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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 13:00 GMT
Pforzheim haunted by WWII carnage
By Krysia Diver
Pforzheim, Germany

Rubble in Pforzheim after RAF raid (pic: Pforzheim town archive)
The town was virtually wiped out in just 20 minutes
Sixty years ago, the Black Forest town of Pforzheim boasted picturesque houses, quaint churches and cobbled streets.

Today, the town is a hotchpotch of post-war concrete architecture and a solitary mountain of rubble - a constant reminder of the worst night in the town's history.

Most people are aware of the bombing of Dresden, when 5% of the population was killed in one night.

But not many people realise that 10 days later, an air raid flattened 83% of Pforzheim and wiped out a quarter of the population - 17,000 people - in just 20 minutes.

'Reduced to rubble'

"The town centre was previously full of old wooden houses. There were also fantastic ruins from a medieval castle," says Pforzheim historian Christian Groh.

"But almost everything was reduced to rubble."

On Wednesday, thousands of people carrying candles, including British Ambassador to Germany Sir Peter Torry, will form a chain of light in remembrance of those who died.

"In terms of those killed as a percentage of the total population, no town in Germany suffered as much as Pforzheim," Mr Torry said.

"Sixty years ago, our continent was tearing itself apart in an orgy of destruction... (today) the relationship between Britain and Germany has never been closer."

'It was like hell'

The retired finance director of Pforzheim Town Council, Dieter Bolz, is one survivor who will be at Wednesday's vigil.

Pforzheim before the RAF raid (pic: Pforzheim town archive)
Pforzheim was once a bustling town with a medieval centre

Mr Bolz was only six years old when Britain's RAF destroyed his home town on that cloudless evening.

He recalls the sirens wailing at 1930 local time, when his frantic mother Hedwig Bolz dragged him into the cellar of their terraced house.

"We heard a bomb land in the room above. It exploded and everything shook," said the 66-year-old grandfather.

"The cellar filled up with smoke and we were almost suffocating."

When the deafening explosions stopped, Mrs Bolz tried to open the cellar door, but it was jammed shut.

All the cellars were interconnected, but the neighbouring families were also locked in.

The fourth house along belonged to Mr Bolz's violin teacher, an elderly blind man, whose cellar door the survivors managed to wedge open.

"One of our neighbours owned an orchard and his cellar was full of barrels of cider," Mr Bolz said.

"We drenched ourselves in cider and ran outside. All I could see was flames everywhere. It was like hell.

"The River Enz was only 80 metres away, but I felt like everything was in slow motion and I thought I'd never make it to the river."

Mass grave

On the river bank, thousands of shivering families gathered helplessly, screaming out the names of loved ones.

They were herded into a nearby train tunnel, where they remained for the rest of the night.

By daylight the scale of the raid became apparent as the survivors realised that their beautiful town had been reduced to a mass grave.

"It is a nightmarish memory, but it is important to let future generations know about these horrors, in order to ensure it never happens again," said Mr Bolz.

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