing of the city of Dresden, leaving behind an enormous massacre in a place that had no military or industrial objective for ending World War II. From February of 1942 until the end of the war, a thousand German cities suffered American and British bombardments, reducing some cities and their people to ashes. The bombers didn’t aim at German industrial sites, except occasionally; nor did they bomb the railway lines leading to the concentration camps. Their targets were residential, aiming at the working populations, with an estimated 600,000 German civilians killed during these bombardments.
Just after the war, the conquerors made the German people collectively responsible for the catastrophe and horrors of Nazism, refusing to distinguish among the torturers in power and the population victimized by the dictatorship. For several decades, it was forbidden to complain about the suffering of the population during the war and under the Allied occupation, a suffering presented as a rightful punishment.
And for 25 years the neo-Nazis spit out their lies and used the tragedy of Dresden to justify their nauseating ideology. Every year around the date of the firestorm, they organized in Dresden, pretending to honor the dead, pretending the Nazi regime was victimized by the imperialist powers, daring to talk of a “holocaust of bombs,” in a way designed to deny the extermination of millions of Jews.
This has become the main gathering of neo-Nazis. In recent months, numerous anti-immigrant demonstrations were organized there by Pegida, an extreme right group.
On the night of February 13, 1945, the U.S. rulers organized an incendiary bombing of Dresden for 14 hours, destroying the city methodically in a type of bombardment unknown up to that moment – even though the war was already lost for Germany. The city numbered 630,000 inhabitants before the war; by February of 1945, numerous children evacuated from other bombed out cities, 25,000 prisoners of war from the Allied side, workers doing forced labor from several countries had been added. And an estimated 600,000 refugees had fled there to escape the war in previous weeks, including women, children, the elderly and the sick fleeing from the east as the Red Army made its offensive westward toward Germany. So Dresden held between 1.2 and 1.4 million people, including hundreds of thousands who had no shelter to go to in case of air raids.
At a time when many German cities were already destroyed, there was a tenacious rumor circulating that the Allies would never bomb Dresden, one of the most beautiful of all German cities, with no military or industrial significance. Dresden had numerous hospitals filled with civilian casualties and refugees. The German authorities, also assuming Dresden would not be targeted, had placed their anti-aircraft guns in regions more in danger of Allied bombing in the weeks prior to February 13. It’s the reason so many had fled there in the previous months and weeks, to a city known as “Florence on the Elbe River.”
The shock of those first hours of bombing was enormous, as three waves of British-American bombers razed Dresden that night. Many Germans had thought that if the Allies were bold enough to bomb Dresden, there was no place they would not bomb; people should expect much worse. A sinister joke circulated amid the ruins of the destroyed German cities: make the most of the war – the peace will be worse.
On the night of the 13th of February, waves of bombs were dropped by the U.S. and Britain – in a tactic called a “firestorm,” using both explosives and incendiary bombs. Some 460,000 bombs smashed buildings, blowing out doors and windows. Then came the incendiaries, laced with phosphorus to spread a terrifying firestorm throughout Dresden. The fire, of a violence previously unknown, unleashed a hurricane of fire from which nothing could escape, reducing tens of thousands of inhabitants who had disappeared into their homes to ashes. Those taking refuge in caves or underground shelter died of asphyxiation. Then more planes flew low over the city to machine-gun ambulances and fire trucks and columns of refugees trying to flee the burning city. Dresden burned for seven hours. The number of victims could never be firmly established, but estimates count more than 200,000 dead that one night.
What was the reason for this crime, for unleashing a war of terror against the people? It was not retaliation for the crimes of the Nazi Third Reich, whatever some said afterward. A Communist Party militant, writing in 1944 from the Ravensbruck concentration camp where she was incarcerated, put it: “In German cities lived people I loved and people I knew who were enemies of Nazism. I am sure most of them died, because incendiary bombs and phosphorus bombs make no distinctions.”
The deliberate murder of civilians and wounded people, the catastrophe suffered by Nazi supporters and opponents alike, caused hatred to grow against those who had bombed them, and even brought an amount of support to the Nazi regime. The masses of people felt plunged into terror, demoralized, resigned, without an alternative to the Nazi regime.
In reality, the bombing campaign was a terrible blow to those in Germany trying to resist, who had been waiting years for the moment when they could act against the Nazi dictatorship. The Nazi state was collapsing: the general chaos could offer a chance to the working class to organize, to intervene, to try to take power – as it had tried to do at the end of World War I in 1918.
That was what the U.S. and Britain were afraid of; that was the reason they tried to destroy the German population with their bombs. They didn’t want to leave the slightest hope. The allied forces were not coming to liberate the German people from dictatorship, but to treat them all as enemies they had conquered. To kill, terrorize, demoralize, and disperse the population – to leave them in a condition to make them accept this fate and to put up with the occupation to come.