Seventy years ago on Friday, February 13, bombs rained down on Dresden, killing thousands and leaving many thousands more without a home.
On the anniversary of the bombing by British and American forces, far-right extremists hope to divert attention away from the planned commemorations to the xenophobic Pegida movement. The city, more than any other in Germany, has been a hotspot of weekly demonstrations, attended by thousands of neo-Nazis.
“Dresden has a dynamic protest culture,” said Saxony’s state Interior Minister Markus Ulbig, who hopes to be elected the city’s mayor in June, in a display of political understatement.
It remains to be seen how events unfold during the city's many planned activities.
In the waning days of the Second World War, more than 25,000 people died in a fiery inferno caused by Allied bombing, now largely considered unnecessary to defeat the Nazis. The Saxon city, once called “Florence on the Elbe,” was reduced to rubble.
Video: Footage of the bombing of Dresden.
Remembering that dark day in 1945 has always been a balancing act for Germans.
Members of the socialist Left party are boycotting the main remembrance ceremony because of German President Joachim Gauck, a speaker, who has said Germany should be prepared to use military means to defend human rights.
In total, there will be 17 different events to commemorate the tragedy, including a cultural festival for a “tolerant Dresden” and run for peace from the city’s marathon club.
Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz has called on the democratic forces to unite in the city. “Despite all our differences, we are unified in our respect for human dignity and support our democratic society,” she said.
The main commemoration Friday afternoon will be held in the Frauenkirche, the church completely destroyed in the bombardment that was later rebuilt to become a symbol of reconciliation between former enemies. Britain’s Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent, will join President Gauck at the ceremony. All churches across Dresden will ring their bells shortly before 10pm, when the first wave of bombs began to rain down on the city.
In total, there will be 17 different events to commemorate the tragedy, including a cultural festival for a “tolerant Dresden” and run for peace from the city’s marathon club. Members of the upstart populist party Alternative for Germany, AfD, which has openly flirted with the xenophobic Pegida supporters, will also stage a wreath-laying ceremony with an estimated 50 people.
Video: Dresden after the bombing.
Ms. Orosz and Mr. Gauck will take part in a human chain at 6 p.m. in the city’s historic center. Some 11,000 people are expected to take part, including the state premier of Saxony, Stanislaw Tillich. In a statement, he called the chain a “poignant reminder, but also a strong showing against racism, xenophobia, and the misuse of this date by right-wing extremists.”
Another large event on Friday will point to how the Nazis’ crimes led up to the tragic bombardment. Leaders of the Left and the Green parties have announced they will attend.
February 13 must be “a day of remembrance against intolerance, nationalism, and misanthropy,” said Christin Bahnert, head of Saxony’s Green party. Some 3,000 people are expected to take part in that march this afternoon and a pastor, Lothar König, will hold a prayer for peace “against the victim myth.”
To avoid the street fighting that occurred at commemorations in 2011, the police intend to deescalate any confrontations before they get out of hand.
Video: British report of the Dresden bombing.
This article originally appeared in Der Tagespiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]