How Dresden Looked After a World War II Firestorm 75 Years Ago

Germany commemorated 75 years since the Allied bombing devastated the city. But the milestone has taken on new meaning with the rise of the far right.

“Today, when we remember the history of the bombings in our country, we remember both the suffering of people in German cities and the suffering that Germans inflicted on others,” President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a speech at the official ceremony on Thursday.

“We, as Germans, do not forget our guilt and we remain true to our responsibility,” he said. “Always.”

In the days after the bombing on Feb. 13, 1945, the Nazi propaganda ministry declared the Dresden bombing a “terror attack,” circulating reports that up to 200,000 people had perished. These numbers persisted for decades, and Dresden was cast as an innocent victim of war.

Like many of the Jews who survived the Holocaust, the number of people who remember the inferno that engulfed the city are dying out.

Ursula Elsner was 14 when the bombs fell. In an interview with Der Spiegel, she recalled her mother dragging her and her brother out of bed to hide in the cellar as the sirens wailed. When the house caught fire, they emerged and spent hours clinging to a lamppost as the hot winds of the firestorm raged around them, she said.

Now 89, she said the anniversary should serve as a warning against war, not be misused for political gain.

“This day belongs to us,” she said.

As evening fell on Thursday, residents stood in the rain and joined hands in a human chain that snaked through the wet streets, encircling the heart of the city, a tradition that began several years ago when the tactic was used to block a neo-Nazi march.

Far-right groups plan to mark the anniversary with a demonstration on Saturday.

Mr. Steinmeier urged Germans to push back against efforts to contradict or play down their country’s responsibility for the crimes of World War II.

“Whoever pits the dead of Dresden against the dead of Auschwitz, whoever seeks to talk down German wrongs, whoever falsifies improved knowledge and historical facts,” he said, “we as democrats must loudly and clearly contradict them. We must defy them.”

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