DRESDEN: Germans on Thursday commemorate 75 years since Allied bombing raids on Dresden killed 25,000 people just three months before the end of World War Two in an operation that still fuels the surging support for the far right to this day.
In a city where resentment over what neo-Nazis call the “bombing holocaust” lingers, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will address a somber ceremony which includes the lighting of candles and formation of a human chain to remember victims.
In a mission to destroy civilian morale even though the war was nearly over, British planes pounded Dresden with a lethal mix of explosive and incendiary bombs on the night of Feb. 13.
They created a firestorm that tore through the streets and laid waste to Dresden’s famous Baroque churches and palaces. US planes joined the attack later and overall, the Allies dropped at least 3,900 tonnes of bombs.
Dresden resident Nora Lang, now 88, was 13 when the bombers destroyed tracts of the city.
“Those were the most horrible hours of my life,” Lang said in her Dresden apartment. “The mortal fear and the helplessness – it all came from above, tonnes of it.”
Nora and her younger brother had been separated from her parents and her older brother but managed to find refuge as buildings all around were destroyed in the inferno.
“I thought maybe this is the end of the war and at the same time I thought it’s the end of the world,” she recalled.
A Historical Commission in 2010 put the long-contested death toll at an official 25,000 people.
Historians say the bombing fed a myth of victimhood invented by the Nazis, taken on by East German Communists and later adopted by the far right.
Today, that manifests itself in annual demonstrations by neo-Nazis from across Europe. Dresden was the cradle of the PEGIDA anti-Islam group and this year, the city is braced for far-right protests on Saturday.
On Monday, Bjoern Hoecke – a radical regional leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), will join a PEGIDA march in Dresden, capital of the state of Saxony and an AfD stronghold.
Hoecke, who wants German history books to be rewritten to emphasize German suffering over that of Jews in World War Two, last week caused a political earthquake with reverberations across the country.
In a move that broke a post-war consensus among established parties to shun the far right, lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in the eastern state of Thuringia voted with the AfD to install a state premier from a third party.
This effectively made the AfD kingmakers, causing a scandal resulting in Merkel’s protegee, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, giving up her ambition of running for chancellor.