translated by Laila Trevor
|When I was 6 years old I experienced the destruction of Dresden by
British and American bombs. Despite we lived in a house about 8 kilometers
apart from the center of the town, that night of horror the 13th February
1945 has left an indelible mark on my memory.
Throughout my childhood I recall the center of the city as an endless desert of ruins where therefore us was no reason to go apart from crossing it on bicycle by tram or on foot.
Until when I was about 20 and developed a certain knowledge of the political and military historical connections to the WWII, I had very little idea that Dresdens fall was the last horrendous answer to the bombings of Rotterdam, London, Coventry and other cities.
Dresden in ruins
by Karl Kroener
|It was the droning and continous noice of engines which on the eve
of Shroves Tuesday made my father leave the house. He saw the sky lit by
flares, so-called X-mas trees, and he dashed back indoors only to find
my mother in shock over the radio message that a stream of bombers were
on their way towards Dresden. The alarm must have failed, the sirens wailing
was accompagnied by the first bombs exploding. We children were pulled
from the beds and dressed in the cellar.
Meanwhile the house was shaking, the windows rattling and the lights went out under the rhytm of the blanket bombing with their rumbling volleys. The poor people the poor people my mother repeated with a shaking voice. The next half or whole hour seemed endless before we risked leave the cellar to go outside. Opressed by the sight of the purple sky above the burning city, we stood together with the neighbours at the gardengate, while explosions could be heard in the distance and the sound of the firebrigade´s sirens, as they drove towards the sea of flames and a certain dead. Once again in bed I remember lying listening to the distant explosions. Time-bombs I was told. My mothers sinister premonition came true. One o´clock in the morning, a new even more voilent attack drove us underground once again. In the morning we had to be evacuated because of a suspected time bomb nearby. By midday the bombs were again falling like hail. This time surburbia also suffered. From there streams of people escaped in haste in order to look for refuge with relatives or friends in the countryside. For days fat black clouds of smoke blew past us and it rained soot and burnt bits of paper.
The first news of horror reached us, my aunt Lotte had lost both her legs. News of who had escaped the fire of hell, news of who had lost everything. News of the many friends who had gone missing and about the heaps of small chared bodies. My younger brother´s godmother dug out from under her collapsed house by soldiers was thrown on a heap of dead bodies. There she slowly regained consciousness. Remaining speachless for months because of the shock and the poisonous fumes she recovered and started to live a normal life. Our aunt Kaethe only managed to save the clothes she was in, as she escaped from her burning house in the inner city, but she never lost her indomitable zest for life. During the following nights bombings she entertained the children in the cellar such exiting stories that they refused to leave the shelter when the sirens called off the alarm. That was before psychological shock treatment was discovered.
Our parents tried to protect us from all the horrors, but I recall the mountains of bricks, the emty sooty windows, the lonely chimneys, the destroyed houses and churches and the endless landscape of ruins.
These were the remains of the city which the world once flocked to, to go enjoy the many beautiful buildings, to go to the famous opera, to see Raphael´s Sistine Madonna and other works by masters in the Gemaelde Gallery, listen to the Silbermann organ under the cupola of the Frauenkirche, wonder over Dinglinger´s art in gold in Gruenes Gewoelbe, promenade on the Bruehlsche Terrasse or to go shopping at Prager Strasse.
It is assumed that Winston Churchill at the Yalta conference promised
Stalin an event which could accelerate the German retreat and demoralize
Neither the train stations nor the bridges over the River Elbe or the
factories were within the precisely marked death zone. The people who did
not manage to escape before the city center was transformed into a huge
furnace, were burned alive or succumbed in the boiling asphalt, were crushed
under collapsing houses or suffoced by CO2 in the cellars, or by the inferno
which whirled them into a sea of flames.
The survivers sufferings had not ended. Midday the following day 400 flying fortresses without mercy hammered the fleeing hordes. While we still were sitting perplexed hiding in the school´s shelter, my father, who two years earlier had lost a leg in an accident and therefore could not be at the front, biked to his office in the Zeiss Ikon factory. Everything there was in flames. The building where his office had stood was totally levelled to the ground.
When the inforno stilled the town´s cindered stone desert was covered with dead bodies. The following days carts drove to the mass graves at the Heidefriedhof. But the burrials could not be carried out fast enough. As the threat of epidemics was serious 7000 bodies were heaped up on Altmarkt doused with petrol and burned. Thousands of victims were never found and many not until the cellars were opened at a much later date.
The exact death toll was impossible to estimate. The propaganda suggested 250.000 dead. Others insisted the number was 100.000. While the impression today is that the number is nearer 35.000 dead.
Dresden and its inhabitants will to live was not totally crushed. After
the Nazi regime´s collapse the tidying up and the reconstruction
began. At first at a slow pace, then with increasingly greater speed.
Today 60 years after the destruction of Dresden and 15 years after the
fall of the Berlin Wall, Dresden once again has become a very attractive
city and not least because of the beautiful surroundings.