Ash Wednesday

I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives, such as oil and communications behind the immediate battle-zone, rather than on mere acts of terror and wanton destruction, however impressive.

– Winston Churchill

Ash Wednesday has become enjoyably lighthearted: a pancake hangover, the beginning of a half-arsed religious-cum-spiritual journey of expedient abstinence, or perhaps an excuse to bubble a bigger bong by prefixing the day’s namesake with ‘H’.

Ash Wednesday’s a wholly less holy day in our history.

From Ash Wednesday 13th through to the Friday the 15th of February 1945, the city of Dresden was turned to ash.

The city of Dresden sat on the cusp of Germany’s eastern border. A former Wehrmacht railway hub, Dresden wasn’t much a military hub even when Germany had the edge: the prewar economy was centered around its cultural institutions (a veritable mecca of European art, theater and museums) and local commerce rather than military industry.

Germany was on the back foot; and it’d buckled. Imperial pragmatism had Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt hosted in Yalta by Joseph Stalin – they sat roundtable, smoked cigars, drank whiskey and got the nitty-gritties sorted before the inevitable fall of the Reich.

Dresden was universally known to have been operating as a ‘hospital’ city: offering wartime succor to refugees fleeing merciless hordes from the Soviet east, prisoners of war from the Allied west, military and civilian casualties from all sides and domestic refugees told of the city’s military insignificance and, therefore, safety.

The Germans had assumed the city safe from siege: the host of hospitals, POW and refugee camps notwithstanding, the strategic worth was such that air defence, along with ground force, was withdrawn in favour of protecting Berlin.

With victory as assured as assumed, and the formality of German surrender just three months away, the Anglo-American bombing began on Ash Wednesday 1945.

And so did the wholesale immolation of a predominantly civilian populace – war-wearied residents, myriad casualties, POWs, refugees – on the pyre of a defenceless European cultural hub.

Of the two days of cruelly calculated carpet-bombing, the industries of legitimate target were destroyed within hours. The white phosphorous and incendiary ordnance fell focused to fuel a firestorm: the brightness of the blaze bleared some 500 miles and, upon their approach, illuminated bombers’ cockpits. I cannot (need not) further detail.

Columns of countless refugee families incoming eastward and myriad fleeing westward, including British POWs making eager escape, were cynically strafed before, during and after the mass immolation, by Anglo-American aerial machine gun and cannon fire.

The London Blitz – lasting two years – killed 13,500.

The Dresden Blitz – lasting two days – killed, by credible estimates, 200,000.

Estimates inclusive of the eastern exodus, POW and refugee counts would raise the toll to a figure many (and some many more) tens of thousands higher.

For due context: the atomic bombs detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki are estimated (conservatively and, arguably, misleadingly so) at killing 200,000.

(Note: these are all contentious figures; but you’ll be safe to bet your bare bottom buck on the Establishment figure being laughably lower than that of the academic historian and many independent researchers’ figures often being even higher.)

The death toll is such that its sheerness, its incomprehensibility, sees it transcend human fathom and therefore… meaning? Suffice it to say it’s hard for (at least this) one mind to grasp how so statistical a figure can be perished or irrevocably maimed for the sake of so few.

As regards politics – just don’t. One cannot seriously dispute Dresden’s import as being scarcely more than marginal; which lends horrid corollary credit to US Chief of Staff George C Marshall’s public assertion that the raid was at Stalin’s behest to tender the track for his tanks’ treads.

I don’t write against or in support of any side to this unfathomably grotesque industrial extermination. I write on the off chance that you, like me, probably once thought Churchill a good guy and, like me, had not a clue about this atrocity.

Just know, this is but one example of historically (concertedly whitewashed and ideologically graffitied) stonewalled realpolitik.

The list goes on – up, down and depressingly through history – to the pristinely washed whitewall of today.

800px-Dresden_photochrom2 1890s

 


I apologise for the bareness: I’d not the constitution to download any photos once searched – the image above is one of Dresden a half-century prior.