With February in full bloom, many people around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day, romance and flowers. But on this side of the world, a different date is marked forever.
In the harsh winter of WWII, Feb 13 and 14, 1945, one of the worst terrors man has ever wrought upon man took place in Dresden. It’s was Germany’s Florence of the Elbe—home to artists and artisans, great thinkers, inventors, and peaceful pioneers of new ideas.
(Photo credit: Thelocal.de)
But in a single night—a grotesque 14 hours—over 20,000 people (the numbers are still unknown) perished in bomb raids that wiped out the city and half its population. The morning after February 13 and 14, Dresden lay in ruins, a grim reminder of mankind’s capacity for destruction. (The controversial bombing was said to be a “warning message” from one political leader to another, and happened just months before the war was over.)
“More people died there in the firestorm, in that one big flame, than died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined,” says former POW and novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who witnessed the bombing horror of 1945 and recounted details in his 1969 book, The Slaughterhouse 5.
War is always inexcusable. But when it is the innocent who fall—the babies, the mothers who carry them, screaming as they perished in flames, followed to their deaths by the fathers who only sought to live a peaceful life with their families, then it is unforgivable.
That 13th and 14th of February will always serve as a reminder, though now the city is rebuilt, nearly as grand as its glory days. The Old Master’s art gallery stands in close proximity to the Frauenkirche (Our Lady Church), which was also scorched, and only rebuilt half a century later.
Today, Dresden is a resurrected wonder. Many old buildings were constructed. Rapahel’s Sistine Madonna is housed here, and tens of thousands flock each year to be inspired by the Baroque architecture of palaces, museums and art galleries in the city. So, in the end, it is remembered for its beauty and grace, its heartbeat still pulsing long after the rifles, bombs, and injustices have been laid down.
Let this February bring us back…not to the horrors of war, or the grim reminders of ruins and rubble…but together as humanity; diverse, yet one. Where some celebrate love, let them also seek forgiveness, and give understanding. Where hurt may be sealed under painful scars, and where time cannot turn back the pages of history and rewrite them, let us live in this century so that those wounds of our past show the beauty of healing, rebirth, the end of winter and the start of Spring.
The leaves have fallen, but new life begins to bloom again.
Where to learn more about Dresden:
An award-winning movie about the Dresden bombing: “Dresden”