Iconic Photos

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Dresden Destroyed

with 20 comments

It was one of the most controversial actions of the Second World War: the fire-bombing of Dresden that city to ash and rubble. Between 13 February and 15 February 1945 (twelve weeks before the final capitulation of Germany), 3,900 tons of high-explosives and incendiary devices were delivered in four air raids carried out by 1,300 bombers. Thirteen square miles of the city and the estimates of civilian dead vary from 100,000 to 130,000 — twice the amount that perished during the entire London Blitz. Nearly a thousand invaluable masterpieces (mainly from Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister) were lost or destroyed.

The photographer contrasted its devastation with a statue of not an angel (as commonly assumed) but more powerfully, a personification of Kindness. August Schreitmüller’s sandstone sculpture “Die Gute” on Dresden’s Rathaustrum once overlooked a magnificent city, so-called ‘Florence-on-the-Elbe’, the former seat of the Electors of Saxony. Now beyond its outstretched arms lies a sea of ruins.  The photo from the tower looking south was by Richard Peter, who made a name for himself recording ruins and desolation that was Europe at the end of WWII. His photo inspired many others to find their way up the tower of the city hall and take similar photos.

The decision to bomb the city brimming with refuges fleeing from the advancing Red Army was approved by the very top brass and was keep so secret that the airmen were under the impression that they were bombing the army headquarters, barracks, and poison gas plants. In fact, Dresden had no war industry. The strategy too was cynical and iniquitous: since bomb shelters could provide protection for only three hours in a burning city (due to overheated grounds and walls), the second attack was launched precisely at the moment when everyone had to go back outside.

Many newspapers toed the official line that Dresden was a major military target; when the AP reported, “Allied air chiefs have made the long-awaited decision to adopt deliberate terror bombings of German population centers as a ruthless expedient of hastening Hitler’s doom”, the British government banned its report. It was three more weeks before the Manchester Guardian published an account revealing many civilians died in a horrifying manner.

In a twisted irony, two hideous atrocities of the Second World War met in this ‘Balcony of Europe’: the cremation of those perished in Dresden was supervised by SS Sturmbahnfuhrer Karl Streibel, the man who made his name burning bodies at the Treblinka death camp. A funeral pyre at Dresden burnt for five whole weeks.

It took until the mid-90s for the British and American governments to formally apologize to Germany for the unnecessary attack.


Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 8, 2009 at 6:33 am

Posted in Culture, Politics, War

Tagged with ,

20 Responses

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  1. This sucks

    Emil PEttersssssson

    August 24, 2009 at 5:42 am

  2. Needless, this was at the end of the war. Why did the US destroy such beauty?

    David Canada

    February 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm

  3. Blatant hypocrisy, cowardice.


    March 15, 2011 at 5:29 pm

  4. Brutish butchery, equal to anything of which the Germans were accused.
    My grandmother had a cotenant who was Belgian, but had spent time in Dresden.
    She said its beauty was such that visitors found themselves catching their breath as they walked through it.
    All gone now, lost forever. A crime against humanity for which no person ever did jail time. And vastly more evil, the crime of burning alive tens of thousands of women and children in the streets and bomb shelters.

    Tom Conway

    June 5, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    • “..equal to anything of which the Germans were accused” Really? Equal to the systematic murder of six million people? Equal to the atrocities of Jozefow? Equal to genocide committed by the Nazis across Europe? And these were not, in case there is any doubt, crimes that “the Germans were accused of”. They were crimes that were openly committed as part of Nazi policy and for which many were ultimately tried and punished. When the Nazis sought to”..bomb the British people into submission” they would have done well to pause and wonder where such terror might lead.

      Andy Carter

      July 25, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      • it is 16 million, Jews are just the highest ratio of all others.


        June 24, 2015 at 6:06 am

      • One of the great mysteries of life is that despite the evidence to the contrary millions of otherwise intelligent people still believe that Germany was the all powerful aggressor during the 2nd World War. Nothing better than these myths illustrate the mind-bending power of propaganda.

        The provable facts suggest that Germany was the victim and not the perpetrator of naked neighboring aggression. The subsequent allied military triumph was followed by the triumph of the propagandists whose pressing need was to depict the victor nations as being the victim.


        January 2, 2016 at 3:36 am

  5. Too bad, so sad.

    Germany started the war and were the first to commit atrocities during WW2. Though I agree it was tragic, WW2 saw many tragedies in war and new tactics never seen before. Wars used to be fought soldier to soldier, the nazis brought the war to the civilians.

    Those who say the original bombing of London was an error need to accept that if hitler is going to drop bombs, then he better bloody well make sure where he’s dropping them per war convention.

    80,000,000 dead in WW2… who’s the real criminal?


    October 13, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    • The evil people who schemed, lied, and pressured the entry of the U.S. and other countries into WWII paid none of the price but received the only reward. These evil people still control world events today. These evil people are not capable of creating beauty themselves, and so they despise and destroy it in those who can — wherever it’s found, and most notably in Germany, the most envied and despised of all.. MOB


      February 21, 2013 at 10:16 pm

  6. Reblogged this on Drshoman2009's Blog.


    February 11, 2013 at 12:10 am

  7. […] itself would prove to be enduring. Censorship and self-censorship continued with the pictures from Dresden, Hiroshima, and even Auschwitz. The rule not to show faces of the American dead existed until the […]

  8. I’ve always wondered if this was done because there was something (or someone) in Dresden the UK and USA didn’t want the Soviets to get.


    March 22, 2013 at 9:25 am

  9. It is always a tragedy when innocent people die, especially so horribly. The vast majority of people who died in Dresden were innocent, just like the vast majority of people who perished in WW2 were innocent. Saying things like ”too bad, so sad” is a mockery of another human beings pain. There were a good number of little children who died in the fire bombings of Dresden — and how could they have been to blame? Just because they were of German descent, they are undeserving of compassion? Please. Only the people who tried to hurt others are to be blamed for the countless millions who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis. Just because someone was a citizen of Germany didn’t make them evil. To ignore this is to continue to perpetuate, at some level, hatred and malice for innocent people. You do not hold up or due justice or tribute to the many jews and many others who died at the hands of the Nazis – by taking anger out on innocent German people (or any other innocent group, in any war or battle). The bombing of Dresden was atrocious and led to considerable suffering — just as the bombings of London did. There are no greater or lesser victims when one is innocent of cruelty — there are just victims. People trapped in a horrible system, with limited control, manipulated by fear. Many flocked to Dresden as refugees — thinking they’d be safe. I’m sure a good number of people who had families, their own children — would go on to grieve the horrors that had befallen so many other precious families and children lost in WW2. RIP to every innocent being. There is no side in the sense of ”good Allies” and ”bad Germans.” There were only those committed to fighting for human rights, and those led by compassion — and those who were not. Many beautiful souls, who just happened to be born as Germans, died in the war too. It disturbs me when people act like innocent Germans should have died horribly just because others died horribly at the hands of a corrupt and evil government or evil people.


    October 14, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    • What a tragedy and an atrocity. So much suffering and death, on all sides. In Germany alone, Dresden, Hamburg, Cologne, Nuremberg, Wurzburg, Lubeck and so many other beautiful historic cities, priceless art and architecture, irreplaceable and gone forever. The later image of “Die Gute” shown on the right overlooks a modern eyesore, emblematic of today’s shallow, materialistic world. The inheritance of our once great Western Civilization has been denied us by this so called “Good War,” brought about by evil rulers on all sides.


      October 24, 2013 at 2:27 am

  10. My friend drew my attention to this photo, but my soul knew such humanity existed even though i was born 25 years later, one of many books by Kurt Vonnegut drew my attention to the humanity of the Germans shown to the POW’s involved in the clear-up afterwards, they offered to share their small fruit bread with them, (can any of us even begin to imagine the actuality of this, really?) this kind of humanity keeps me sane, obviously my anti-war feelings, but strangely, a very real dream i had about 5 weeks ago, a ‘special’ dream, i found a baby Raven down by the lakeshore, clutching onto rocks, half eaten, abandoned, i nourished it back to health and 22 years later it grew up healthy and strong, but in human form, but still with Raven conciousness, and a crooked nose, ha ha, anyways, i was walking with my fully grown friend 22 years later on the other side of the lake, and it occurred to me it’s true name was Dresden (in honour of all the kids that died) so i asked it and it answered ‘yes that is correct, it is OK to name me that” and it was a Redemption Dream, has been helping keep me sober since, but my heart goes out to all those kids (& big kids) who died in those days, (they really did DIE or suffer Horrific Injuries Unimaginable to you or me) seeking refuge, it’s one of many attrocities, on all sides, i dont like war & hate, i prefer peace & love, i know i am not alone, this image has helped me to put things in perspective, I’m glad the internet has given me a voice to comment on such stuff so close to my heart/soul/humanness – Shane in Ireland (where thank god there is relative peace now) slow steps, anyway my sad, but hopeful thoughts for Dresden, for some reason, i can resonate sadly with it, its my journey i suppose, peace to you all, sometimes i think we carry the pain of past lives, just an afterthought, keep an open mind, something might drop in, just like what i am doing here 🙂 onwards and upwards


    December 13, 2013 at 7:33 pm

  11. Can’t find any mention of any apology anywhere on the web. Please direct to a source.

    Liang-Hai Sie

    June 16, 2014 at 8:00 am

  12. Where did you get the information that the Americans and British apologized to the Germans?


    June 17, 2014 at 4:02 am

  13. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, this picture should have been published in all the large newspapers of the country, full double page photo, with a caption: ” … those who invite war…”

    The devastation of Dresden was a terrible loss. The world paid for this picture a very high price. We should put it to work every chance we get.

    From July 1934 Hitler and the Nazis began re-armamenting the country at a break neck speed. The ardent nationalist in Germany felt that the ending of WWI was historically incorrect. They intended to refight that war as early as possible in order to correct history. When that war was over, Germany was a smoldering ruin, had been invaded and divided by it’s enemies and the Russians had raped hundreds of thousands of German women, perhaps even millions, in an orgy of revenge. If the pre-WWII ethic of men was to protect their women, the Germans utterly failed. When they signed up to join with Hitler, all of that was what they were inviting, they just didn’t know it. This picture, comes closest to anything that captures an end result to a war willfully invited, then gone horribly wrong for the people that invited it.

    This picture needs to be revisited every time there is a talk of starting another voluntary war.

    If I were to guess a conscious decision by the British to do this, it would be the knowledge that Hitler was an enthusiast for Gemany, Art and Architecture, and especially the combination of all those things, no better exemplified than in Dresden and so the devastation of this city was directed as much at him as anything else. I’m not saying that justifies it by any means. But, if the Germans could look at Dresden with pride, then the allies were determined to take away that prize.

    “You take what you need and leave the rest,
    But they should never have taken the very best…” – The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Band,


    December 7, 2014 at 5:35 am

  14. The most recent estimates of those killed is actually 25,000. The Nazis inflated the figure for propaganda.


    June 1, 2015 at 3:11 pm

  15. […] to the timesuck that is Iconic Photos. Duke of Wellington, by Antoine Claudet, 1844. Dresden after the fire bombing, by Richard Peter from the Rathaustrum. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, on the SS […]

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