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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 February, 2005, 17:44 GMT
Dresden raid still a raw nerve
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Dresden, Germany

Residents and emergency workers line up bodies after the bombing of Dresden
At least 35,000 people died in the Allied firebombing raid on Dresden
Holger Apfel sits underneath a map of Germany showing its 1937 borders, including territories lost to Poland after the war.

Germany has renounced any claim on these lands and you will not find maps like this in the offices of other politicians in Dresden.

But since winning election to the Saxony state assembly last autumn, Mr Apfel has decorated his new workplace in a style that reflects the tastes of his National Democratic Party (NPD).

Next to the map there is a heroic painting of a World War I German sailor, his ship disappearing beneath the waves as Allied vessels lurk menacingly in the background.

"There's a lot to be proud of in German history, you can't reduce it to 12 years of National Socialist leadership," he says.

We've set ourselves the goal of ending the one-sided culture of victimhood in Germany
Holger Apfel
National Democratic Party

But asked whether there is anything to be proud of during the era of Nazi rule itself, he is evasive.

The mainstream parties in Germany regard the NPD as a dangerous far-right group and the government tried - unsuccessfully - to ban it.

Now, the party is at the centre of controversy surrounding the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.

Last month NPD deputies walked out of a minute's silence for Holocaust victims and Mr Apfel described the attack on this city as a "bombing Holocaust".

Bitter memories

"We've set ourselves the goal of ending the one-sided culture of victimhood in Germany, which only remembers victims from other countries and ignores the suffering of Germans," he tells me.

"The term 'Holocaust' comes from Greek and it means 'victim of fire'. I'm not trying to draw parallels but to point to the unique quality of this Anglo-American horror."

The city of Dresden in flames three days after the Allied bombing raid
Some argue Dresden was not a legitimate military target

Mr Apfel is actually a Rhinelander, not a native of Dresden. But his message does find some resonance in a city which has never really come to terms with the Allied bombing of 13-14 February 1945.

The raid itself was totally unexpected - and it is not just the far-right who argue that Dresden was not a legitimate military target.

"There are some people here who have difficulties to find adequate terms for this experience and in their memory it is such a shock that they like to accept even historical lies," says Dresden-based historian Oliver Reinhard.

"Some people in Dresden have sympathy for anyone who says the official number of deaths is wrong, that in fact it was much higher."

Why Dresden?

Far-right groups have claimed as many as 250,000 people died, but the official figures are bad enough: 35,000 dead in firestorms caused by an attack that came just months before the end of the war.

Critics say there was no military reason for it but others argue that Dresden was an important logistical point close behind German lines, as the Red Army approached from the east.

In her chilly villa overlooking Dresden from a hilly suburb east of the river Elbe, Helga Sievers vividly remembers the bombing.

The rebuilt cupola of Dresden's Frauenkirche, destroyed in the bombing
A British charity helped raise funds to rebuild Dresden's cathedral

"It changed my life. Afterwards my studies were over, my house was destroyed," she says.

Mrs Sievers was a 20-year-old Red Cross nurse at the time. She recalls burying her face in the dirt as the bombs fell around her.

Next to her, a German officer covered his head with a briefcase.

"Afterwards, he said he'd heard some shrapnel fall nearby and we all started looking for it. No-one could find it - until he noticed that it was embedded in his briefcase."

Mrs Sievers has no time for any form of retrospective criticism of the Allied attack.

"War is war," she says. "The only crime is starting a war in the first place. Once it gets started, no one pays any attention to rules and regulations - it's a question of survival. That's how war is."

Your comments

Dresden was a horrible event in which thousands lost their lives. As one who has a close relationship with a German family, it underscores the incredible folly of war, which has always been manufactured by a few policy makers. It is through their ministrations that millions lose their lives. The lesson is all of us, no matter what country we reside in, must raise our voices against war.
Frank, USA

I have visited Dresden back in 2004. I finally saw what bombed buildings looked like (I am an American and I am 25). The Germans are not the only ones who should not forget both wars, but I think the entire world should not forget the wars; or any wars. Let us not repeat history.
Rachel, USA

Yes, I think we should acknowledge that the Germans cannot forget this tragic experience of WWII and the effect it had on people's lives. The people should be allowed to mourn their losses.
Montgomery Christoph, Sussex, England

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