Dresdner Monument Stories – Contradictions between Reconstrucion and Victim Identity

by Philipp Klein

For a long time Dresden had a very prominent site that reminded one of the bombings of 13–15 February 1945. The ruins of the Frauenkirche [Church of Our Lady] were a widely acknowledged symbol that made two specific points. On the one hand they were a marker of the outcome of the Second World War which Nazi Germany lost. On the other hand they indicated the intensity with which National Socialism and Germany society had bonded – further intensification was impossible. Every social institution––including and especially the Evangelical church––had been corrupted and incorporated into the Volksgemeinschaft [German National Community]. Any questions about the ‘other Germany’ that rejected National Socialism became superfluous at the very latest with the outbreak of war in 1939.

Instead, Germans committed themselves to ‘total war’, swore an oath of loyalty to the death to the Führer and, right to the end, implemented the merciless annihilation of Jews and other ‘worthless’ lives. Bearing in mind the nature of the enemy, the reaction of the allies was not moderated in any way, as the bombing of Dresden showed – they simply had no choice.1

Germans were not prepared to acknowledge either the defeat nor their responsibility for National Socialism and the anti-Semitic and racist crimes. However, the defeat could certainly not be denied and for that reason they took refuge in the victim role and its associated myths. This allowed their role as perpetrators to be covered up and avoided questions of guilt. Dresden, and in particular the ruins of the Frauenkirche, were the places where the aggressive takeover of victim status was underpinned. Henceforth they would stand for the wounds sustained by Germany and thus were predestined as the site for the appropriate staging of victimhood. In fact, this interpretation was only supposed to be a temporary solution. The reconstruction, a demand that was made early on, would solve both problems at a more fundamental level. By reconstructing the building the detour via the victim myth would become unnecessary: National Socialism? War? Bombing? That didn’t happen here. We had nothing to do with that. Those were logical and consequential answers. However, a few decades would have to pass until then. It was only with the end of the GDR––during which the project had been rejected on various political and strategic grounds––and the reunification that the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche found its way back on to the agenda.

The ‘Ruf aus Dresden’ [Call from Dresden] that initiated the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche was simultaneously the starting shot for a reconstruction marathon in the historic old part of Dresden. It continues to the present day. Since then the ‘old Dresden’ facades round the Neumarkt have been slavishly imitated down to the last detail, formerly asphalted streets have been repaved with bumpy cobblestones and demands made for inhabited and completely intact GDR era buildings to be acquired and demolished. The city centre is like a huge open air museum that not only encourages the lucrative tourist industry but also pushes a kitschy and romanticised ‘backward-looking utopia’2 which causes any historical connections to National Socialism and its suppression to be forgotten. That might well make the Baroque fundamentalist faction happy but, in what appears to be a paradox, it creates serious problems for 13 February commemoration. That this was once a war-torn city, Dresden supposedly the site of a ‘war crime’, is no longer discernable (at least from the architecture). The more Dresden is ‘restored’, the more the city loses its identity as a victim. But since that has been a central element in the city’s self-conception for decades,3 it needs some form of compensation. And Dresden would not be Dresden if it could not combine the two: importunate in asking for donations to heal the alleged ‘wounds of Dresden’ and, at the same time, prolonging its victim status into the eternal future so that no one can ever doubt the suffering the Dresden Germans endured. The solution is simple: there has to be a memorial.

The demand had been floating around the debate like a ghost for years and originated in the local Nazi Kameradschaften [former regimental comrades] and the NPD [Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands: German National Democratic Party].4 However, since the re-opening of the Frauenkirche and declining interest in the remembrance events for the 13 February, it has been also taken up by the bourgeois conservative faction without any noticeable embarrassment. That numerous memorials already exist and in recent years some new ones added, plays no role.

As recently as 2010 the city inaugurated the Tränenmeer [Sea of Tears] memorial in the Heidefriedhof [Heide Cemetery] expanding a pre-existing memorial site.5 It depicts a girl with crossed and outstretched arms crying into a pool at her feet which collects her tears. The memorial is dedicated to the ‘victims of the 13 February 1945’ and was financed by a legacy left to the City of Dresden which imposed a condition that a memorial to the 13 February be built. The bronze statue takes up one of the most frequent motifs of Dresden memorial discourse: the incontrovertible innocence of children who have lost their lives or their relatives. This allows the bombing carried out by the British and American air forces to appear particularly monstrous and despicable and its primary appeal is to the viewer’s emotions. No space is left over for historical knowledge. And so questions about the responsibility (adult) Germans have to accept and why they went along with National Socialism and the war of aggression are not raised. The motif of the innocent child buries memory work, generalising their innocence to cover everyone killed by bombs. What is left behind is either a more or less accusatory ‘certainty’ that the allies were just as guilty as the Germans or turning the Second World War into an overwhelming jungle of individual experiences of suffering that is quite simply incomprehensible. The avowal which follows on top of that––Never again!6––sounds appropriately hollow. If all confrontation with history is exhausted in finding out that there was pain and suffering, any subsequent acknowledgement can only be arbitrary and thereby without consequences. That the arms and body of the figure form a cross and thus intentionally open up a Christian context is only logical. The dead who are being remembered become victims who have atoned for their sins. This retrospective imposition of religious connotation and the ascribed reconciliation places humans in the position of being passive and simply following a superordinate divine plan without, however, being able to exercise any real influence. Here, history is deliberately obscured in favour of the victim mythos.

The situation is also much less concrete in connection with the memorial space inaugurated in 2009 in the Dresdner Altmarkt – though only with regard to certain points. While the number of the bombing dead that were cremated there after their corpses had been recovered is clearly stated at 6,865 and the molten metal that flowed between the cobblestones was fixed, it become a lot less precise when it comes to classifying events on the additional memorial plaque: ‘The bodies of the thousands of victims of the bombing on the 13 and 14 February 1945 were burned here. The horrors of war originating from Germany spread out into the world only to return to our city’. Naming the victims is not difficult but this is otherwise in the case of the perpetrators: There no direct mentions of Germans as belligerents. Instead, the war seems to develop a life of its own. It began in Germany and spread out from there finally coming home to roost. Everyone was equally affected. This depiction does not square with reality. The military campaigns to defeat National Socialism cannot be equated with the racist campaigns of annihilation and destruction––especially in Eastern Europe––carried out by Germans. That war did not come back (as is suggested by the text on the plaque) because it was only Germany that carried on that type of war. Conquering new Lebensraum [territory for settling] as foreseen in the Generalplan Ost [General Plan for the East] was not one of the allied aims, nor was the general annihilation of Germans – even if present-day neo-Nazis assert otherwise by talking of a Bombenholocaust [bombing holocaust].

In addition to these relatively recent memorials there are others that make statements that are no less questionable. One example is the grove of honour in the Heide Cemetery.7 The site of official memorial events of the City of Dresden up to the present day, it locates Dresden as one of a series of event which includes concentration and extermination camps as well as other destroyed German cities. The Trümmerfrau [‘rubble woman’] is also still in front of the city hall and there is also the nameless bronze sculpture by Wieland Förster with the inscription ‘Dresden mahnt’ [Dresden warns] in George Treu Square, the memorial stone in Dresden-Nickern with the inscription ‘The victims of the Anglo-American bomb terror’ that is regularly visited by Nazis, the new memorial complex––inaugurated in 2006––in the grounds of the Alten Annen Cemetery with its obelisk on which one can read: ‘ How desolate lies the city that once was full of people’.8 Furthermore there is the memorial stone on Prießnitzstraße put there to commemorate a house on the site that was destroyed by a blockbuster bomb. Everything was devastated including, it is said, a wedding party that had taken shelter in the air raid shelter. At best this ‘information’ is fifth hand and even today it remains unverified.9 In addition there are further monuments10 and uncounted memorial plaques such as those on rebuilt houses. In truth there is no shortage of memorials and monuments. The time has surely come to critically examine some of the statements made on them instead and to question the memorial practice they express. It is difficult to score points in Dresden with that though. While one section of the Dresdner public -is at least prepared to take small doses of criticism and reflect on them, the bourgeois conservative right-wing majority attempts to put the ‘proper perspective’ on their memorial ideology with a yet another memorial or better perhaps: a monument to selective forgetting.

The city centre of Dresden is to be treated to a super memorial achieved by merging two projects. It links the Erinnerungsinitiative zur Busmannkapelle [Busmannkapelle Memorial Initiative] to the proposal for a memorial displaying all presently-known names––19,000––of those who died in the bombings. Even considered separately the projects are in a class of their own. Together they are certainly the clearest expression for the continuing historical revisionist content of the Dresden victim mythos.

The Busmannkapelle was a side chapel of the Sophienkirche and so severely damaged in the February 1945 bombings that, following a resolution of the City of Dresden Council and the Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED), the governing party of the GDR, the remains were completely demolished in 1962. A large-scale pub and restaurant was built in its place. After the reunification and as a consequence of the reconstruction marathon that was getting underway the Dresden City Council decided in 1994 in favour of building a memorial for the oldest of Dresden’s churches. A few years later the decision was taken in favour of a design which envisaged a replica of the side chapel with a number of church columns protected by a glass construction. The first concrete column was erected on the 13 February 2009. Since then building work has progressed gradually depending on available funds. The memorial space will cost a total of 2,7 million Euros.

It was also in 2009 that an appeal for donations was published and outlined the idea of a memorial space which was intended to become a ‘place of reflection and understanding’.11 Doubts are justified as to whether that will be successful. The site became something special after bombing had rendered it useless, after it became ‘the victim of the ideology of the new socialist state’, goes the argument and furthermore, the demolition of the church could have been avoided but mercy was in short supply in the GDR so that steps were undertaken for ‘the total destruction of the Sophienkirche12. While this is certainly a lie––on the one hand material from Sophienkirche was used to repair and maintain other churches,13 while on the other various parts of the building and gravestones were secured and stored in such a way that they could be used in a planned memorial building––an alternative interpretation would mean that evidence for ‘the 55 years of continuous misuse of power under two political systems’14 was absent. That, however, is precisely what the initiators intend, exactly as if the demolition of a crumbling ruin was the same as the intentional and planned extermination of millions of people. As if the GDR implemented the Shoah, carried out a war of aggression or eliminated ‘foreign bodies’ in the ‘Volksgemeinschaft’[community of people defined racially] in a way that was even vaguely similar to the Third Reich.

The debate about a memorial that is to bear the names of the 19,000 bombing dead has a slightly different emphasis. The names are the result of work of the historian commission on the air raids on Dresden between 13 and 15 February 1945 and rapidly stimulated certain appetites. The collection of names ‘shows better than any monument in stone or metal the dimensions of suffering,’ said Matthias Neutzner, a member of the commission. He continued: ‘it is now up to the democratic public of the city to use the results responsibly’.15 An unnecessary invitation. Because it concerns the suffering of the city, the Dresdner public did not take long to make all sorts of suggestions. And it was not long until the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) Mitte [Free Democratic Party] to propose––in 2010––a memorial for the city centre on which the names should be presented. The CDU [Christian Democratic Union], the Volksbund Kriegsgräberfürsorge [War Graves Commission] and the Stiftung Sächsische Gedenkstätten [Saxony Memorial Trust] welcomed the idea. For them the bomb dead are, without exception, all victims. It plays no role whatsoever that among the names there are a number of Jews, forced labourers and politically persecuted persons of both sexes. And it plays no role that the majority of the names are those of people who implemented the persecution as convinced Nazis, secret denunciators, members of the armed forces, the Volkssturm or the party or were even just silent collaborators.

In October 2012 Dresden City Council decided––with the votes of the CDU, FDP, Bürgerfraktion and NPD––to link the idea for the memorial with the pre-existing Busmannkapelle project. The motion also agreed the financing of the further building work on the Busmannkapelle while charging the mayor of the city with ‘making plans for a place of silence and individual remembrance of the dead of the air raids on the 13 and 14 February 1945’.16 A committee (still to be appointed) consisting of the mayor, city councillors and experts is to work out a concept. The expectations of the proposal are clear: the 19,000 names should be publicly presented. A CDU city councillor explains: ‘We are not concerned with “sorting the dead into good and bad” because that is exactly what differentiates our society from dictatorships and ideologies’.17 With that he puts expresses in a nutshell the universalisation and de-contextualisation of the concept of victim now prevalent in the German discourses about re-allocating or reducing responsibility.

The compulsion to continually move on to erecting the next memorial takes on a grotesque aspect. It is the expression of a memorial practice that begins and ends with the ‘Dresden’s suffering’ and wants to place this at the service of the nation by cementing it in place. When, in 2010, there was a discussion in London about a memorial space to British bomber pilots, the Lady Mayor of Dresden was not slow in expressing her opinion: ‘I find it disconcerting that after all these years a memorial should be erected. I consider it a retrogressive step’.18 A remarkable point of view for a city with such a density of memorials and monuments. But Dresden has gone through a learning process: we might have lost the war but in the battle for remembrance the same mistakes will not be made again.

Citation Philipp Klein: Dresdner Monument Stories – Contradictions between Reconstruction and Victim Identity, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse relating to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX [dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Tim Sharp

1 Richard Overy, Die Wurzeln des Sieges. Warum die Alliierten den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewannen, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2002, 171ff.

2 Karl-Siegbert Rehberg, ‘Dresden als Raum des Imaginären’, Dresdner Hefte, 84, 2005, 88–99.

3 Amongst other things in connection with the Nazi marches which even today are regarded as being undertaken by people from ‘elsewhere’ who are said to be ‘misusing’ the city and the remembrance.

4 Thus the neo-Nazi ‘Aktionsbündnis gegen das Vergessen’ [Action Group Against Forgetting] demanded on 11 November 2008 ‘a worthy memorial for the victims of the 13 February’. Cf. http://www.gedenkmarsch.de/dresden/archiv/11-11-2008-die-chance-verspielt/ (last access 03 Dec. 2012).

5 Philipp Klein, ‘Eine Stadt pflegt ihren Mythos’ in: analyse und kritik/Der Rechte Rand (ed.): Dresden Speciale 2012, Hannover: Verlag Der Rechte Rand, 2012, 8–11.

6 For example the Lady Mayor of Dresden, Helma Orosz, on the 13 February 2009 at the Heide Cemetery; quoted in http://www.dresden.de/media/pdf/oberbuergermeister/20090213_Heidefriedhof.pdf (last access: 03 Dec. 2012).

7 See the article Nicht Gedenkort, sondern Lernort by Swen Steinberg in this volume.

8 From the Requiem by Rudolf Mauersberger ‘Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst …’, after the Book of Lamentations. The obelisk was erected in the 1990s and the memorial complex extended in 2006.

9 See: Gunnar Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde, Hamburg: KVV konkret, 2006, 18f.

10 Further memorial sites are listed in: Herbert Goldhammer/Karin Jeschke, Dresdner Gedenkorte für die Opfer des NS-Regimes, Dresden: ddp goldenbogen, 2006 und Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge e. V./Stadtverband Dresden (pub.), Dresdner Kriegsgräberstätten. Erinnerungsorte für die Opfer von Krieg und Gewaltherrschaft, Dresden, 2010.

11 The call ‘Wider das Vergessen – Erkenntnis und Erinnerung’: http://busmannkapelle.de/index.php?PHPSESSID=55864c38efa430cf29830adf2c5bdaa1&page=appeal (last access: 03 Dec. 2012).

12 Sitting of the Gesellschaft zur Förderung einer Gedenkstätte für die Sophienkirche Dresden e. V., §2, Absatz 1.

13 Matthias Lerm, Abschied vom alten Dresden. Verluste historischer Bausubstanz nach 1945, Rostock: Hinstorff 2000, 85.

14 The call ‘Wider das Vergessen,’ op. cit.

15 Matthias Neutzner, ‘Zwanzigtausend Namen, zwanzigtausend Schicksale’, Sächsische Zeitung, 24 March 2010.

16 Motion on proposal A0626/12: ‘Errichtung eines Mahnmals für die Opfer der Bombenangriffe auf Dresden vom 13. bis 15. Februar 1945 in der Gedenkstätte Busmannkapelle’, Stadtrat Dresden, 18 October 2012.

17 Speech by Councillor Sebastian Kieslich in the Dresden City Council sitting on 18 October 2012: http://www.dresden-cdu.de/no_cache/news/newsdetail/article/stilles-und-individuelles-gedenken-in-der-busmannkapelle//cHash/a92a85895b5bbd3133c1acacb254b3c8.html (last access 03 Dec. 2012).

18 Quoted in: Jochen Wittmann, ‘Coventrys Stadtchef will Bomberdenkmal’, Sächsische Zeitung, 08 September 2010.

Instrumental Memory. Functions of Collective Remembering.

by Mathias Berek

In lectures on the link between memory culture and memorial politics, the collective remembrance of the bombing of Dresden is always useful as an example. The remembrance of this bombing is notable because it demonstrates not only how collective memory comes into existence against the background of current motives and situations, but also what functions it can fulfil in politics, identity formation, and reality construction.

But this text will approach the case from the opposite direction: The remembrance of Dresden will not serve as an example to illustrate the theory; rather, the theoretical introduction into collective remembering and memory culture will serve as a guide for the discussion of the remembrance of Dresden.1

Individual and Collective Memory

From the perspective of the sociology of knowledge, memory can be understood as a part of the stock of knowledge, namely, the part whose subject matter is the past. As a consequence, both the features of collective stocks of knowledge and the conditions under which single elements of knowledge are integrated into those stocks apply here. All that is to be incorporated into collective memory must first be expressed in an objectified form, and expressed through a symbol system that is understandable by others. Additionally, each element of knowledge that is to be incorporated has to be connectable to preexisting structures of meaning, thus already typified or at least typifiable. Finally, and most importantly, neither the remembering individual nor the remembered content itself decides which subjective element of memory will be integrated into collective memory; rather, that decision is based on the collective relevance that the element has in the present, a relevance that itself depends on current needs and conditions. In contrast to individuals, collectives do not remember spontaneously or without reason. It may be the individuals who do the remembering, but every individual is formed and influenced by his or her social surroundings, and every collectively significant remembrance must be expressed in a certain collectively understood language, use certain images and semantics, and serve certain collective needs and motives.

Functions of Collective Remembrance

Now we have a basis for the discussion of the functions of remembrance. For the individual, remembering helps to provide the structures of perception, from the constitution of meaning to the manner of perceiving space or social relationships. It provides us the parameters of time and orientation for our actions through the existent patterns of action. Already, it can only fulfil these tasks in relation to social structures and collective memory. Moreover, collective memory underpins the identity of the subject by legitimating the subject’s roles in life and by anchoring its biography in the frame of a collective (or of several collectives).

Other legitimations2 that collective remembrance provides are even more interesting. Collective remembrance legitimates collective identity types by describing their origin and history; it also justifies social institutions and symbolic universes by delivering the certainty that these have always been the way they are, or at least that they emerged for very good reasons.

In the context of this discussion, institutions include marriage or the incest taboo, but also aggregations like the church or the nation state. All such institutions have to be legitimated. Again and again, their necessity must be conveyed to succeeding generations as well as to new members of the group. Most of the institutions we encounter in our lives were in place before us; we were not involved in their development and cannot know why they were created in their particular shape. For this reason, a “‘second-order’ objectivation of meaning” is needed,3 which adds meaning to the institution beyond the real reason for its formation. This is exactly the task legitimation fulfils: It presents the institution to the individuals as meaningful and thus secures the integration of the institutional order as a whole.

The highest level of legitimation of institutions is constituted by symbolic universes.4 They integrate the institutional order and establish “world”, that is, reality. Symbolic universes, too, have to be maintained by legitimations. These universe-maintaining “conceptual machineries” mostly consist of “a further elaboration, on a higher level of theoretical integration, of the legitimations of the several institutions.”5 Examples of universe-maintaining conceptions are mythologies or theology. They explain, at an usually high level of theoretical sophistication, why the world is inhabited and/or controlled by a god or gods and why it only can be that way.

In the processes of all these legitimations of institutions and symbolic universes, memory culture plays a crucial role. Again, collective memory is understood here as that part of the common stock of knowledge that refers to the past, and it is the past that, in most cases, is the point of reference for legitimations. Institutions are legitimated in two ways: either by referring back to the past situation that made their establishment necessary (this being the more enlightened version) or by simply claiming they have always been there, that they were founded or ordered into existence by the ancestors or the gods in the dim and distant past (this being the more pious version). Both versions, however, refer to events in the past that are available as elements in the collective stock of knowledge.6

In particular, institutions like the nation state need collective memory to be legitimated. National symbolic universes are almost always interpreted and understood in relation to the past. In most cases, the past is even created in this process, as the national history is constructed from real or invented events.7 Wherever the knowledge about past events comes from, the nation state still needs this knowledge to justify its necessity. Generally, this legitimation works as such: “We (the nation) have existed here for a long, long time. We know this from our national memory. During all this time, we have developed our characteristics and even qualities – they are embedded in our national memory. Finally, we are lined up here to defend against the rest of the world our qualities and, should the situation arise, also our territory, where we all know lie our roots.”8 Also beyond this ideal type, legitimations depend on memory culture. For example, in the 1950s, the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) memorial culture regarding National Socialism legitimated the state as an antifascist and socialist yet still German nation state by remembering primarily the communist resistance but rarely the Shoah.9

Aside from the above-mentioned function that collective remembrance has in underpinning roles and personal identities, it also serves to legitimate collective identity concepts. But what does “collective identity” mean? Can a collective own an identity? If yes, where does it reside? It is indeed problematic to assume the existence of collective identity, because that would subjectify social groups, ascribe personal attributes to them and finally reify them into autonomously thinking and acting entities. Such assumptions lead, as a consequence, to the concept of a people or community as an autonomous entity (in the German case, that would be the infamous concepts of Volk and Gemeinschaft). But there is no evidence for the essentiality of social groups, and there can be none. Social groups do not exist and act as autonomous subjects; rather, they are always associations of humans which communicate and act based on certain rules and within certain structures. The term identity, in contrast, always conveys individual psychological interpretations, which again would subjectify the collective.10

One option for avoiding that problem is to speak not of collective identity but rather of identity types that are characteristic for specific groups: “Specific historical social structures engender identity types, which are recognizable in individual cases. In this sense one may assert that an American has a different identity than a Frenchman, a New Yorker than a Midwesterner, an executive than a hobo, and so forth.”11 After all, there are common identity-concrete12 characteristics that members of any given collective possess. But an identity is something a collective can own just as little as it can own a subjective will. Similarly, the identity of every individual can never be fully collectivized: An individual’s identity is never determined by just one collective but by several. Moreover, individual identity is never fully determined by collectives; rather, it keeps its subjective elements of identity.

Identity types – as characteristic attributes that are ascribed to individuals within a group – serve the individuals in their self-definition as members of the group. Their task is to provide group coherence, which means to enable the subjects to continue to see themselves as part of the group. Furthermore, if indeed “all communities larger than primordial villages” always are imagined,13 then that imagination is also a result of the assumption that people possess common identity types. The assumed commonalities can rest on real facts such as a common language but also on constructions such as “race”.

Also, these self-definitions of subjects within collectives rely on common remembering: Identity types are traced back to a certain descent there has to be a reason why they are as they are. In the family, for example, the groups memories not only synchronize biographies but also support the self-concept of the family collective. A well-known survey on German family memories14 discovered that the foundation of the family’s self-perception is the need to have ancestors who are not criminals but heroes and heroines, or at least good humans. Within that private self-perception of many German families, the Shoah obviously has no place. This is why, on the way through the generations, these family histories transform “antisemites into resistance fighters and Gestapo officers into guardians of Jews”.15 Even if the grandparents are telling stories about executions, this information simply does not reach the grandchildren’s perception; rather, they will keep searching assiduously for anecdotes that prove their grandpa was, at least here and there, resisting and acting humanly and decent. The need in the present for a coherent family image in which no crimes have been committed controls the manner of how stories about the past are told and how those stories are perceived. The family is only one example of how this trait applies.16 In every group whose identity type is linked with the past, it is not the events of the past but the needs of the present day that determine how the past is presented among the group. The collective remembrance of a group thus co-determines its identity types and in doing so strengthens the coherence of the group. If the memory of the groups history is lost, the knowledge about the attributes ascribed to the group’s members can be lost too.

To summarise: the processes of remembrance are essential in the social construction of reality as they help to structure perceptions, provide patterns of action and conceptions of time, and legitimate institutions, roles and identities. The rules and typifications that are objectified in institutions and stabilized through memorial rituals strongly influence the reality of the participating subjects. Nation states, for example, have a wide range of reality-shaping measures at their disposal, which they use to convey to their citizens that the citizens live in a reality in which it is of considerable importance to belong to a particular nation. For instance, it creates a certain national reality in the present if the citizens of Germany are told that their national history began with the legendary battle in the Forest of Teutoburg, and that this history shows how the “Germanics” have not only always had to defend themselves against foreign threats but have always been successful in doing so. This national history assures those subjects who decide to believe this story that they personally live in a reality in which they are part of a national collective whose roots reach far back and whose eternal fate is to fight external threats.

No Memory Culture without Memorial Politics

Up to this point, this article has arrived at two conclusions: each collective needs a memorial culture to maintain its coherence, and the present of those who remember collectively determines both what is remembered and how. As a consequence, collective remembrances are always instruments as well as the subjects of political negotiations, disputes and struggles over the generally binding rules of the society. What is to be remembered, and how, is always contested within a collective, and this dispute is fought with the assistance of remembrance. There are several terms at hand for these political processes and states: Vergangenheitspolitik (politics of the past)17 and Geschichtspolitik (history politics),18 for instance, are notions used in German political science and history to describe very divergent phases of how societies dealt politically with their past. Vergangenheitspolitik, according to Norbert Frei, relates to the ways of dealing with the National Socialist past in postwar Western Germany, and primarily refers to political debates, legal procedures and legislation processes.19 In contrast, the established understanding of the term Geschichtspolitik is that it refers to the totality of all representations of the (dictatorial) past that are focused on public-symbolic action (rather than on practical-political measures).20 However, one may argue that it does not make any difference for the abstract discussion on memorial politics whether the political debates about the past refer to the dark times of a dictatorship that was later overcome or to the glorious deeds of founding fathers who are still admired. Another term coined in the debate is Erinnerungspolitik (memorial politics), which Michael Kohlstruck defines as “to strategically operate with historical meaning in order to legitimate political projects”.21 According to him, memorial politics is not a specific form of political action among others but the strategy to legitimate politics through history.22 Linked to the previous findings referring to memory culture, this leads to the following definition: memorial politics is the pursuit of present political interests such as the legitimation of institutions, symbolic universes and identities by means of representations and interpretations of the past. Within the framework of memorial politics, the protagonists negotiate which aspects of the past are considered significant for the present and how they should be remembered. Thus, memorial politics are the concrete social struggles over and between memory cultures: What shall become part of the collective memory, and which aims shall it serve?

With this, the functions of memorial politics coincide with the functions that memory cultures fulfil in political struggles. Memorial politics 1) serve the legitimation of institutions, individual and collective action and symbolic universes, 2) provide timeframes for the single members of the group, 3) convey identity and collective identity types and, thus, 4) provide for the coherence of collectives.

Memorial politics is not bound to actions of the powerful only. Also minorities or marginalized groups can use the past for their political purposes. Memorial politics is not even limited to acts of remembering. The conscious attempt to eradicate certain memories and to substitute them with others is also a memorial-political action.

Abuse of Remembrance?

In discussions on collective remembrance, particularly in Dresden, this political instrumentalisation of the past is often lamented as an “abuse” of allegedly authentic remembrance. The political form of remembrance would be a malicious reshaping of the “original” memory of the eye-witnesses. But this lament ignores the fact that memory culture – as the process of activating collective memory – plays a crucial role in maintaining the coherence of society and collectives, and is therefore necessarily subject to processes of political negotiation, both as an instrument and as the subject of political action. That is, memorial politics is a normal (not malicious) mode of how collective remembrance operates, and collective memory in general is a neutral instrument of political debate in society. Being such a neutral instrument, collective memory eludes moral evaluation: it is futile to ask whether collective memory is inherently good or bad, whether it reconciles or triggers conflicts, or whether it heals or traumatizes. Memory can serve any purpose.

Good or Bad Remembrances?

Despite that neutrality, one can very well analyse (and criticize politically) the motives and the way somebody chooses to present the past. It is not the remembrance in itself that is subject to critique but the intentions behind it: Who remembers what? How is it remembered? For what reasons, and with which aims? Thus, it would be a rather vain endeavour to target one’s critique at the phenomenon of collective remembrance itself, since humans may collectively remember past events for any reason or purpose.

As a field of analysis and critique, it would be considerably more worthwhile to ask why a certain group clings to a certain interpretation of the past, and by what means they maintain it.

What can these reflections tell us about the case of Dresden? First, which experiences of 13th and 14th of February 1945 become a part of collective memories will always be less dependent on the event itself than on how these single memories fit the needs of the present collectives. That is why, beyond the narrations of own experiences, absurd fictions have been able to survive for decades, for example, the story about a brown bear carrying an injured monkey on its shoulder and scraping on doors for help,23 or the stories that multiply the numbers of victims, or the narratives about strafers attacking people on the banks of the Elbe. All these stories have withstood a variety of scientific falsification. As long as they fit into a reality where World War II claimed primarily German victims of allied barbarism, these legends will be believed. Moreover, it is not surprising that today’s organized Nazis made Dresden the place of their most important and biggest deployment. As long as the official remembrance ceremonies of institutional players such as the city of Dresden or the Free State of Saxony follow the same motives, intentions, and narratives as the Neo-Nazi remembrance, it is simply logical for them. With regard to content, the differences between the two groups of players were most of the time minor, not substantial. Both followed the motive and goal of legitimating the nation regardless of the German deeds during National Socialism, mainly through emphasizing the German victims and universalizing as well as relativizing wartime suffering.24 Their common narrative was the legend of the innocent and internationally honoured city of culture, one full of refugees and without any military relevance or National Socialist orientation, eradicated totally for condemnable reasons. Today’s Nazis as well as official players agreed in principle on these basic statements, which is why Dresden continues to be attractive for yearly Nazi marches.

To critically reflect on such motives and ways of remembrance stimulates analysis in memory studies much better than to simply pass criticism on an assumed “abuse of remembrance”.

Citation Mathias Berek: Instrumental Memory. Functions of Collective Remembering., in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX[dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Mathias Berek

1 More detailed: Mathias Berek, Kollektives Gedächtnis und die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit. Eine Theorie der Erinnerungskulturen (Kultur- und sozialwissenschaftliche Studien Bd. 2), Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2009.

2 For more on legimitation, see Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor Books 1967 [first 1966], ch. II, und Thomas Luckmann, “Einige Bemerkungen zum Problem der Legitimation”, in: Cornelia Bohn/Herbert Willems (eds.), Sinngeneratoren. Fremd- und Selbstthematisierung in soziologisch-historischer Perspektive, Unter Mitarbeit von Marc Breuer und Marén Schorch, Konstanz: UVK 2001, pp. 339–345, here p. 342: Legitimating practices are “rhetoric enterprises” by which‘that what is’ is highlighted as something that also ‘shall be’.

3 Berger/Luckmann, Construction, 1967, p. 92.

4 Ibid., pp. 95ff.

5 Ibid., p. 109.

6 These knowledge elements have been described as “invented traditions” by Eric J. Hobsbawm and others – Eric Hobsbawm, “Introduction”, in: Hobsbawm/Terence Ranger (eds.), >The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1983, pp. 1–14, here p. 9.

7 Cf. Hobsbawm/Ranger (eds.), Invention, 1983, and the articles on the legitimating functions of traditions in the British Empire and colonial India. Jürgen Ebach writes about the German “Historikerstreit” of the 1980s: “It is about the political concept of a legitimatory exploitation of the past in order to stabilize and secure the current political, economic and technological power structures.” – “Erinnerung gegen die Verwertung der Geschichte”, in: Wieland Eschenhagen (ed.), Die neue deutsche Ideologie. Einsprüche gegen die Entsorgung der Vergangenheit, Darmstadt: Luchterhand 1988, pp.100–113, p. 103, transl. by the author (as all the following translations.).

8 Cf. Ernest Gellner, Nationalism, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1997; Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 1990; Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London: Verso 1983; Günther Blaicher, “Die Deutschen als ‚das Volk der Dichter und Denker”. Entstehung, Kontexte und Funktionen eines nationalen Stereotyps”, in: Historische Zeitschrift 287, 2, 2008, pp. 319–340; Christian J. Emden, “Nation, Identität, Gedächtnis. Überlegungen zur Geschichtlichkeit des Politischen”, in: Michael Frank/ Gabriele Rippl (eds.), Arbeit am Gedächtnis. Für Aleida Assmann, München: Wilhelm Fink 2007, pp. 63–85.

9 Cf. Jeffrey Herf, Divided Memory. The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press 1997.The term “Shoah is more appropriate than “Holocaust(which originally means ritual killing in the form of burnt offerings), although “Shoah” is less common in English than in French, Hebrew or German discourses.

10 Cf. the defence of the term identity: Dariuš Zifonun, Gedenken und Identität, Der deutsche Erinnerungsdiskurs (Wissenschaftliche Reihe des Fritz Bauer Institutes 12), Frankfurt/M./New York: Campus 2004, p. 92.

11 Berger/Luckmann, Construction, 1967, p. 174.

12 On the term “identitätskonkret”, see Jan Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedächtnis, Schrift, Erinnerung und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen, München: Beck 1999, p. 39.

13 Anderson, Communities, 1983, p. 6.

14 Harald Welzer/Sabine Moller/Karoline Tschuggnall, “Opa war kein Nazi”.
Nationalsozialismus und Holocaust im Familiengedächtnis,
unter Mitarbeit von Olaf Jensen und Torsten Koch, Frankfurt/M.: Fischer 2002.

15 Ibid., p. 11.

16 Another example would be aerial warfare memory in communal heroism history, see: Malte Thießen, “Mythos und städtisches Selbstbild. Gedenken an Bombenkrieg und Kriegsende in Hamburg nach 1945”, in: Heidi Hein-Kircher/Hans Henning Hahn (eds.), Politische Mythen im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Tagungen zur Ostmitteleuropa-Forschung 24), Marburg: Herder-Institut 2006, pp. 107–122; and: Jörg Arnold, Dietmar Süß, Malte Thießen (eds.), Luftkrieg. Erinnerungen in Deutschland und Europa (Beiträge zur Geschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts 10), Göttingen: Wallstein 2009.

17 Norbert Frei, Vergangenheitspolitik. Die Anfänge der Bundesrepublik und die NS-Vergangenheit, München: Beck 1996.

18 Edgar Wolfrum, Geschichtspolitik in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland: der Weg zur bundesrepublikanischen Erinnerung 1948-1990, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1999.

19 Petra Bock and Edgar Wolfrum expand the term to also include dictatorial or authoritarian pasts in general – Petra Bock/Edgar Wolfrum, “Einleitung”, in: Petra Bock/Edgar Wolfrum (eds.), Umkämpfte Vergangenheit.Geschichtsbilder, Erinnerung und Vergangenheitspolitik im internationalen Vergleich, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1999, pp. 7–14, here pp. 8–9. Günther Sandner expands it further in proposing that “Vergangenheitspolitik” would mean how “a democratic society deals politically, juridically and culturally with its dictatorial past”, thus being part of history politics which is nothing but political instrumentalisation of history – Günther Sandner, “Hegemonie und Erinnerung. Zur Konzeption von Geschichts- und Vergangenheitspolitik”, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 30, 1, 2001, pp. 5–17, here p. 7.

20 Bock/Wolfrum, “Einleitung”, 1999, pp. 8–9.

21 Michael Kohlstruck, “Erinnerungspolitik: Kollektive Identität, Neue Ordnung, Diskurshegemonie”, in: Birgit Schwelling, (ed.): Politikwissenschaft als Kulturwissenschaft. Theorien, Methoden, Problemstellungen, Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften 2004, pp. 173–193, here p. 176.

22 Ibid., p. 178.

23 Gunnar Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde, Hamburg: Konkret 2006, pp. 20–29.

24 It has been a Saxon and Dresden (right-wing-conservative) speciality to withstand the development at the German national level where the “Berliner Republik” tried to legitimate itself through supposed catharsis and successful remembrance of guilt and no longer through negation and relativisation.

Dresden Christ Superstar. A Farce in five acts.

by Andrea Hübler

It was in October 2009 that the idea of a Pathway of Remembrance for Dresden was first proposed to the Lady Mayor. At a podium discussion a month later the concept was laid out in detail before a well-disposed audience. On the 13 February 2010, the day that marked the 65th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden, a walk along the Pathway of Remembrance was held for the first time.

The initiators, trumpet virtuoso Ludwig Güttler and his companions, had great expectations for the walk. It was intended to play a ‘role that profoundly deepened the knowledge and reinforced the identity of Dresden and the Dresdeners’… The objective was a walk along a route that allowed people to ‘share the experience of authentic locations at which authentic writings and contemporary witness testimony would be heard’. This, they intended, would provide a ‘contribution to remembering – against forgetting – the 13 February 1945, that fateful day in Dresden’s history’. 1

Of course the centre of attention was to be the Dresdeners’ suffering on that fateful day but also how it was overcome and not forgetting that the efforts of the inhabitants to reconstruct the city had to be properly acknowledged too. Ultimately the commemoration was to serve the future, to help open wounds to heal, leaving nothing behind but heroically scared tissue. If anyone, Ludwig Güttler was the one to know about these things. When the ruin of the bombed Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was reconstructed – as a symbol of peace and reconciliation – Güttler was more than peripherally involved. Along with this reconstruction though, the city had misplaced a location for commemorative rituals and sentimental rituals suddenly became scarce. New rituals were required, at least according to Güttler and his allies. And so the idea of a Pathway of Remembrance was born. Although this walk was only establish with difficulty, it is nevertheless a powerful symbol: of the ignorance of a history characterized by culpability and self-pity and the city’s unbounded self-aggrandizement. This made the Path of Remembrance the ideal setting for a farce.

The Characters:

The travellers on the Path of Remembrance:

Ludwig Güttler, Dresdener, trumpet virtuoso, Chairman of the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Frauenkirche Dresden e. V. [The Society for the Advancement of the Frauenkirche] and board member of the Stiftung Frauenkirche [Foundation of the Frauenkirche]

Harald Brettschneider, Oberlandeskirchenrat i. R.[Member of the Council of the Saxony State Church (Retired)]

Gerhard Glaser, Sächsischer Landeskonservator i. R. [Chief Conservator of the State of Saxony (Retired)]

All members of the Arbeitsgruppe Gedenkweg der Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Frauenkirche Dresden e. V. [Pathway of Remembrance Working Party of the Society for the Advancement of the Frauenkirche]

– Gunther Emmerlich, Dresden singer and TV-personality from the local Public Television Channel MDR, Co-initiator

– Christine Hoppe, actor, Staatsschauspiel Dresden [State Theatre Dresden]


– Pink Rabbit: Main character of the campaign of the same name initiated by the Friends of Nature Youth Programme Berlin in 2009, the super year of commemorations. The pink stuffed rabbit appeared at several events concerned with the Germans’ relationship to their own nation. Among many other appearances there was one in Dresden on the 13 February 2010. 2


Setting: Dresden, the Pathway of Remembrance. It follows a route through the old town. A short performance is presented at each of nine different stations. It takes the form of readings or music.3 At each of these stations one of the commemorators appears together with an irritated Pink Rabbit who comments on the performances as a polemic and ironic inner voice.

Act One: The Beginning

Scene One: The courtyard of the Dresden Synagogue

Güttler: With the torchlight procession of the National Socialist through the Brandenburg Gate marking their seizure of power on the 30 January 1933, a fire was ignited. The flames reached the Dresden Synagogue on the 9 November 1938 and reduced our city to rubble on the 13 February 1945.

Pink Rabbit: the National Socialist destruction of the previous building in the year of 1938 is to be commemorated here. That’s what’s written in the programme. That being the case I have to ask myself: why is this being commemorated here, today, the 13 February, and not on the 9 November? Well, for obvious reasons: burning down the old Semper synagogue on am Hasenberg was only the ‘beginning of the destruction that was completed in 1945’. The November pogroms were, so to speak, the initial acts in the demolition of Dresden and not the starting point of the revocation of civil rights and the deportation and annihilation of the German Jews. Here Dresden itself becomes an early Nazi victim.

Act Two: Suffering, Destruction, Martyrdom

Scene one: In front of the statue Large Mourning Man by Wieland Förster.

Glaser: Germany, with frenzied red cheeks, reeling around at the high point of wild triumph, about to conquer the world by the virtue of a treaty it was disposed to keep and had signed in its own blood. But now it is falling, caught in the embrace of demons, a hand over one eye, cataracts in the other, tumbling from despair to despair.

Pink Rabbit: Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus. So you are suggesting that I consider the bombing of Dresden to be the punishment for the war begun by Germany? Ok, So far I get it. But obviously Dresden itself had nothing to do with that. Dresden was, as always, simply beautiful. That’s at least the impression I get when Förster is quoted:

How, then, should Dresden, my city, stand alone and unharmed through a mercilessly conducted war of annihilation […] Dresden, you hoped your great beauty would protect you from the firestorm, but your heart was incinerated.

Scene Two: Nearby, in front of the debris from the cupola of the destroyed Frauenkirche

Pink Rabbit: A statement by the Chief Inspector of Churches, Hermann Weinert, a statement ‘completely under the influence of the event, the unthinkable.’ as Güttler put it in his introduction. What’s so unthinkable? That the cupola of the church was incapable of withstanding the bombs? I don’t get it. Was the ‘Cathedral of the German Christians’ indestructible, harder than steel, as enduring as the Nazi’s ‘millennial empire’? Güttler probably just liked the sound of the words. In the end Dresden became a sudden and unexpected victim. But it was not futile, as we are about to see.

Scene Three: In front of the Pietà of Dresden Cathedral:

Gütller: In 1973 Friedrich Preß completed the Pietà and the new altar here in the Johann Nepomuk Chapel to commemorate the victims of the 13 February 1945 and all the iniquitous violence. We are reading segments from the text Stabat Mater, the 1847 version:

Christine Hoppe: For the sins of His own nation / She saw Jesus wracked with torment / All with scourges rent / She beheld her tender Child / Saw Him hang in desolation / Till His spirit forth He sent.

Pink Rabbit: So Dresden is now Jesus? Really. Dresden slips into the New Testament. Just as Jesus died for ‘the sins of his brother’, Dresden was martyred for the sins of the German nation. Well, according to the Christian belief, after sinning comes expiation. It’s logical really. But do I really understand it correctly? Is Dresden, like Jesus, free from sin? Dresden, the immaculate beauty. And I always thought that true expiation – which is how the bombing of the city is presented as here – calls for a recognition of guilt. Remorse looks different to me. But let’s get on with it.

The martyrdom of Dresden leaves us all feeling grief and despair, exactly as Mary felt at the sight of her son. A German Pietà, so to say. But that’s not all, as Güttler goes on to explain:

The Pietà symbolizes more than the inconsolable grief, that the martyrdom of Jesus caused in Mary.[…], it has wider implications […] This very vivid experience of grief and despair extends its meaning to include the senselessness of the destruction of everything. Whether we call it civilization, property, house or city is of secondary consideration because hope, life, and the will to live are all destroyed. This symbolism extends to involve the entirety of human existence and human life as we know it and to the very threat of the war itself”.4 Never again Dresden. Never again war. To learn from Dresden, is to learn of peace.

Well, as far as I know the story isn’t finished with martyrdom: when your sins are expiated, you are ready to receive god’s forgiveness. In the Christian belief this happen with through the resurrection of Jesus after the crucifixion which was the penance for the sins of humanity that He took upon himself. Güttler and his friends desired the same effect, preferably with a new monument, a sculpture entitled: He Who Has Risen. The Saxon newspaper was enthusiastic: ‘A fallen man who gets up again, a fallen man who rises under his own power. Just like the Dresdner, just like the city’.5 But the city did not want the new sculpture even though it was thought that it would certainly serve to counteract the sadness and despair of the Pietà. ‘Despite all the sadness, all the mourning, all that being-smashed-to-the ground, all the hopelessness, it was with the last remnants of hope, from the weakness of the re-awakened strength that it attempted to rise again and refused to allow death the final word’.6 Gunther Emmerlich wanted to call the monument The Double Resurrection because the city had been reborn twice: ‘Once after the war, and then again after 1989’.7 Supporters of the Path of Remembrance are not only concerned with the stroke of fate embodied in the bombings here but also that represented by the GDR. So instead of simply focusing on mourning what had been lost, they demonstrated an identity-generating pride about the reconstruction and the victory over the ‘second dictatorship’ by means of the peaceful revolution. But since the city does not want this monument, they have to find another way of bringing these aspects into play. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Act Three: Completion of the annihilation

Güttler: “We must prevail over annihilation” 8

Scene one: In front of the Busmannkappelle Memorial (still under construction) at the former location of the Sophienkirche (Saint Sophia’s Church).

Güttler: The destruction of the city on the 13 February 1945 and the ruination of the buildings that had given the city it character over the following two decades sprang from abuses of power. This threatens to be forgotten: ‘Against forgetting – knowledge through remembrance.

Emmerlich: Right from the beginning the will to reconstruct the monumental buildings that characterized the image of our city for the world was unbroken… Despite the joy of achievement from rebuilding the city in a postwar era that lasted forty years and the inspiration offered by the opportunities after the peaceful revolution, we are nevertheless in danger of forgetting that monumental buildings were destroyed after 1945 as well as before.

Pink Rabbit: Alternating members of the procession read aloud the names of the buildings that had been destroyed and the churches that were torn down after 1945. This was accompanied by a great deal of pathos. It’s striking how often I hear the word obliteration and I find the form that this all takes – the reading out loud the names of destroyed buildings – equally striking.

This commemorative pathway seems to have become a programmatic, staged event aimed at making relativized comparisons. According to this, ‘completing the annihilation’ 9 would then have been carried out with Walter Ulbricht’s personal participation’. I understand: what the Nazis began with the Synagogue, was, in fact, finished by this second ruination of Dresden. And Günther Emmerlich, speaking as an expert on experiences in totalitarian systems, once again gives us food for thought: ‘Today, at one of the most important locations for the story of our city (Sophienkirche, author’s note), we can only remind ourselves of the causes and effects that surrounded the Second World War, of the dead in the ruins of the city, of the abuse of power that lasted for 55 years under two different political systems.’

Act Four: Overcoming

Scene one: am Altmarkt [Old Marketplace], at the memorial area where the dead were cremated.

Güttler: Gerhard Hauptmann, witness to the events, wrote the following in February 1945 whilst watching the city burn from the Weiße Hirsch:

Emmerlich:Whoever had forgotten how to cry, learned it again during the destruction of Dresden’.

Pink Rabbit: Gerhard Hauptmann, the German author who was appointed by Goebbels to the post of Literature Laureate of the German Empire10, who was not brought to tears by anything during the preceding twelve years – not by the propagated and lived out acts of hate, the deprivation of rights or the persecution of Jews, the millions of murders, the chanting masses – this man cried at the sight of bombs falling on Dresden. It was clear to me all along that this sentence couldn’t be left out. No sentence summarizes the narcissistic self-referentiality of Dresden better than that. And with the help of Erich Kästner the loss is further dramatised in order to make the reconstruction appear all the more heroic. I must admit it the Pathway of Remembrance proponents really know about theatricality: ‘Yes, Dresden was a wonderful city […] the Second World War managed to wipe it out, with one single strike in one single night. It took centuries for form her unmatched beauty. A couple of hours were enough, to eradicate it from the face of the earth…’

Güttler: But in spite of this she was not lost.

Scene Two: In front of the Woman of the Ruins in Rathausplatz.

Güttler: 12 million cubic meters of debris had to be removed to be able to even consider reconstructing the city. Women and mothers did it with nothing more than the hammers in their hands.

Pink Rabbit: Slowly it is time to overcome the first destruction. The trumpeter glorifies the cleaning of the stones by the now-grown-up Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls). A couple of profound verses are supposed to make me receptive to the heroism of these deeds – After the War by Rita Jorek: ‘Women alone / Or sometimes in pairs / Children a pledge to life / Growing up in devastated lands // The men are dead / The sons far away/ Nothing in balance / Lonely is this place’. And it soon continues with devastated land …

Scene Three: In the Kreuzkirche, Dresden

Emmerlich: ‘How deserted the city now lies, that was once so full of people.’

Pink Rabbit: The old classic of the Dresden liturgy, the motet, Dresden, by Rudolf Mauersberger. It was composed by the Kreuzkirche (Church of the Holy Cross) cantor in 1945, as a free interpretation of the Book of Lamentations by the prophet Jeremiah. Very free, in my opinion. As far as I know these lamentations which recount the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple in 586 B. C as a punishment by God, included lamentation about the misery and destruction as well as a confession of sin and repentance. This is the only way can one expiate sin and earn God’s salvation. As I mentioned . But here, yet again, this part is omitted. Mauersberger limits himself solely to lamentation. He acknowledges no sin. How could he? He was, I heard, quite devoted to the National Socialists and, on occasion, was quite happy to let the choir boys sing in church dressed in their Hitler Jugend uniforms. This is, however, still a much-praised ‘Hymn to Dresden’ used to stage its suffering. The motet fits perfectly into the dramaturgy of the Pathway of Remembrance. Before the Pietà Dresden was presented as Jesus. And if I have connected up the dots correctly, Dresden’s path of suffering is extolled in Mauersberger’s motet in the same way as Christ’s Passion. Because that is the role of the lamentations in Christianity. Now the only thing missing is the resurrection. But everything at its proper time and place. First of all though, I have to eavesdrop on the reading of a letter written by the cantor to his Crucians. Just the final sentence: ‘It is terrifying’. Now that’s quite enough! Where one person abruptly learns how to cry, another experiences sudden terror. Both perfectly into the Dresden liturgy.

And off we go again with the text. Into the heat of the city’s history. It’s time to overcome the ‘second dictatorship’, to bring about the peaceful revolution. Our gaze should see past the sorrow and despair, to find the Pietà’s counterpart. Since there is no monument or sculpture this role must be taken on by the Kreuzkirche as the cradle of the revolution.

Bretschneider: In 1982, inspired by the biblical vision ‘swords to ploughshares’, a group of adolescents printed up flyers with a typewriter. It was an invitation to a memorial service to be held in Frauenkirche on the 13 February.

Pink Rabbit: 37 years later –13 February is reset as ‘zero hour’. This is when Dresden realizes that war is evil. That the birth of the memorial tradition in Dresden is presented as an act of resistance obviously fits in with the whole concept: this is the one event in which staged Dresden sorrow merges with the overcoming of the ‘second dictatorship’ into a single event.

Bretschneider: Forty-four years later, on the 9 October 1989, members of The Group of Twenty […] reported to those who had gathered in the Kreuzkirche and three other churches the conversation they had with the Lord Mayor of the city concerning a general request for freedom of assembly, freedom of movement and freedom for the prisoners. Furthermore they said that 70.000 people had joined in peaceful demonstrations on the inner ring in Leipzig. Praise God, the word of the Messiah had come true.

Pink Rabbit: Güttler immediately followed up with the words of the messiah in Gospel according to St. Matthew: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’. Dresden overcame the second ‘fateful blow’ with the peaceful revolution, just as the Trümmerfrauen of the BDM overcame the first one. Peacefully, because for Dresdeners, citizens of the great and beautiful city, violence is something foreign. If you ignore some of the collateral consequences of the Wir sind ein Volk11 mentality, that is. Jorge Gomondai died on the 6th of April in 1991, the first victim of right-wing violence. But I don’t want to seem petty, that was almost two years later. But the fact remains…

The Path of Remembrance radiates the pride of accomplishment, the ‘annihilation overcome’. At least over everyone else but me. I don’t want to miss the end, though. We’re off to the last station. To the grand finale of a double resurrection.

Act Five: The Resurrection

Scene one: At the Neumarkt [New Market]

Pink Rabbit: The procession reaches Neumarkt and the memorial event: ‘Remember Truthfully – Live in Reconciliation’.. Here I become witness to how the Path of Remembrance reaches it’s hopeful conclusion. Our eyes travel the panorama of the reconstructed city centre. I have to admit, the staging works to perfection. The Martyrdom, represented in the Pietà, the Passion, extolled in the lamentations, comes to an end. Just as Jesus expiated all human sin by dying at the cross, Dresden expiated the sin of all Germans by being destroyed. In the resurrection of Jesus, mankind receives divine absolution, just as Germany receives absolution through the resurrection of Dresden. The two blows of fate, the complete destruction, is overcome. Dresden has arisen. Twice. Advantage, Dresden. I congratulate you, Dresden Christ Superstar.

Citation Andrea Huebler: Dresden Christ Superstar. A Farce in five acts., in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse relating to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX [dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Anton Blomgren
edited by Tim Sharp


1 Press Release of the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Frauenkirche Dresden e. V., 02 Feb. 2010.

2 http://www.pink-rabbit.org (accessed: 11 Nov. 2012).

3 Route, locations and quotes are based on the actual Pathway of Remembrance. Unless otherwise noted all quotes translated from: The Society for the Advancement of the Frauenkirche: Programm zur Veranstaltung Der Dresdner Gedenkweg – 13.02.2010, 16.45- 18.40, Dresden, 02 February 2010.

4 Ludwig Güttler, Begründung des Zusammenwirkens von Pietà in der Hofkirche und der Aufstellung der Plastik von Michael Morgner, Dresden, July 2009. Unpublished draft of the presentation.( From the author’s archive.)

5 Peter Ufer: Ein Denkmal für die Kraft der Dresdner [A memorial to the strength of the Dresdener] , Sächsische Zeitung, 05 October 2009.

6 Ludwig Güttler, Loc. cit. Begründung 2009.

7 Peter Ufer: Emmerlich will “Zeitzeichen für DresdenSächsische Zeitung, 06 October 2009.

8 Noted by the author at the podium discussion:How does Dresden commemorate the victims of the 13 February 1945’, 10 Nov. 2009, Haus der Presse, Dresden.

9 Noted by the author at the podium discussion: ‘How does Dresden commemorate the victims of the 13 February 1945?’, 10 Nov. 2009, Haus der Presse, Dresden.

10 Gunnar Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde,[Collective innocence: How the Dresden-scam became a national victim’s myth].;”>Hamburg: KVV konkret, 2006, 144.

11 Wir sind das Volk [we are the people] was a Protest-slogan during the Alexanderplatz demonstrations that led to the fall of the Berlin wall and was later turned into Wir sind ein Volk [We are one People].

‘Suddenly’, ‘Unexpectedly’, ‘Senseless’? Dresden during National Socialism

by René Haase

Plotting the historical genesis of National Socialism in Dresden demands rather a lot of effort. While there is a plethora of publications about allied air raids on Dresden,1 a comprehensive description of the history of National Socialism in Dresden2 is lacking because up till now only specific individual aspects have been examined. ‘Dresden was not a historical exception,’ writes Dirk Hilbert3 and thus any description of Dresden before and during National Socialism must attempt to show a historical reality that runs counter to the pervasive myth of it being an ‘innocent city of art and culture’.

In the early 1920s Dresden was not a classic Nazi capital. At that time the Saxon strongholds were still Chemnitz, Zwickau and Plauen.4 But it is clear that Saxony played a key role in the rise in the numbers of National Socialists. As early as 1925, with over 80 local NSDAP5 groups it became the strongest NS Gau (Nazi provincial organisation) of the Weimar Republic.6 That, of course, had a significant effect on the Gau capital. The final electoral successes of the NSDAP showed that Dresden had also developed into a stronghold: the NSDAP got 134,333 votes in the Reichstag election on the 6 November 1932. Although the election that was held on the 5 March 1933 after they had seized power on the 30 of January cannot be regarded as a free election, there was nevertheless a choice and it brought the NSDAP a further 53,000 votes. This brought their share of the votes up to 42,27% and with that, Dresden lay within striking distance of the average.7 By this time persecution, disfranchisement and revocation of rights, oppression and terror were daily occurrences. One can not assume, therefore, that in Saxony in general or Dresden in particular there was a pronounced aversion to National Socialism. Thus it is essential here to understand the historical position of Dresden before and during National Socialism.

At the end of the nineteenth century Saxony was already a densely populated and highly industrialised free state that could show a robust economic structure and exceptionally high employment in craft and industrial enterprises. However, the severe depression as a result of the Gründerkrise8 [‘founder crisis’] in the 1870s left its mark and, above all, unsettled the middle classes: a strong and distinctive strain of anti-Semitism began to spread.9 This made Saxony at the end of the nineteenth century a centre of anti-Semitism and greater Dresden an anti-Semitic stronghold.10 It is therefore not surprising that in 1882 the first international ‘Anti-Jewish Congress’ was held in Dresden.11 In other words, in the city ‘in which politics was under the control of a coalition of conservative and anti-Semitic “reformers” until the fall of the monarchy’12. During this period anti-Semitism and conservatism underwent what can be called a veritable fusion which de facto represented ‘a reaction to a profound crisis of modernisation’13.

What became clear once again was the extremely pronounced political polarisation that already existed in Saxony between, on the one hand, strong middle class nationalism and anti-Semitism that had set the tone during the monarchy and, on the other, a robust workers’ movement with a long tradition that had been radicalised by the defeat of the First World War and the November Revolution.14 Even a strong and radicalised social democracy was unable to counteract the ambivalence created by the prevailing conditions during these years. In the ‘exemplary little land of reactionaries’15 social democracy had to administer a heavy burden inherited under Weimar conditions. Considering the almost negligible proportion of the overall population that Jews represented, the resonance anti-Semitism had in monarchist Saxony was astounding enough but it was given further impetus by the Dolchstoß [knife in the back] fable which potentiated anti-Semitic and anti-communist propaganda. The alleged betrayal of social democrats––‘in the interests of international financial capital’16––that they had brought about with the ‘dagger in the back’ and then doubled with the Treaty of Versailles, marked the main thrust of Deutschvölkische17 and National Socialist propaganda during the Weimar Republic. Thus it was ‘the nationalist/völkisch milieu there that […] produced the very first Nazi activists’18.

It was in 1921, in this right-wing Saxon bog that the first NSDAP local group outside of Bavaria was formed in Zwickau.19 Forerunner and ‘kernel of the Nazi movement’20 was the radically anti-Semitic, Deutschvölkische Schutz- und Trutzbund [German Nationalist Protection and Defiance Federation]. Martin Mutschmann, a textile industrialist from Plauen, was active in it from 1922 on. He was one of the most fanatical anti-Semites and also the among the most authoritarian figures in the Nazi movement in Saxony. A close relationship with Hitler and a ‘brutal instinct for power’21 secured his rapid rise within the party: in 1925 Hitler appointed him to the post of Gauleiter [provincial head] of the Saxony NSDAP and in 1933 to Reichsstatthalter [Governor]. 22

As of the crisis year 1923 there was a steady economic and political downturn, also, and especially, in Saxony. The heavy burden inherited from the Weimar Republic, in particular for the social democrats, markedly continued and which remained unchanged even with the formal ban on the NSDAP party in March of that year. In retrospect, the Reichsexekution23 against Saxony in October 1923 can be considered as a watershed,24 followed by a re-consolidation phase for the NSDAP from 1925 on. The result was that it ‘achieved a hegemony of the right wing and regularly obtained exceptionally good election results’25.

The inexorable rise of the NSDAP in Saxony began, at the latest, in autumn of 1926 when two members were sent to the provincial parliament26 for the first time. The NSDAP became a mass party at the same time as the democratic middle class party system gradually disintegrated. Because of its high level of industrialisation, Saxony––extremely polarised and in any case weakened––suffered especially severely from the consequences of the world economic crisis of 1929/30.27 This provided fertile soil for the impressive Nazi election campaign in June of 1930 for the provincial government which brought them the definitive breakthrough: with fourteen seats they became the second largest parliamentary group in the Saxony assembly.28 The beginning of the 1930 also marked the final fall of the Weimar Republic and circumstances in Saxony provided the benchmark. The outstanding election results of 1930 and the Reichstag [Federal Parliament] elections of 193229 turned the NSDAP into the leading party in Saxony; a Nazi Germany should follow from a Nazi Saxony.30

The cultural and intellectual climate was dominated by a nationalist conservative and volkisch ideology which was almost in perfect harmony with the ‘creeping Nazification of civil society’.31 Thus the Nazi party newspaper, Der Freiheitskampf, founded in August 1930 by Mutschmann, became the largest circulation Dresden newspaper––an edition of 107,000 daily––until the end of 1932.32 It also found a dangerous level of acceptance at the universities and, in 1932, the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund [National Socialist German Student Association] won the absolute majority in the student elections at Dresden Technical College. There was also prominent support from the professors: eleven of the forty-eight German and Austrian professors who, in July 1932, called for the Nazis to seize power were on the staff of the technical college.33 ‘The colleges all operated under the Nazi banner’34, so it was not surprising that on the 8 March 1933, after that after seizing power, Nazi students and the SA [storm troopers] carried out the first book burnings in the country in Dresden’s Wettiner Square. The publishing house of the Social Democrats which was situated there was stormed by the SA and the contents of the in-house library were burned on a pyre.35 On the very same day the Saxon SA opened one of the early concentration camps in the former Jugendburg Hohnstein in the Sächsische Schweiz. By August 1933 the number of prisoners there was around 300; torture was the order of the day. When, on the 20 May 1933, Gauleiter and, in the meantime, Reichsstatthalter Martin Mutschmann visited the ‘detention camp’ with leaders of the Saxony NSDAP, they were witness to a ceremony of ritual humiliation involving Hermann Liebmann, the former SPD36 Minister of the Interior for Saxony and a Jew. He was so badly mistreated in the process that he died shortly thereafter.37

Incidents of this nature, which were usually without consequences for the perpetrators, were typical and at the same time symptomatic of conditions in Saxony. At the very latest by the beginning of March 1933 the ‘breaking of the dam’ was noticeable as far as daily terror on the streets was concerned: as a consequence of the ‘Presidential Decree for the Protection of People and the State’ of 28 February which declared a permanent state of emergency. The Nazis made full use of it. Plundering, robbery, arrests, pogrom-like violence and murder were the order of the day; the Saxony police lost control of the streets. The SA and Political Police worked hand in hand.38 Thus on the 2 March the Ministry of the Interior for Saxony introduced an auxiliary police force which, within a few days, was dominated by SA, SS and the members of rightwing ‘defence’ forces. When, on the 8 March, Hitler gave SA leader Manfred von Killinger39 the post of Police Commissioner for Saxony, he was investing power in precisely those who were responsible for creating the civil war-like conditions––using their organisations––to now re-establish law and order. After the forced resignation of the ruling government under Walther Schieck on the 10 March, Hitler even appointed Killinger to the office of Reichskommissar [Governor] thus making him Prime Minister of Saxony.40 A power struggle characteristic for the Nazi movement then took place between Killinger and Mutschmann in which the latter continuously undermined Killinger’s efforts to stabilise the situation and contain the uncontrolled violence of the SA and SS. Mutschmann, well-known for his harsh style of leadership and his radical anti-Semitism was only to happy to act on his own initiative: together with Julius Streicher he organised a boycott of Jewish businesses throughout the Gau [province] which they set for 1 April 1933. In the same vein, it was on Mutschmann’s initiative that the City of Dresden administration issued a directive that all those belonging to the ‘Jewish race’ were to be immediately dismissed.41 This was on the 31 March, a week before the passing of the ‘Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums’ [Law for the Reconstruction of a Professional Civil Service] on the 7 April 1933.

In July 1933, as a consequence of the institutionalisation of political persecution of opponents, the Political Police were transformed into the Office of the Saxon Geheime Staatspolizei with offices in Wienerstraße in Dresden. By 1935, the Saxony Gestapo was able to achieve the almost complete suppression of all opposition groups and trade unions and, therefore, any form of organised resistance. Terror and mass arrests favoured this enterprise which ended in 1935 with a final wave of mass arrests involving 2,000 prisoners.42 During this process the Gestapo, which was really quite undermanned, could count on the support of the population of Saxony and rely on the denunciations that had become a mass phenomenon.43

There is no doubt that along with the consolidation of power at a political level the saturation of the intellectual and cultural spheres played an exceptionally central role. Dresden, the metropole with a wealth of cultural tradition, maintained its position under the Nazis though admittedly under a completely different banner: on the 23 September 1933 one of the first exhibitions of ‘what had been denounced as “degenerate” art’ was opened.44 Among others, the range of genres and styles of the exhibits in the show included Expressionism, Dadaism and Constructivism. It was the expression of the Nazi contempt for modern art and its protagonists. The Dresden exhibition Entartete Kunst [Degenerate Art] was the most frequently visited of the numerous forerunners of the famous 1937 Munich show to which it not only lent it its name but over the next four years it, too, toured twelve further cities. A visit by the Führer and other prominent party members such as Goebbels and Göring also underscored the great significance of this exhibition as a test run for the Munich version four years later.45 A further proof of the city’s role as a Nazi cultural stronghold is the planning and alignment of the first Reichs-Theaterfestwoche [Reich Theatre Festival Week] 1934. One of the ‘most representative theatre events of the Third Reich’,46 it was intended to take place annually and began in Dresden. The programme included music, plays and opera but the entire city was involved. It was intended to showcase the splendour of its artistic wealth and historical buildings and numerous exhibitions and other events supplemented the programme – all completely in line with Nazi ideology, of course. Once again the presence of highly prominent party members such as Hitler and Goebbels was foregrounded for propaganda and political purposes. Together with numerous events and processions as demonstrations of Nazi power and loyalty to the Führer, chief propagandist Goebbels held a number of speeches affirming ‘belief in the National Socialist state and German art’47. The great success of the Dresden Festival Week and the positive press coverage both at home and abroad succeeded in countering the widespread accusation of the ‘collapse of art in the Third Reich’48. From then on till the outbreak of war the festival was held annually in various cities.49

Dresden was also able to draw on and continue a long tradition of health policies: ‘Dresden – Stadt der Volksgesundheit’ [City of People’s Health] was the honorary title awarded by the presiding mayor, Ernst Zörner, at the inauguration of the Rudolf-Heß-Krankenhauses [Rudolf Hess Hospital] in Johannstadt in June 1934. It was both the solution to, and the concept behind, the Nazi ‘health and race policies’. The Deutsche Hygiene Museum [German Museum of Hygiene]––originally founded in 1913 as the Sozialhygienische Volksbildungsanstalt [People’s Educational Institute for Social Hygiene],50––the Rudolf-Heß-Krankenhaus and Hygiene Institute at the Dresden Technical College (founded in 1894) to name only three examples, were used in the Nazi ‘Stadt der Volksgesundheit’ specific and focussed research into ‘social and race hygiene’51, health education, health maintenance and basic research.52 There were no institutions in which people classified as lebensunwerten leben [unworthy of life]53 were killed in Dresden itself but Schloss Sonnenstein in Pirna, a traditional mental hospital, was not far away. And the path from health policy ideology to the two gas chambers in Pirna was even shorter. At the end of 1939 the mental hospital was closed down and, pursuant to the countrywide Aktion T4, two gas chambers were built into the empty buildings at the beginning of 1940. From June of that year till summer 1941 more than 13,000 mental and psychiatric patients were murdered there.54

In the years 1933–35 the anti-Semitism that was so strongly anchored in Saxony in general and Dresden in particular led to ‘numerous unofficial and spontaneous riots’55 directed against Jews. Thus, on the 20 July 1935 Jewish citizens were mistreated in Prager Straße.56 As part of a countrywide anti-Semitic campaign in the summer of 1935, the Der Freiheitskampf praised the local NSDAP group in Johannstadt, Dresden, for painting slogans on the lamp posts of entire streets: Die Juden sind unser Unglück [Jews are our misfortune] or Wer beim Juden kauft, ist ein Volksverräter [Anyone buying in a Jewish shop betrays the people.] Ultimately, initiatives of this sort undertaken by grassroots party members combined with the above-mentioned ideologically racist (health) policies and led to the passing of the Nuremberg Racial Laws only a few weeks later in November.57 After they had come into force the end of 1935 there were repeated cases of arrest for ‘racial defilement’ in Dresden. Henceforth there would be repeated ‘educational campaigns’, not infrequently instigated and organised by Mutschmann. Along with a ‘race policy week’ in November 1937 and the touring exhibition that was to be seen at the Deutschen Hygiene Museum in Dresden in January and February 1938 with the title Reichsschau Ewiges Volk [National Eternal Folk Exhibition], Mutschmann held a keynote speech—the title ‘The Jews are our Misfortune’58— on the 31 January 1938 in favour of ‘de-Jewing’ of the Weißer Hirsch district of the city. In March of the same year Saxony was flooded by a wave of anti-Semitic events with a title selected by Mutschmann: Völkerfrieden oder Judendiktatur? [Peace for the People or a Jewish Dictatorship?]. In Dresden alone on the 4 March 1938 there were an estimated 110 anti-Semitic mass meetings.59 During the rest of the year anti-Semitic outbursts became more frequent and more brutal: the Reichsführer-SS60 and the head of the German police ordered for the 27 October the arrest and deportation of all Polish national Jews that could be found. From the Dresden administrative district alone 724 people were deported. Their journey to occupied Poland not infrequently ended in the ghettos and extermination camps.61

The systematic stripping of rights, the harassment and the prohibitions led to Jewish citizens being deprived of the means of existence reached a dramatic turning point on the night of the 9–10 November 1938: it was the transition to ‘open anti-Jewish terror’62. In Dresden the Semper Synagogue was set on fire after Jewish businesses had been plundered and destroyed and Jewish citizens physically abused. Many other buildings were set on fire and burned down.63 During the Pogromnacht, 151 Jews (including the entire board of the Dresden Jewish Community) were taken to the Pogromsonderlager [Special Pogrom Camp] Buchenwald though some of them were sent to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen. The ruins of the synagogue were demolished on the 12 November. Perfidiously, the Jewish Community was made responsible for paying the costs.64 The following months were characterised by a process of ghettoisation65 which also resulted in isolation, exclusion and identification measures. For example, aided by the Gesetz(es) über Mietverhältnisse mit Juden [law relating to rentals and leases with Jews], passed on the 30 April 1939, all tenant protection provisions were revoked and from autumn of that year an order was made under which the Jewish population was concentrated in so-called Judenhäuser [Jew houses]. In the end there were thirty-two of these Judenhäuser in Dresden. The alleged aim of this concentration was ‘the avoidance of disturbances to public peace and security’66. Since Jews were also officially classified as ‘troublemakers’ for the purposes of the property lease law, they were compelled to move into these habitations by 1 April 1940. The result was a high percentage of homelessness and severely cramped and degrading living conditions. In short: ‘the brutality and suffering of isolation in the midst of Dresden’s everyday life67. A further important point was the insignia of identification, that not only appeared as a ‘J’ on the food ration cards but as an armband. This had the effect of a public branding. Furthermore, from August 1940 on, Dresden Jews who had to work as forced labour were also made to wear a yellow armband. In September 1941 the law requiring the general identification of all Jews––the wearing of a yellow star––came into force.68

At this point in time approximately 1265 Jews lived in Dresden. Over 400 of them were forced to work in the Goehle factory of Zeiss Ikon AG.69 From January 1942 further deportations were carried out: on the 21 January 1942, 224 people were deported from Dresden Neustadt railway station to the Riga ghetto. Children, munitions workers and people in so-called mixed marriages were excepted. Many of those who were deported became victims of mass shootings. From July 1942 deportees from Dresden were sent to Theresienstadt. By January 1944 there had been at least 250 people deported there in ten transports.70 Those not sent to Riga or Theresienstadt were interned in November 1942 in the specially established Judenlager Hellerberg [Hellerberg Camp for Jews] in the former Dr. Todt Straße. This was opened as a joint project involving the NSDAP, Gestapo and representatives of the Zeiss Ikon company. Around 300 Jews were herded together in the worst possible conditions in this camp, the majority of them were employed in the nearby Goehle factory producing armaments. On the 3/4 March of the same year the camp was cleared and all internees were deported to Auschwitz from Dresden Neustadt where a horrifying death awaited most.71 On the 10 June 1943, as a result of the nationwide dissolution of Jewish Communities and the Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland [Cleansing of the German State of Jews], all ‘non-protected’ Jews were deported to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz. This also applied to Dresden so that from that date on only Jews living in mixed marriages and so-called ‘half-breeds’ continued to live in the city.72 At the beginning of 1945 there were still 174 Jews; a final deportation of the Arbeitseinsatzfähigen [able-bodied] was prevented by allied air raids. This saved the lives of an unknown number of them.73 One must also keep in mind the death marches that passed through Dresden. As late as April 1945 they were being sent towards Theresienstadt and numerous people lost their lives in the process.74

If the above-mentioned aspects show that Dresden’s role was that of a typical large Nazi city, the city was also enormously important because of its civil and military infrastructure. As a central railway junction, Dresden became especially important for the deportations to extermination camps in Eastern Europe.75 Along with the transport of troops, materials and deportees, the railway also brought supplies for the armament and mining activities in the area surrounding Dresden such as Freital.76 Dresden was also the site of a Reichsbahnausbesserungswerkes [National Railway Heavy Maintenance Works] which was responsible for maintaining the infrastructure in the surrounding area and keeping the railway junction itself running by using enormous numbers of foreign nationals and forced labourers77. Towards then end of the war the city was part of the only intact corridor between the east and west fronts, the last open railway line connecting Berlin and Prague.78

Another focal point is the local armament industry: as a flourishing site of armament production for the German Reich, the optics industry and mechanical engineering firms were especially prominent. This made the city a central node for air force armaments. Characteristic for the greater Dresden area was its industrial diversity. This was incorporated into the war effort little by little.79 Furthermore, during the war there were over 500,000 forced labourers in Saxony as a whole, most from Eastern Europe. These were employed in armament production and the war economy in general.80 In Dresden’s immediate surroundings there were around 240 businesses involved in the armament industry and more than 781 companies employed foreign forced labour. In Dresden alone these numbered 30,873. In addition there were 5,000 concentration camp inmates who, at the end of 1944, were being used in the ten satellite camps of KZ Flossenbürg that were located in Dresden.81 Even after the allied air raids ‘Dresden’s industrial substance’82 continued to function: carrying out pre-assembly preparation for tanks, for example. In Freital oil and fuel continued to be produced while the typical Dresden fine mechanical and optical industries––indispensable for new artillery and munitions—also remained operative.83

Although the City of Dresden’s strategic relevance to the war is more than clear, the alleged military inconsequence of this so-called ‘Florence on the Elbe’ is an important component of the ‘Dresden’ myth.

Furthermore, ‘it is unquestionable that, Dresden, as the last intact garrison city of the Third Reich […] was of considerable importance’84. In 1926, with the transfer of the

Infanterieschule der Reichswehr [National Armed Forces Infantry School] from Munich to Dresden the city once again became one of the largest garrisons in Germany. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, the garrison consisted on 20,000 soldiers, including units of the army, navy and air force. In addition to the biggest army school, Dresden was also the location of the headquarters of Wehrkreises IV [Military District IV – Saxony], GHQ for the 4th Army Corps and diverse offices of military administration as well as the base for the ‘Pioniersturmbann [Pioneer Battalion] of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, a precursor to the Waffen-SS’85. During the war reinforcement units were trained in the numerous barracks in the city and the biggest military hospital in Germany was located here too.86 From the military strategy point of view Dresden was capable of fulfilling a number of functions such as ‘securing the flanks for the capital city’ and ‘guaranteeing the strategically important Elbe crossing’. At the same the city served as an ‘important junction for moving troops and as a nexus for various strands of communication’. It was thus ‘indispensable for the defence of the Reich towards the east and the south87.

This certainly played a factor when, on the 1 January 1945, the Army GHQ ordered that a Verteidigungsbereiches Dresden [Dresden Defensive Area] was to be established. Dresden was to become a ‘stronghold’.88 From Hamburg to Prague, the Elbe was to act as the last German line of defence against the advancing Red Army. It was, above all, intended to hold up the sheer mass of Soviet tanks by using the most modern bazookas. Almost all of the plans relating to the defence area were directed at gaining time because there was always the hope that the anti-Hitler coalition would fall apart, literally at the last minute. In keeping with that scenario, an appeal was made by Mutschmann in the Der Freiheitskampf on the 16 April (i.e. after the allied air raids on the 13–15 February) to the people of Dresden. It was headlined: ‘Dresden will be defended to the last and by all available means.’89 During the following days there were direct instructions to the people.90 The HQ of the Verteidigungsbereiches Dresden could count on a total of around 20,000 men, women and children, ‘a motley group of troops and units from the army, SS, police, Volkssturm and Hitler Youth’ that were to defend the city to the last.91 Even after the fall of Berlin on 2 May 1945, the war continued in Dresden. Verteidigungsbereiches Dresden was only evacuated on the 6 May and the Red Army, which entered the city on 7 and 8 May still encountered scattered pockets of resistance.92 Thus war continued to be waged in Dresden right to the last minute.

In the face of these historical facts any assertion that Dresden could not have been a historical exception is both factually correct but nevertheless lacking. As has been shown Dresden, as a Nazi regional capital, took on a special or exemplary role in some areas so that the fairy story of the ‘innocent’ metropole on the Elbe that was ‘insignificant in its contribution to the war effort’ was, and continues to be, completely untenable. However, the official recognition of responsibility for the Nazi barbarity that has been evident in recent years in the Dresden memorialisation discourse also continues to make use of half truths, set phrases and clichés. So, for example, there is talk of the war having originated in Germany, only to come home to it (and thus also to Dresden) once again, a war which claimed countless German civilian victims. The implication is that the latter are in contrast to their imaginary opposites – ‘the Nazis’.

In the final analysis this ends in a relativisation of guilt and, ultimately, in the universalisation of suffering. What is forgotten and covered up in the process is that Nazi Germany began and prosecuted the war as a war of extermination and that Dresden was an integral component of that right from the beginning. Thus what should be noted is that whoever refuses to talk about Nazism should also be silent about Dresden.

Citation René Haase: ‘Suddenly’, ‘Unexpectedly’, ‘Senseless’? – Dresden during National Socialism, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX[dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Tim Sharp


1 The book by Götz Bergander, Dresden im Luftkrieg. Vorgeschichte – Zerstörung – Folgen, Weimar: Böhlau Verlag, 1994, (first published in 1977) is the most important work which exposes the myths surrounding the depiction of the allied air raids on Dresden. It is also worth mentioning the monograph by Frederick Taylor, Dresden, Dienstag, 13. Februar 1945. Militärische Logik oder blanker Terror?, München: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2004, which is oriented on Bergander.

2 Gunnar Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde, Hamburg: KVV konkret, 2009, p. 33. In this connection Schubert names the anthology edited by Reiner Pommerin, Dresden unterm Hakenkreuz, Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 1998, as the only counter example though it, too, only deals with partial aspects. Taylor’s (above-mentioned) monograph also lacks a complete and comprehensive depiction. Further individual aspects concerning Dresden and its surroundings can be found in Clemens Vollnhals (ed.), Sachsen in der NS-Zeit, Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag GmbH, 2002.

3 Dirk Hilbert, ‘Dresden war keine Ausnahme der Geschichte’, in: Christine Pieper/Mike Schmeitzner/Gerhard Naser (ed.), Braune Karrieren. Dresdner Täter und Akteure im Nationalsozialismus, Dresden: Sandstein Verlag, 2012, 9.

4 Christine Pieper/Mike Schmeitzner, ‘Täter und Akteure im Nationalsozialismus, Ein forschungsgeschichtlicher Überblick’, in: Christine Pieper et al. (ed.), op. cit. 13–19.

5 Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei = National Socialist German Workers’ Party = Nazi party

6 Benjamin Lapp, ‘Der Aufstieg des Nationalsozialismus in Sachsen’, in: Reiner Pommerin (ed.), Dresden unterm Hakenkreuz, Köln: Böhlau Verlag, 1998, 2.

7 Ibid. p 32.

8 In Germany and Austria the Gründerzeit frequently refers to the period 1850–1870 which was marked by stability and towards the end of the period a boom. This was followed by the stock market crash in 1873 and a long depression, the Gründerkrise.

9 Clemens Vollnhals, ‘Der gespaltene Freistaat: Der Aufstieg der NSDAP in Sachsen’, in: op. cit. Sachsen in der NS-Zeit, Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag GmbH, 2002, 9–40.

10 Gerald Kolditz, ‘Zur Entwicklung des Antisemitismus in Dresden während des Kaiserreichs’, in: Dresdner Geschichtsverein (ed): Zwischen Integration und Vernichtung. Jüdisches Leben in Dresden im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, Dresdner Hefte 45 (1996), 37–45.

11 Vollnhals, op. cit. 10.

12 Ibid.

13 Op. cit. 11.

14 See: op. cit. 11.

15 Ibid.

16 Lapp, op. cit. 21.

17 Deutschvölkische Freiheitspartei, or DVFP = German Völkisch Freedom Party. A right wing and anti-Semitic party founded on the Völkish movement. There is no direct translation for the term in English but it combines populist notions of ‘folksy’ and ‘people-based’ includes a strong ‘ethno-nationalist or racist component and is based on emotional appeal.

18 Vollnhals, op. cit. 12.

19 Ibid. 9.

20 Ibid.

21 Mike Schmeitzner, ‘Martin Mutschmann und Manfred von Killinger. Die Führer der Provinz”’, in: Christine Pieper et al. (ed.), Braune Karrieren, 2012, op. cit. 25.

22 Ibid. 27.

23 A Reichsexekution was intended as a legal decree issued against a state by the federal president in defence of the federal constitution. Military force could be used and a state of emergency declared. In this case it was used against a legally elected government consisting of socialists and communists.

24 See: Vollnhals, op. cit. 13.

25 Henning Fischer, ‘Erinnerung’ an und für Deutschland. Dresden und der 13. Februar 1945 im Gedächtnis der Berliner Republik, Münster: Verlag Westfälisches Dampfboot, 2011, 61.

26 Vollnhals, op. cit. 20.

27 In 1939, for example, there were almost 400,000 unemployed and by summer of 1932 it had risen to 725,000, which was 12% of the unemployment acroos the whole country. op.cit. p. 25; cf. Lapp, op.cit. 14.

28 Vollnhals, op.cit. p. 25ff. What is remarkable is that in the run up to the elections there were reports of around 2,000 election meeting in the short space of 3 weeks. This shows with absolute clarity the methodical Nazi energy for agitation and propaganda in comparison to the middle class parties. See: Lapp, op.cit. 9.

29 The NSDAP recieved 41,2 % of the vote in Saxony and 37,7 %, in Dresden. The countrywide average was 37,3 %; ibid. 23.

30 Ibid. 22ff.

31 Vollnhals, op.cit. 31.

32 Ralf Krüger, ‘Presse unter Druck. Differenzierte Berichterstattung trotz nationalsozialistischer Presselenkungsmaßnahmen. Die liberalen Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten und das NSDAP-Organ Der Freiheitskampf im Vergleich’, in: Pommerin (ed.), op .cit. 43–66.

33 Vollnhals, op. cit. 9–40.

34 Michael Parak, ‘Hochschule und Wissenschaft: Nationalsozialistische Hochschul- und Wissenschaftspolitik in Sachsen 1933–1945, in: Vollnhals (ed.), op. cit. pp. 118132.

35 Werner Treß, ‘Wider den undeutschen Geist!’. Bücherverbrennung 1933, Berlin: vorwärts buch Verlag, 2008, 55ff.

36 German Social Democratic Party

37 Marcus Gryglewski, ‘Zur Geschichte der nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung in Dresden 1933–1945’, in: Norbert Haase/Stefi Jersch-Wenzel/Hermann Simon (eds.), Die Erinnerung hat ein Gesicht. Fotografien und Dokumente zur nationalsozialistischen Judenverfolgung in Dresden 1933–1945, Leipzig: Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag GmbH, 1998, 87–150.

38 Carsten Schreiber, ‘Täter und Opfer: Der Verfolgungsapparat im NS-Staat’, in: Vollnhals (ed.), op. cit. 172.

39 On Killinger’s career see: Schmeitzner, Martin Mutschmann und Manfred von Killinger, 2012, op. cit. 22–31.

40 Andreas Wagner, ‘Partei und Staat. Das Verhältnis von NSDAP und innerer Verwaltung im Freistaat Sachsen 1933–1945’, in: Vollnhals (ed.), Sachsen, op.cit. pp 41–56.

41 Gryglewski, op. cit. 101f.

42 Schreiber, op. cit. pp. 174–179; cf. Gryglewski, op.cit. 103.

43 Schreiber, ibid. 177.

44 Fischer, op. cit. 63.

45 See: Christoph Zuschlag, Die Dresdner Ausstellung Entartete Kunst 1933–1937, in: Dresdner Geschichtsverein (ed): Die Ausstellung ‘Entartete Kunst’ und der Beginn der NS-Kulturbarbarei in Dresden, Dresdner Hefte 77 (2004), 17–25.

46 Hansjörg Schneider, Die I. Reichs-Theaterfestwoche 1934 in Dresden, in: Dresdner Geschichtsverein (ed.), ibid. 70.

47 Ibid. 72.

48 Loc. cit. 74.

49 Loc. cit. 70–76.

50 Peter Fäßler, ‘Sozialhygiene – Rassenhygiene – Euthanasie: “Volksgesundheitspflege” im Raum Dresden’, in: Pommerin (ed.), op. cit. 198.

51 Ibid. 199.

52 Loc. cit. 193 and 198f.

53 Loc. cit. 194.

54 Ibid. also 204ff.

55 Gryglewski, op. cit. 104.

56 Steffen Held, ‘Von der Entrechtung zur Deportation: Die Juden in Sachsen’, in: Vollnhals (ed.), op. cit. 214.

57 Gryglewski, op. cit. 105f.

58  Loc. cit. p. 106; cf. Fischer, op. cit. 63.

59 Nora Goldenbogen, ‘Nationalsozialistische Judenverfolgung in Dresden seit 1938 – ein Überblick’, Dresdner Hefte, 45, 1996, p. 76; cf. Gryglewskiop. cit. 107.

60 The highest rank in the SS, occuppied by Heinrich Himmler from 1929–1945.

61 Goldenbogen, op. cit. 78.

62 Ibid.

63 Gryglewski, op. cit. 107ff.

64 Goldenbogen, op. cit. 78; cf. Gryglewski op. cit. 108.

65 Goldenbogen, ibid.

66 Goldenbogen op. cit. 79ff.

67 Goldenbogen op. cit. 80; cf. Gryglewski, op. cit. 110–113.

68 Held, op. cit. 218f.

69 Goldenbogen, op. cit. 80; cf. Held, op. cit. 220.

70 Fischer, op. cit. 67; cf. Gryglewski, op. cit. 118ff.

71 Fischer, op. cit. 68f.; cf. Goldenbogen, op. cit. 81f.

72 With the exception of the 5,000 concetration camp inmates (2,000 of whom were Jewish) who were brought to Dresden at the and of 1944/beginning of 1945 under the Vernichtung durch Arbeit [Work to Death] programme and for armament production. See: Goldenbogen, op. cit. 83.

73 Gryglewski, op. cit. 142ff.

74 Goldenbogen, op. cit. p. 83; cf. ‘Auschwitz auf der Straße, Todesmärsche in Dresden’, in: audioscript zur Verfolgung und Vernichtung der Jüdinnen und Juden in Dresden 1933–1945, URL: http://www.audioscript.net/de/1_10.html (accessed 10 August 2012).

75 Fischer, op. cit. 64; cf. Goldenbogen, op. cit. 80–83.

76 Alexander Fischer, ‘Ideologie und Sachzwang. Kriegswirtschaft und Ausländereinsatz im südostsächsischen Elbtalgebiet’, in: Sächsisches Staatsarchiv Leipzig (ed.), Fremd- und Zwangsarbeit in Sachsen 1939–1945, Halle/Saale: mdv Mitteldeutscher Verlag, 2002, 12–26.

77 Op. cit. p. 15.

78 Bergander, op. cit. 249ff.

79 Fischer, op. cit. 14.

80 Forced labourers were prisoners of war, foreign civil workers and concentration camp inmates. See: Jürgen Rainer Wolf, ‘Vorwort’, in: Sächsisches Staatsarchiv Leipzig (ed.), op. cit. 5.

81 Fischer, ‘Erinnerung’, 2011, op. cit. 65; Fischer, ‘Ideologie und Sachzwang’, 2002, op. cit. 12; Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld, 2009, op. cit. 34 und Goldenbogen, op. cit. 83.

82 Rolf-Dieter Müller, ‘Die militärische Bedeutung Dresdens im Frühjahr 1945 und die Auswirkungen der alliierten Luftangriffe’, in: Rolf-Dieter Müller/Nicole Schönherr/Thomas Widera (eds.), Die Zerstörung Dresdens 13. bis 15. Februar 1945. Gutachten und Ergebnisse der Dresdner Historikerkommission zur Ermittlung der Opferzahlen, Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2010, 75–100.

83 Ibid.

84 Loc. cit. 75.

85 Manfred Beyer, ‘Dresden als Keimzelle des militärischen Widerstands – die Garnison in der NS-Zeit’, in: Dresdner Geschichtsverein (ed), Dresden als Garnisonsstadt, Dresdner Hefte 53 (1998), 52–59. The work should be treated with a certain reserve and critical distance. In Dresden contacts were made that took on form around the 20 July 1944, but to talk of a kernel of military resistance is historically inaccurate. Indeed: ‘Stauffenberg found no support in Dresden for his attempted coup détat’. (Müller, op. cit. 77).

86 Beyer, op. cit. pp. 54–57; cf. Fischer, (2011), op. cit. 64.

87 Müller, op. cit. 76.

88 Ibid.

89 Quotation from Hermann Rahne, ‘Die “Festung Dresden” von 1945’, in: Dresdner Geschichtsverein (ed.): Dresden – Das Jahr 1945, Dresdner Hefte 41 (1995), 19–31.

90 Loc. cit. 19f.

91 Op. cit. 25ff.; quote 26.

92 Op. cit. 29f.

Foreword to the English edition

»Dissonanz« Author Collective

While German tourists visiting Dresden are no longer quite as shocked by the old buildings they see everywhere, they do still irritate tourists from abroad. Everything around the Frauenkirche smells of renovation and Disneyland so one is aware of the reconstruction. However, questions start to – arise at the very latest – on the way to Pillnitz, via the villa quarter Blasewitz and the ‘Blaue Wunder’ [Blue Wonder] Bridge. How could all of this have survived the firestorm? After all, it was a second Hiroshima, wasn’t it?

The Nazi leadership used the air raids on Dresden on the 13 and 14 February 1945 as the basis of a campaign to discredit the allies in neutral countries abroad. In the days following the bombardment the news agencies filed detailed reports, press releases and radio reports which represented Dresden as a peaceful city of art and culture. [1] The lies propagated by the Reich Ministry of Propaganda about the innocent, militarily unimportant art and culture city which had been unnecessarily bombed shortly before the end of hostilities while talking about a hundred thousand deaths, a rain of phosphorus and low-flying fighter planes targeting the civil population were not without effect in the allied and neutral nations. Although critical historians and anti-fascist groups active both in local and national discourses have been successful in deconstructing the Dresden-as-victim myth over the last few years international perception of the air raids on Dresden are nevertheless regarded as militarily senseless, particularly savage or even as an Allied war crime. The reception of classics of literature such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 continue to contribute to this. In his book, a high school text in the USA, Vonnegut compares Dresden after the bombing with the surface of the moon and quotes David Irving, the British revisionist historian and Holocaust denier who, in The Destruction of Dresden, published an exaggerated numbers of casualties – 135,000.

Also involved in the internationally current idea that one has to place Dresden and Hiroshima (and 11 September too) in the same category is bestseller author Jonathan Safran Foers. In his book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,which was filmed in 2011[2] he links the story of his main character with the experiences of his grandparents who lived through the Dresden bombings. In Germany parallels like this drawn by outsiders are gratefully accepted. Thus the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote: ‘Moreover, the New York drama is interlaced with two other apocalyptic firestorms, viz. the bombing of Dresden and the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Thus Foer relates two of the most contentious and symbolically charged catastrophes of the twentieth century to a terrorist crime which, we fear, will become no less symbolic for the beginning of the twenty-first century’.[3] By translating our criticisms of memorialisation we intend to intervene in the continuing reproduction of the Dresden myth in international discourse. We would like to make our arguments against the memorialisation of the bombing accessible to academics, political activists and those interests outside German-speaking regions.

‘First the bombs, then the Wall, now the floods: we can handle that too!’

This morale-boosting slogan brightened the summer of 2002 – the ‘flood of the century’ had just turned ‘Florence on the Elbe’ into ‘Venice on the Elbe’ – on a short run of posters distributed by the Saxony FDP [Free Democratic Party] calling for donations for its flood fund. It could only be seen in Dresden city centre. Dresden, after many hard setbacks of fate, knows what suffering and privation mean. Anyone wanting to score points in Dresden would do well not to forget the bombings – they give you a direct line to the identity of its inhabitants. A fixed point of reference is their collective memory of the Allied air raids on Dresden between the 13 and 15 February 1945. And none of this is a joking matter, as one can see from the reaction to Thomas Gottschalk’s witty remark during the television programme, Wetten, dass …? when he commented on the rebuilding the Frauenkirche [Church of Our Lady but literally ‘Women’s Church’] by asking if it might not have been cheaper to build a women’s parking space. There was a similar reaction when the satyric magazine, Titanic, commented the 2002 floods on it back page with ‘Relapse into a planned economy: water for extinguishing fires 57 years behind schedule’. Natives of Dresden vented their ire and dented pride in their suffering with angry articles and commentaries in local newspapers and letters to the editor.

Dresden is legend, a beautiful, innocent city of art and culture and the German victimisation narrative without peer, bombed unnecessarily shortly before the end of the war with hundreds of thousands dead. It is a legend of ‘Allied war crimes’ with a rain of phosphorus, low-flying fighters targeting the civilian population. And it is a symbol of peace and reconciliation. In the meantime, for those who, in their political position in relation to memorialisation, are beyond legends and prefer to ‘put the past behind us’, Dresden has become a symbol for accurate memory as opposed to historically revisionist version of the Nazis. For a long time Dresden’s history only began on the 13 February 1945 with the bombardment of the city. Before that there was a long blank reach as far back as the glorious times of the Baroque era which were viewed through rose-coloured glasses: Dresden the Baroque pearl of art and culture. And little has changed up to the present.

National Socialism, the persecution of Jews, deportations, book burnings, force labour and Aryanisation – none of this took place in Dresden. Instead, the city was the personification of German victimhood that must, at last, be commemorated. The internationally effective myth of the lost city penned by Nazi propagandists and tenaciously cultivated over the years endures. But the annually increasing attention paid to the growing size of the Nazi procession – first established in Dresden in 1998 – had taken advantage of the form and content of the commemoration. This forced a change in the official remembrance and memorial policies – at least superficially. The legends were questioned, facts researched and the Nazi history of Dresden described and named. The city’s need re-draw the demarcation lines was satisfied by official declarations of belief.

To many that looked as if criticism of the annual commemorative ceremonies was now obsolete. For many others it seemed that from now on the only struggle required was that against the Ewiggestrigen [die-hards, literally ‘the eternal yesterdayers’] who were here to take part in one of their last great parades. Whereas in the 1990s the protests were directed against the annual remembrance evening of the 13 February in front of the Frauenkirche with its historical revisionism and denial of historical facts, one’s own guilt and perpetrator status, the protests in the last few years have focussed on preventing neo-Nazi parade marches. This was first fully successful (at least as far as the larger of the two annual processions is concerned) in 2011 when mass blockades were set up. However, much was lost sight of in the process especially and increasingly issues linked to the politics of memorialisation: an analysis of the linkages between the Nazi marches and memorialisation in Dresden and, equally, well-found criticism of Dresden memorial culture and the way in which guilt and perpetrator status in National Socialism was dealt with throughout Germany. There were also only marginally perceptible advances in criticism related to new developments in memorial discourse. Criticism that does more than deconstruct legends or contextualise events in a more than an abstract way is almost completely absent or even regarded as superfluous – the historical context of the bombing is common knowledge, isn’t it? Nevertheless criticism can still be made of memorial culture in Dresden, embedded as it is in the German victim discourse and with the German resistance to dealing with the National Socialist past.

In putting this book together the editors were motivated by this lack of closure deriving from a failure to grapple with the issues and the continuing necessity for critical interventions. They have all been politically active in Dresden for many years and are concerned with the critical analysis of memorialisation, the Dresden legends and their linkages with the discourses relating to the politics of memorialisation. They were (and are) members of various groups and projects which, over the past few years, have attempted to intervene in the annual events centred on the 13 February and the Dresden memorialisation discourse in general. Over these years much has been written, researched, restructured and discussed about the 13 February complex. Making this available to interested readers as a compendium was additional incentive for the editors.

The articles by various authors that are collected here provide an overview of the basics: the socio-political content of and the developments around how the 13 February is commemorated. And they deliver a fundamental critique of this as well as the current German politics of memorialisation in general. The articles open up a chronological perspective of the development of the 13 February, looking at its anti-imperialist spin in the GDR, the Germans-as-victims attitude, the call for peace and conciliation as part of the new German self-confidence after 1990, the ‘truthful’ remembrance without exaggerate numbers of fatal casualties, low-flying fighter planes or blatant rejections of guilt and, finally the arrival in the Berlin republic. The texts offer an analytical perspective dedicated to individual aspects, discursive topoi and, equally, to symbols and their effects on the Dresden memorialisation discourse. But the present publication does not only link the publishers/editors because of their aspiration to provide descriptions, analysis and criticism but also because of their practical approach to the documentation of the various ways that have been tried since the 1990s to counteract and disrupt what can be called the Dresden fact-resistant mourning collective. This is always concerned with itself and a memorial discourse that is tightly bound up with their own identity as victims. At least some of their certainties have been shaken.

These articles are prefixed by a theoretical basis for further engagement with the 13 February complex. In Werkzeug Erinnerungskultur. Die Funktionen des kollektiven Gedächtnisses [Memorial Culture Tool. The Function of Collective Memory] Mathias Berek takes on Dresden memorial culture and providing readers with a theoretical introduction to collective memory and memorial culture. He explains how collective memory is generated with regard to present motives and situations, the function it can have in defining politics, identity and reality and why this means that there can be no such thing as the ‘misuse of memory’.

In the chapter FOKUSSIERT [FOCUSSED] a number of different authors take up individual aspects of memorialisation in Dresden. The essay, Im Kielwasser. Der Mythos Dresden und der Wandel der deutschen Nationalgeschichte [Dresden in the wake of Germany: The myths of Dresden and the modification of German national history] sets current Dresden memorialisation in relation to the modernisation of German national history. In it, Henning Fischer pursues the question as to the role that the transformed discourse takes in the newly adjusted relationship of the Berlin republic to German history.

In Manna vom Himmel2, an interview mit audioscript Dresden, Olga Horak described the bombing of Dresden in January 1945: ‘During the raid we watched as bombs fell like manna from heaven’. She was one of the Jewish prisoners on death marches that passed through Dresden’s inner city area in January and February 1945.

In her article, ‘Da seht ihr’s, jetzt wisst ihr’s’:Friedenspolitische Initiativen im Gedenken an die Bombardierungen Dresdens seit 1980 [There you see it, now you know it: Initiative in Peace Policies in Memory of the Dresden Bombings since 1980], Claudia Jerzak describes the dilemma that actors who criticise military solutions to social conflicts have in historically de-contextualising the air raids on the one hand and, on the other, encouraging the propagation of the highly symbolic universalisation of the mythic narrative of the innocent city of art and culture to provide fertile ground for revisionist arguments.

In One Nation on the Screen: ‘Dresden’, filmisches Erinnern und deutsch-deutsche Geschichtspolitik [Filmic Memories and the German–German Politics of History] Antonia Schmid analyses how German television productions are dedicated to the quest and yearning for German identity. While marking the ideology of community as found is found in National Socialism as negative, they simultaneously manage to create the notion of victimised communities which proffers another identity.

The contribution by Christine Künzel, Slaughterhouse Dresden: Literarisches Erinnern bei Kurt Vonnegut und Jonathan Safran Foer – zwischen Satire und Kitsch [The Literary Memories of Kurt Vonnegut and Jonathan Safran Foer – Between Satire and Kitsch] undertakes a critical academic and literary analysis of the two American novels in which the destruction of Dresden plays a central role – the 1969 bestseller Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close from 2005.

Two articles are focussed on those sites of remembrance that are central to Dresden inhabitants’ memorialisation of the bombings. While Swen Steinberg is concerned with the official memorial site of the City of Dresden, Heidefriedhof, [lit. Heath Cemetery], Philipp Klein pursues the history and significance of the symbol for the 13 February 1945 and post-war reconstruction that has been staged for the citizens of Dresden as the embodiment of peace and conciliation – the Frauenkirche. In contrast, in his contribution, Nicht Gedenkort, sondern Lernort – Was der Dresdner Heidefriedhof erzählt und erzählen könnte [Not a Site of Memorialisation but a Site of Learning – What the Heidefriedhof in Dresden Speaks of and What it Might Speak of], Swen Steinberg approaches his subject from the angle of the problematic memorial architecture and thus opens up a field for ways of dealing with memorial site education where memorials represent the ideology of remembrance of their times.

This focus on two of the most prominent symbolic sites is expanded by Philipp Klein’s overview of memorial politics in Dresden which is caught up in the identity dissonances inherent in the conflicts between reconstruction and victimhood. The spectrum of public memorialisation, from the Neumarkt [New Market] of the Baroque fundamentalist via the Trauernde Mädchen im Tränenmeer [The Mouring Girl in a Sea of Tears] to the current undertaking of a site of remembrance at the Busmannkapelle (a side chapel of the Sofienkirche) with the long-demanded memorial bearing the names of all 19,000 known fatal bomb causalities shows the continuing historical revisionism of the Dresden victim myth.

A completely different genre of text bears the title, Dresden Christ Superstar. Eine Farce in fünf Akten [A Farce in Five Acts]. It follows the Pathway of Remembrance in Dresden through its stations from ‘destruction’ to ‘resurrection’. Here, the fluffy Pink Rabbit delivers a commentary on staged events whereby Dresden does not only catch up with Jesus but overtakes him. In the end Dresden beats Jesus two to one. In their contribution, Dresden ruft [Dresden Calling] The Dresden Antifa Research Team traces the development of the largest Nazi march in Europe. They consider its significance inside the Nazi scene and, equally, the deeper linkages of the Nazi ‘mourning march’ with Dresden’s memorial culture. In Gedenken per Gesetz [Remembrance by Law] the group looks at the new laws regulating assemblies in Saxony. With the passing of the assembly law, first in January 2010, subsequently overturned in 2011 by the courts only to be passed again in 2012, the CDU/FDP (conservative and liberal coalition) succeeded in creating a legal régime in Saxony that not only puts National Socialism on the same footing as communism but also intervenes in the discourse of memorial politics and the political domain per se.

Rounding off this chapter Gunnar Schubert, in Zum Turme hebt es, zum Turme strebt es [To the tower it rises, to the tower it strives], takes issue with Dresden’s bourgeoisie, their lies about the beauty of the past and their escape into ornamentation. Together with Uwe Tellkamp’s The Tower, an acclaimed and now filmed novel about the survival of a bourgeoisie during the so-called second dictatorship on German soil, the author comes to the conclusion, ‘In the future it will not be possible to say anything meaningful about this city without taking into account in the description a zombie by the name of “Dresden Bourgeoisie”. If one understands how to read what Tellkamp wrote, not what he possibly wanted to say, one recognises the reactionary cultural stratum that forms a dome over the city that separates it from the living’.

The chapter CHRONOLOGISCH [CHRONOLOGICAL] undertakes a historical classification and contextualisation of Dresden during the period of National Socialism and well as a chronological account of memorial practices in the city. In ‚Plötzlich’, ‚Unerwartet’, ‚Sinnlos’ [‘Suddenly’, ‘Unexpectedly’, ‘Senselessly’] René Haase presents Dresden’s history before and during the Nazi period and shows how, in the light of historical facts, the claim the Dresden was an exception to history was correct but incomplete. This is because the National Socialist Gauhauptstadt [provincial capital] Dresden had, at certain levels, a special and even pioneering role so that the fairy tale about the ‘innocent’ and ‘militarily unimportant’ city on the Elbe has always been completely untenable. For almost seventy years now, the bombing of Dresden on the 13/14 February 1945 has been a fixed reference point in the memory and commemorative events in the city. Throughout those decades Dresden was the culmination and expression of the prevailing politics of history – from the anti-fascist and anti-imperialist position of the state in the GDR, via the closure (forget about the past – a ‘clean sheet’ restart) mindset and the new German self-confidence of the 1990s to the present-day memorial politics of the Berlin republic. In Gestern Dresden, heute Korea, morgen die ganze Welt [Yesterday Dresden, today Korea, tomorrow the whole world] Sophie Abbe describes the beginnings and development of an ideological spin imparted to the 13 February commemorations in the Soviet-occupied zone and the GDR. She investigates the question as to what signs and political contexts an anti-imperialist rhetoric in the historico-political discourse about National Socialism and the Second World War was established and, naturally, exercised an influence over the form and content of memorialisation in Dresden.

In Aus alt mach neu [Make new from the old] Andrea Hübler describes two decades of the history of Dresden commemoration in unified Germany. In the process she focuses on the developments of meaning and content – from the closure mindset, the erasure of historical context and the stylisation of Dresden as a symbol of peace and conciliation to a modernised form of remembrance in which Dresden, in keeping with the times, acknowledges its past and carries its having-learned-from-it confession before it like a banner and now, every 13 February, claims everyone’s suffering for itself.

The final chapter, AKTIVISTISCH [ACTIVIST] looks back on twenty years of critical engagement with commemoration in Dresden. Various approaches to dealing with, and the interventions opposing, annual events in Dresden around the 13 February anniversary are presented in a chronology of protest.

In an interview Krischan, a representative of the Antinationalen Gruppe Hamburg [Hamburg Anti-national Group] reports on the various activities of his group who are critical of commemoration. He recounts the 1993 journey of the Hamburg Wohlfahrtsausschuss [Welfare Committee, ] through Eastern Germany under the catchphrase Etwas Besseres als die Nation [Somewhat better than the nation], the heated discussions during the preparation of a poster campaign for Dresden and from the return of the Antinationalen Gruppe Hamburg two years later for the 50th anniversary of the 13 February.

The article, Auch weil niemand um Verzeihung bat. Die Geschichte des Pardons ist in Auschwitz zu Ende gegangen [But who ever asked us for a pardon? Pardoning died in the death camps.] by Heike Ehrlich and Kathrin Krahl discusses the audio tour of the city, the audioscript zur Verfolgung und Vernichtung der Jüdinnen und Juden in Dresden 1933 – 1945 [audioscript on the Persecution and Annihilation of Dresden Jews 1933–1945], which was produced as a counter-narrative to the hegemonic commemorative discourse and which lends weight to the memories of Shoah survivors and provides space for the analyses of critical philosophy.

Finally, Warum in Dresden mehr stattfindet, als ein Naziaufmarsch und warum mehr getan werden muss, als diesen zu verhindern [Why more happens in Dresden than just a Nazi procession and why more must be done than simply preventing it] is explained by the Leipzig Antifagruppe LeA [Anti-fascist Group LeA]

The conclusion takes the form of a series of pictures, a compendium of the numerous posters which have appeared over the years and other published images.

translated by Tim Sharp

1 Thomas Fache, Allierter Luftkrieg und Novemberpogrom in lokaler Erinnerungskultur am Beispiel Dresdens, Masters thesis, TU Dresden 2007: http://www.qucosa.de/fileadmin/data/qucosa/documents/6440/Thomas_Fache_Magisterarbeit.pdf (accessed December 27, 2014), pp 20

2 Director was Stephen Daldry, who also made Bernhard Schlinks revisionistic book „Der Vorleser“ [The Reader] into a film

3 Hubert Spiegel, Oskar allein in New York, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buecher/rezensionen/belletristik/oskar-allein-in-new-york-193747.html (accessed November 18, 2014)

4The Hebrew Bible mentions manna (or bread from heaven) in Exodus 16:1-36. It was the legendary food which sustained the Israelites on their 40 year of wandering the desert.

Frauenkirchen Mania – The Frauenkirche, ‘Dresden Cathedral’ and the Reconstruction

by Philipp Klein

At the very moment when Germany cast off the last sanction imposed as a result of losing the Second World War, a campaign began in Dresden to rebuild the Frauenkirche [Church of Our Lady]. Germany was on top of the pile again and that was something that had to be underlined. Forty-five years after the end of the war the Frauenkirche, a well-known and visible symbol of German defeat, was to be restored to its prewar state. The idea speaks for itself: no-one wanted to talk about National Socialism and it was best to suppress memories of it. The result is a perfect example of an ‘urban coming to terms with the past’1.

The Frauenkirche was consecrated in 1743 after seventeen years of building according to George Bähr’s concept and plans. It was regarded as a bourgeois building since it was mainly financed by donations from Dresdner middle class. The court was also not averse to the project and lent its support in the form of infusions of cash and planning know-how.2 Despite some mistaken assumptions about the statics––the side walls did not take up the weight of the dome as expected––the sandstone building held and for the next two hundred years it dominated Dresden’s cityscape. That was not to change until the attack by the British and American air forces on the 13 and 14 February 1945. On the 15 February the building collapsed as a result of the intense heat developed from the damage and fire ignited by bombs dropped beforehand. What was left was a ruin and a substantial heap of rubble.

It is an interesting but almost unnoticed fact that, at the time of the collapse, the church was known as the Dom zu Dresden [Dresden Cathedral] indicating a chapter in its history that––following the normal Dresden way of looking at things––receives little attention: the period of the church during National Socialism. If one is to believe the depiction presented in the 2006 ZDF event movie, Dresden, which attempted to don a cloak of historical authenticity with the help of a few documentary ornamentations, then the Frauenkirche was one place where there was resistance to National Socialism. The minister of the Frauenkirche, portrayed by Wolfgang Stumph in the film, is depicted as an anti-fascist who rescues a downed British pilot and his German lover as they try to escape from the German army. However, that has nothing to do with reality.

The National Socialist assumption of power in 1933 was received by the church in Saxony with goodwill and the boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933 brought no protests.3 Tensions and struggles within the church manifested themselves only in connection with the future relationship to the new rulers of the German Reich and the question of how much influence the church would still be able to keep. German Christians close to Frauenkirche minister (and future head of the provincial church), Friedrich Coch, strove for modernising the church along National Socialist lines whereas the Pfarrernotbund [Emergency Covenant of Pastors], a forerunner of the Bekennenden Kirche [Confessional Church], wanted to preserve the traditional ecclesiastical legacy.4 It was headed by Hugo Hahn of the deutsch-nationalen Pfarrerschaft5 [German National Pastors], also a minister at the Frauenkirche. Both factions were agreed that they wanted to ‘build a church for the people and serve the “national Volksstaat6 [people’s state]. The community members grouped around Hahn who were of a similar persuasion were, however, a thorn in the side of the Nazi supporters who regarded them as dragging their feet, hindering the effort to create a new order and the gleichschaltung [enforced conformity] of the church. They were gradually forced out of the church and church posts that became vacant as a result were filled by German Christian applicants. In 1937 Hahn was forced to leave Dresden. The German Christians were victorious in their bid for power. For the majority of the congregation members, however, this confrontation was only a side issue. As a general rule, they chose their ministers on the basis of personal sympathies and had been familiar with the closeness of state and church for generations: the ‘prophetic and critical sermon’ was something unknown.7 The changes in the Frauenkirche congregation could be seen in a number of situations such as the appearance of the magazine Christenkreuz und Hakenkreuz8 [Cross and Swastika] or the incorporation of the Evangelischen Jugend [Evangelical Youth Movement] in the Hitlerjugend [Hitler Youth] on the 200th anniversary of the consecration.9 Another example is to be found during the ceremony of consecration transforming the church into a cathedral presided over by Reichsbischof Müller – he received members of the public with the German salute.10 Furthermore, numerous lectures were given with titles such as Race and Religion, Germanness, Being German and Christianity or The Brown Church in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. This is only a selection of those given at events that took place between January and April 1934.11 Even the congregation offered questionable fare: it organised a lecture on the subject of the Der Sinn des Opfers. Im Anschluß Lichtbilder über Leo Schlageter12 [The Meaning of Sacrifice. Followed by a Slide Presentation about Leo Schlageter]. Schlageter, a Nazi and member of the Freikorp, was sentenced to death in 1923 by French court following bomb attacks. In Nazi propaganda he was regarded as the ‘first soldier of the Third Reich’. All of this took place openly, right before the eyes of the congregation and cannot escaped their notice. Thus it can be assumed that there was at least acceptance of it. The Frauenkirche or ‘Dom zu Dresden’ developed into a centre of German Christianity and therefore Nazi activity.

The ruins that survived February 1945 offered ample space for projection especially because Germans felt there was a real loss. In his novel, Billard um halbzehn [Billiards at Half-past Nine], Heinrich Böll had one of his protagonists blow up an abbey during the Second World War. Ostensibly the demolition expert acted from compelling grounds––the necessities of war––but in reality his intention was something quite different. He wanted to memorialise those persecuted under the Nazis: he wanted to create ‘a monument of dust and rubble to those who were never cultural history monuments and whom one should not have had to spare’13 After the bombings Dresden was also a cultural monument poorer and a memorial of dust and rubble richer. However, the viewpoint of the explosives expert in Böll’s novel is different to the way the ruins were seen by others. That involves the gaze of the perpetrators who cannot take what they see with equanimity.

In the GDR there were discussion about what to do with the remains. Opinions oscillated between clearing them away and preserving the ruins in situ, thus keeping the option of rebuilding open. By 1967 discussions were brought to a provisional end when the city affixed a plaque to them. It bore with the remarkable and programmatic text: ‘The Frauenkirche in Dresden destroyed / by Anglo-American bombing in February 1945 / Built by George Bähr / 1726–1743/ The ruins remind us of the tens of thousands who died / and urges the living to struggle / against imperialist barbarity / For the peace and happiness of mankind’. 14 In Dresden during the subsequent decades the spin given to events in the text was to be perfected. National Socialist crimes were given no mention and culpability and responsibility are not simply denied, the blame is laid at the doorstep of the allies, the very people who paid a high price to liberate Europe from Nazism. It was impossible to tolerate living within sight of the ruins or construct an anti-fascist state without repudiating one’s guilt and ensuring one’s status as a victim. By avoiding the past and directing the gaze towards the future instead, it was possible to garner acceptance and support. That former allies had become Cold War enemies further favoured that course of action.

The ruins, from then on a monument against war and destruction, became the focus of a Peace Movement in the final years of the GDR. Under the motto ‘swords into ploughshares’ it took a generally anti-military stance. However, even in the anti-war stance there are nevertheless linkages to a relativising point of view. German reunification put wind in the discursive sails once again. Following the nationalistic frenzy, demands in favour of reconstruction of the Frauenkirche soon began to surface. The 1990 ‘Ruf aus Dresden’ [Call from Dresden] combined with Helmut Kohl’s ‘Wunden heilen, statt Wunden offen halten’ [Healing the wounds instead of keeping them open] led to a fundraising campaign that was intended to finance the rebuilding. Former allies Great Britain and the USA were intentionally targeted for contributions. While the German version of the appeal openly speaks of the Frauenkirche being rebuilt as a ‘symbol of the healing of wounds opened by the war’, it was decided to omit this from the English version which only talks of the church as a ‘monument to the reconciliation of the peoples and a visible demand for lasting peace’.15 As in the case of its historical precursor, the reconstruction is regarded as an excellent example of middle class commitment even though there were substantial contributions from the authorities––federal, provincial and local––to the extent of 38% or seventy-two million Euros of the total project costs of 182,6 million Euro. In addition, it was the Dresdner Bank that was most active in the acquisition of donations, the very institution that was the ‘in-house bank of the SS’16 and linked to the Nazi regime more closely than any other. The very bank that profited from Aryanisation and the annihilation campaigns in Eastern Europe and was closely involved in building the concentration and extermination complex at Auschwitz-Birkenau took on the task of ‘healing German war wounds’.

At the same time this context made it impossible that the destroyed Frauenkirche and German Nazi-era crimes could be associated in any way whatsoever. Under the slogan ‘archaeological reconstruction’ the form of the old Frauenkirche was mimicked down to the last detail, it was as if nothing had happened. Today, there is only a little of the original sandstone in the exterior wall to indicate the intervening non-existence of the building. This piece of information has a ‘sell by date’ because when the new sandstone assumes the patina and colouring of the old due to weathering, this visible historical reference will also have disappeared. The ‘manic wilful forgetting’ that Alexander and Margaret Mitscherlich detected in their analysis of how the Federal Republic of Germany in the 1950s related to National Socialism, flowered once again in Dresden forty years later. Its expression can be seen in the Frauenkirche and the fierce struggle to transform the Dresden inner city into a pretty Baroque vignette that is as homogenous as possible.

With its consecration in 2005 Frauenkirche reconstruction mania reached its interim climax. The re-opening of the church became a major event nationwide event thanks to a media partnership with the ZDF television, a public service broadcaster, and wide coverage in the other media. Anja Pannewitz, in her analysis of reporting in the print media, examined the depiction of the Frauenkirche and its symbolism.17 She shows how reports reproduced the victimhood myths and propagandised using nationalist sentiment. The study identified six semantic concepts: unity, wonder, freedom, reconciliation, admonition and reparation. The evaluation showed a distinct dichotomy: where the rebuilding of the church was described as a symbol for unity and freedom or as a ‘wonder’ there were no references to National Socialism whatsoever. References to the present, the future and religious connotations dominated instead. Where the authors made the Frauenkirche a symbol of reconciliation, admonition and reparation, the Nazi past and the Second World War were also mentioned. The way in which historical relationships were constructed speaks for itself: most frequently German suffering was thematised18, the bombings were often linked to the semantics of terror by being termed ‘terrorist acts’, or ‘violent terrorism’, or using ‘fall’ or ‘inferno’.19 The question of German culpability was avoided or rejected outright.20 When it was addressed it was done in connection with an assertion that others were ‘more’ culpable.21 British or US American voices were used to speak of allied blame or spoke in favour of reparations.22 Differentiated reporting was scarce and yielded to the national consensus. In the light of this material the author was justified in asking whether it might be the case that the Frauenkirche was simply an ‘architectonic Freudian slip’23 which, behind the empty phrases concerning reconciliation and admonition, manifested, above all else, British culpability and German refusal to assume the burden of guilt.

During the reconstruction it was repeatedly pointed out that the new Frauenkirche was to be a ‘Centre for World Peace’24 because in the final analysis the church was an anti-war memorial ‘not only here but worldwide’ (Gerhard Schröder, 2005)25. Against the background of donation gathering, this was a claim that was particularly effective. Nowadays it engages in spectacular ‘peace work’: every day at noon a so-called peace bell calls for remembrance, the old dome cross reminds us of ‘old wounds’, i.e. the destruction of the church–and, in addition, everyone is encouraged to pause and think so that he or she can re-enter everyday life a little more ‘peaceful’ than before. Furthermore, there are a few events which are supposed to have something to do with peace: a ‘Peace Academy’, for example, which was organized with the support of the Military History Museum (part of the Federal Armed Forces) and pastoral care provided by an armed forces minister who otherwise appeared to be concerned with proselytizing young people. The priorities implemented in the construction also continued over into the church’s everyday business: the staging of Dresdner suffering sufficiently garnished with empty phrases to conceal that very staging.

Citation Phillip Klein: Frauenkirchen Mania – (Some Remarks on t) (T)he Frauenkirche ‘Dresden Cathedral’ and the Reconstrucion, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX[dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Tim Sharp

1 Gavriel D. Rosenfeld/Paul B. Jaskot (eds.), Beyond Berlin. Twelve German Cities Confront the Nazi Past, Ann Harbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008, 1.

2 Gunnar Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde, Hamburg: KVV konkret, 2006, 83.

3 Gerhard Lindemann, Christenkreuz und Hakenkreuz. Dresdner Kirchen im Dritten Reich, Dresdner Hefte, 29, 2, 2011, 27–34

4 Christoph Wetzel, Das kirchliche Leben an der Frauenkirche zu Dresden von ihrer Weihe 1734 bis zu ihrer Zerstörung 1945. part 5: 1934–1945“, in: Gesellschaft zur Förderung des Wiederaufbaus der Frauenkirche Dresden e. V. (ed.), Die Dresdner Frauenkirche, Jahrbuch 2005, Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2005, 207.

5 Lindemann, Christenkreuz und Hakenkreuz , 2011, loc. cit. 28

6 Wetzel, Leben an der Frauenkirche, 2005, loc. cit. 208.

7 Ibid. 207.

8 Lindemann, Christenkreuz und Hakenkreuz, 2011, loc. cit. 28. The monthly was published by Friedrich Coch and first appeared in July 1933.

9 Wetzel, Leben an der Frauenkirche, 2005, loc. cit 209.

10 Ibid. 212.

11 Ibid. 208.

12 Ibid.

13 Heinrich Böll, Billard um halbzehn, Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 176.

14 Quoted from: Schubert, Die kollektive Unschuld, 2006, loc. cit. 82.

15 Susanne Vees-Gulani, Trauma and Guilt. Literature of Wartime Bombing in Germany, Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2003, 62ff.

16 Klaus-Dietmar Henke (ed.), Die Dresdner Bank im Dritten Reich, München: Oldenbourg, 2006, 502.

17 Anja Pannewitz, Die wiederaufgebaute Dresdner Frauenkirche und die Erinnerung an NS und Zweiter Weltkrieg. Eine semantische Analyse, Deutschland Archiv, 41, 2, 2008, 204–214.

18 Ibid. 212.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid. 214.

21 Ibid. 210.

22 Ibid. 213.

23 Ibid. 214.

24 Ruf aus Dresden, 1990.

25 Quoted from: Sächsische Zeitung, 01.11.2005, 2.

Legislated Commemoration – The new Saxony Assembly Act

by Antifa Recherche Team Dresden ART

In the past, the conservative government in Saxony has attempted to transpose the controversial totalitarianism theory into practical policy and valid law. The publicly financed Hannah Arendt Institute for the Research on Totalitarianism, which has researched the “twofold dictatorship experience of East Germany” since 1993, and the 2003 Saxon Memorials Act, which forced an undiscriminating commemoration of “victims of tyranny,” are examples. The fact that NS victims organizations refused to work with the foundation committees was of little to no interest to the ruling governmental parties. Instead, the Saxony law formed the basis for the Federal Memorials bill. With the Assembly Act, first passed in January 2010 and again in 2012, the CDU/FDP coalition in Saxony succeeded in passing legislation that exudes the spirit of totalitarian doctrine. This legislation not only codified the equation of National Socialism and Communism, but also attempted to regulate the memory of politics discourse and to restrict the exercise of basic political civil rights.

Passing the bill before the Nazi demonstrations on February 13th proved to be a successful maneuver. The bill was acclaimed, first and foremost, as an effective measure against the annual Nazi demonstrations in Dresden. That the legislation was intended to suppress not only Nazi demonstrations but also the expected counter-demonstrations was already clear from the 2009 coalition agreement between the governing CDU and FDP: “We will use all measures allowed by public assembly and demonstration laws, and we will revise these laws before February 13th 2010, in order to impose boundaries on extremists in Saxony.”1 Tying this legislation so closely to the 13th of February and the Nazi demonstration made it difficult to argue against the bill. On the one hand, the bill purported to reestablish the much-loved Dresden tradition of “silent commemoration.” On the other, those who argued against the bill faced the accusation of playing into the Nazis’ hands.2 Significantly, the law has never been applied to a February 13th demonstration.

The development of the Saxony Assembly Act

The federalism reform of 2006 granted the Länder new legislative authorities. Among other things, it allowed the Länder to define assembly laws independently. Saxony, like Bavaria, had ambitions. The CDU/SPD government coalition of the fourth legislative session introduced a bill shortly before February 13th 2008 which would place stipulations on or prohibit demonstrations if they were to take place at a location or on a day that commemorated “the victims of the National Socialist tyranny or the victims of war or the resistance to the National Socialist tyranny,” and if it were to be expected “that the event would violate the dignity of those whose fates were bound to this location or day.”3 Places of commemoration listed were the synagogues in Dresden and Görlitz, the memorial locations of the former synagogues in Leipzig and Chemnitz, the grounds of former concentration camps, memorials belonging to the Saxony Memorial Foundation, war cemeteries, the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig and the Frauenkirche in Dresden – and the historical city center of Dresden on February 13th and 14th. Days of commemoration were dates related to National Socialism: the 27th and 30th of January, the 8th of May, the 20th of July, the 1st of September, the 9th of November, and also the National Day of Remembrance. A revision to include “victims of Communist tyranny” was denied on the grounds of a lack of relevant demonstrations. However, the bill was not considered before a new state parliament was elected in 2009. The new CDU/FDP coalition government proposed a new draft in October. The coalition saw the previously denied revision as necessary and expanded the stipulations to include the “Communist tyranny.” Of the commemorative locations and days listed in the previous CDU/SPD coalition draft, only the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, the Frauenkirche with the surrounding Neumarkt, and the Dresden city center on the 13th and 14th of February, albeit over a considerably larger area, remained in the new draft. An unusually short period of time passed between the introduction of the bill and the passing of the new Saxony Assembly Act on the 20th of January 2010. The government was determined to announce the ratified law before the 65th anniversary commemoration of the bombing of Dresden, although in the end it was not necessary to use it on that occasion. The rush had consequences: the Greens, the SPD and the Left Party submitted an appeal. On April 19th 2011 the Constitutional Court of Saxony declared the Assembly Act null and void on formal grounds.4 Three months later the ruling parties resubmitted the bill – now formally correct but with identical content. The Saxony parliament passed the new draft of the bill on January 25th 2012.5

The Saxony Assembly Act

The Saxony Assembly Act is nearly identical to the Federal Assembly Act. Section 15, however, which concerns the grounds for intervention by authorities in the fundamental right of freedom of assembly, was changed substantially. Section 15, paragraph 2 states:

“An assembly or a demonstration can be expressly prohibited or be made subject to stipulations if:

  1. The assembly or the demonstration takes place at a location of exceptional historical significance, which commemorates a) Persons who were victims of inhumane treatment under the National Socialist or Communist tyrannies, b) persons who resisted the National Socialist or Communist tyrannies, or c) the victims of war and
  1. According to precise, demonstrable circumstances evident at the time of issue of the injunction it can be adduced that the dignity of such persons as denoted in Number 1 will be violated. This is in particular the case if the assembly or the demonstration a) denies or trivializes the tyranny of the National Socialist regime, the crimes committed by it or its responsibility for the Second World War, or places the blame on others, b) portrays institutions or representatives of the National Socialist or Communist tyrannies as commendable or honorable, or c) speaks out against the reconciliation or dialogue between peoples.

The Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig, the Frauenkirche including the Neumarkt in Dresden and, in addition, on the 13th and 14th of February the northern Altstadt and the southern interior Neustadt in Dresden are locations as specified in Sentence 1 Number 1. Their boundaries are defined in the addendum to this act.”6

Interventions in politics of memory

In 2005 Saxony amended the passage in the Federal Assembly Act that prohibited or placed stipulations on assemblies “if 1. The assembly or demonstration takes place at a location that is a memorial of historically exceptional, trans-regional significance, commemorating the victims of inhumane treatment under the tyrannical and despotic regime of the National Socialists.”7 Corresponding to the parallelizing discourse of “two dictatorships,” the restrictions were broadened to include those locations commemorating the “Communist tyranny.” Undefined locations commemorating “victims of war” were also added. Every specificity regarding National Socialism in the legislative text was made to disappear behind a curtain of equalization and universalizing rhetoric. With these two points, Saxony intentionally ventured into uncharted judicial terrain and went beyond the hitherto existing rulings of the Federal Constitutional Court, for example their prohibition of the Rudolf Hess memorial demonstration in Wunsiedel according to Section 130, paragraph 4 of the German Penal Code.8 In this ruling, the court emphasized the sui generis nature of the National Socialist crimes, and that in this and only this context, exemptions for laws limiting the freedom of expression are justified. The CDU/FDP coalition, however, were not swayed by this ruling, and referred to the preamble of the Constitution of Saxony, in which it is stated: “In consideration of the woeful history of National Socialist and Communist tyranny […] the people of the Free State of Saxony, thanks to the peaceful revolution of October 1989, have given themselves this constitution.”9 The equal ranking of National Socialism and Communism was systematically codified by law, totalitarianism theory became potent realpolitik.

The attempt to justify the choice of locations of “historically exceptional significance” impinged directly on politics of memory discourses, and strove to establish a specific interpretation. All and sundry Dresden myths were dredged up in order to do so: the destruction of Dresden shortly before the end of the war, and the large amount of refugees in the city, which drastically increased the number of victims.10 The Frauenkirche became the the “strongest symbol of civilian victims of the war,”11 and Dresden as a whole represented “the epitome of the hardships and injuries of war in the public awareness and practiced commemoration of the citizens of the Free State [of Saxony] and beyond.”12 This version was the officially sanctioned interpretation – and was to be enforced by the state monopoly on power, if necessary. The government’s justification for including the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in the Act was nothing short of an acrobatics routine: The explanatory memorandum speaks of commemorating “the bloodiest battle in the history of the world before the First World War,” and that the Monument is an architectural reminder of the atmosphere of “national pathos and the heroization of death in battle on the eve of the First World War.”13 At the same time, the speaker of the CDU-faction called the Monument an “admonishment against war” and claimed: “I know many people from Leipzig who have told me: For us it’s a reminder that no one should ever again lose their lives in a war such as that started by the National Socialists.”14

The fact that entire districts of Dresden could be declared demonstration-free zones on the 13th and 14th of February if “the dignity of persons”, in accordance with the law, was seen as impaired was blatantly justified with the need to recognize the Dresden tradition of “silent commemoration” as the only legitimate demonstration on these dates. Carsten Biesok, legal policy spokesperson for the FDP faction stated: “Commemorating the victims of the Second World War silently and peacefully on the 13th of February is a matter of exercising basic rights. With our Assembly Act we are reinstituting this freedom.”15 Home Secretary Markus Ulbig added: “At these locations we do not want to allow any demonstrations that deride the victims or make a dignified commemoration – especially for the citizens of Dresden – impossible.”16

State Intervention

The locations listed in the Act are exemplary; it is left to the discretion of the administrative authorities in Saxony to name further locations of historical significance. This discretion and the authority to determine when and how the “dignity of persons” is violated gives the offices of public order, which are in fact administrative institutions and not institutions of political opinion-making, the power of political interpretation, while making the debate about these questions an administrative act, withdrawn from the public. At this point, the goal of the Saxony Assembly Act becomes clear, if it had not been so before. It goes beyond historicopolitical aspects. It is intended to place limits on the public sphere as a place of political debate. The Act assumes the interpretive authority over what may or may not be said in public. This legal regulation of the sayable shows a “submission of the political to the statebased via the juridical, the exercise of a capacity to strip politics of its initiative through which the state precedes and legitimizes itself.”17 The practical consequence of the Assembly Act is the banning of unwanted opinions from the public sphere, and thus the successive limitation of the freedoms of assembly and expression. The new Saxony Assembly Act is thus an expression of an anti-participatory and tendentially authoritarian understanding of politics, which places the power to interpret and to act solely in the hands of the state and its institutions.

Citation Antifa Recherche Team Dresden: Legislated Commemoration – The new Saxony Assembly Act, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX[dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Amy Lee


1 Vertrag zwischen CDU und FDP über die Bildung der Staatsregierung für die 5. Legislaturperiode des Sächsischen Landtages, 2009, p. 49.

2 The State Attorney General Dr. Martens stated in a parliamentary debate on 20 January 2010, that “it doesn’t lack a certain perversity when speakers for the Left Party announce that they will appeal this act before the constitutional court, and by doing so proclaim nothing other than that the Left Party will clear the streets for the Nazis, only to turn around and throw rocks at them.” Plenary protocol 5/7 from 20 Jan 2010, p. 444

3 Sächsisches Versammlungsgesetz auf den Weg gebracht,“ press release of the Saxony State Department of Justice, 12 Feb 2008.

4 See also: Phillipp Rentel-Wollinger/Gina Rosa Wollinger, “Dresden im Februar. Ein Lackmusstest für die Demokratie in Sachsen“, in: Weiterdenken – Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Sachsen/Kulturbüro Sachsen (ed.), “Sachsens Demokratie”? Demokratische Kultur und Erinnerung, Medienlandschaft und Überwachungspolitik in Sachsen. Erweiterter Tagungsband, Dresden, 2012. pp. 77-83.

5 On the advice of the constitutional committee, the judicial committee, and the European Union committee, a revision was undertaken. Section 15, paragraph 1 of the CDU/FDP coalition draft (Drs. 5/286), according to which assemblies or demonstrations could be subject to stipulations or prohibition “if, in the past, similar assemblies or demonstrations led to such an endangerment or disturbance and 1. they exhibited a concrete relation to the assembly or demonstration or 2. particular factual circumstances justified the assumption that the assembly or demonstration would, in the same way, lead to an endangerment” was deleted and the replaced with the wording found in the Federal Assembly Act.

6 Law pertaining to assemblies and demonstration in the Free State of Saxony (Saxony Assembly Act – SächsVersG).

7 Law pertaining to assemblies and demonstrations (Assembly Act), Section 15, paragraph 2.

8 Constitutional Court ruling: BVerfG, 1 BvR 2150/08 from 04 Nov 2009, paragraph-no. (1–110).

9 Verfassung des Freistaates Sachsen, SächsGVBl. Jg. 1992, Bl.-Nr. 20, S. 243.

10 See the draft bill submitted by the CDU/FDP faction, Drs 5/286 from 29 Oct 2009, p. 16.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid., p. 17.

13 Ibid., p. 15.

14 See plenary protocol 5/7, from 20 Jan 2010, p. 422

15 Plenary protocol 5/48 from 25 Jan 2012, p. 4826.

16 Ibid., p. 4830.

17 Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosphy, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 109.

Make do and mend – The Commemoration of Dresden in Reunited Germany

by Andrea Hübler


Dresdeners are burdened with their fate. Each of them carries the proud suffering of their city inside themselves. It’s not a legacy. It’s a soul-gene, handed down from generation to generation, and it’s contagious. New-Dresdeners expose themselves to the danger of infection unconsciously and voluntarily. Suddenly they find themselves in the thick of it, and feel it, the proud suffering.”1

The collective memory of the bombing of Dresden on the 13th and 14>th of February 1945 is a fixed point in Dresden’s identity and culture of remembrance. It is so pervasive that local journalists create abstruse metaphors like “a soul-gene” to explain it. The annual commemoration of the bombing is a pivotal event in the city, and, since the reunification of Germany, has been infused with a new symbolism. This essay offers an overview of the two decades of commemoration of the bombing of Dresden, and focuses on the developments in its meaning and content.

New Nations and old Myths

13 February 1990: For the first time since the dissolution of the GDR, Dresden commemorates the bombing of the city. 500 Dresdeners crowd into the Kulturpalast to listen to a special speaker who was invited to Dresden on the occasion of the 45th anniversary of the event – David Irving, historical revisionist and Holocaust denier. A Dresden newspaper lauded his book, The Destruction of Dresden, which speaks, among other things, of 250,000 deaths, as “this honest book, which so unreservedly settles the score about the strategic bombing of civilian targets.”2 That was only one of numerous events in the commemoration ceremonies in which myths of the innocent city of art and culture were to be heard – the city, which had no military significance, that was suddenly, without warning, and unnecessarily destroyed shortly before the end of the war. This established interpretation of the events of 13/14 February 1945 was not swayed by the changed political conditions. On the contrary, the well-known tales, told by contemporary witnesses, were put in the spotlight. Stories of man-hunting, low-flying airplanes, of phosphorous rain and of hundreds of thousands of dead are printed in the local newspapers and told at presentations. The action group Interessengemeinschaft 13. Februar carried these stories of woeful fate into other cities with their exhibition Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life). In this way they made their contribution to perpetuating the symbolic nature of Dresden for the legend of “Germans as victims,” and to solidifying the Dresden myth.

Facts find no place in this Dresden myth. Doubts are not welcome. Ten years later the publication of Tiefflieger über Dresden? by the historian Helmut Schnatz caused an uproar. In it he raises qualified objections to the assertion that low-flying aircraft were deployed over Dresden, and, using German and Allied sources, proves in detail that these stories are nothing but legend. When he was invited to present his analysis and conclusions to the public at the Dresdner Stadtmuseum, the event erupted into open hostility, name-calling and outright tumult. Calling into question the established legends of the bombing of Dresden, especially by an outsider, was an affront to the Dresden identity, and it was countered as such. “One question. Did the historian Helmut Schnatz experience the attack on Dresden on 13/14 February 1945? If not, how dare he speak of legends! I, my family and friends did experience the cruel attack on Dresden and were eye-witnesses to the inhumane ‘man-hunt of the low-fliers,’ as I’d like to call it.”3

Year after year, the 13th of February drew attention. The routine for the day of memorial had become established: the wreath laying ceremony at the Heidefriedhof in the morning, followed by memorial concerts and church services throughout the day, panel discussions with contemporary witnesses, and then in the evening, the gathering of thousands at the ruins of the Frauenkirche. At 9:45pm the bells of all the churches in Dresden ring, and people place candles. Dresden sees itself as a monition against all wars. The 13th of February is, after all, “that apocalyptic event that, like no other, has become the symbol of destruction, the horror, and the suffering that this war brought upon mankind,”4 as the Director of the Dresden Music Festival wrote in 1995. Dresden styled itself a symbol for the horrors of war and people’s suffering, all the while ignoring the historical facts about the military and political role of Dresden and relativizing historical contexts. And thus does Dresden, with its legend of innocent victimhood, fit perfectly into the reunited Germany’s self-concept as a nation of peace which has put its past behind it and now wants to include its own victims in its commemoration. Accordingly, in 1995 the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden was celebrated as an act of state, with the attendance of the country’s highest political officials. President Roman Herzog honored the city in his speech as a “beacon against war.”5 The highlight of the “national requiem, a Pietà of urban dimensions,”6 was the collaboration of more than 100 of Dresden’s churches.

With the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche, Dresden gave itself that symbol, visible from afar, that it needed to be a “beacon against war,” its symbol for peace and reconciliation. The starting signal for this undertaking was sounded by the city’s cultural elite, such as the musician Ludwig Güttler7 and the actor Friedrich-Wilhelm Junge, in 1990, when they published the “Appeal from Dresden” for the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche as a “Christian center of world peace in the new Europe.” In order to let “a testimony in stone of the Christian faith” arise again, they, together with 20 other Dresdeners, asked for donations, especially in the countries of the former Allied forces. “We appeal to the victors and the many people of good will in the USA, in Great Britain and in the entire world: make possible this European “House of Peace”!”8 Only four years later, the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche began. After the “Appeal from Dresden,” the Dresden Trust was founded in Great Britain in 1993. This foundation not only collected donations, it also had a new, highly symbolic cross built for the dome of the Frauenkirche. The cross was presented in 2000, at an ostentatious ceremony with the title “Building Bridges – Living Reconciliation,” by the Duke of Kent, the foundation’s patron, and blessed by the Bishop of Coventry. The appropriate words for this staging of Dresden as a reconciliatory gesture were also found: “A newly crafted cross gleams on the dome of the Frauenkirche. It symbolizes, in a very special way, the power of reconciliation. Donated by the people of Britain and the royal house of the United Kingdom, crafted by the son of one of the pilots who once dropped bombs on Dresden, it now heralds the Frauenkirche’s tidings: Building Bridges – Living Reconciliation – Strengthening Faith.”9

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder participated in this ceremony, which took place on the 55th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden. His presence was not without reason, since Dresden, with this ceremony, was near to reaching its peak in an era with a heavy focus on politics of memory. During the first decade after the unification of Germany, Dresden’s role in the history of National Socialism was virtually ignored, but this would slowly change in the following years. Until 2000, the years between 1933 and 1945 seemed simply not to have happened in the city. It was otherwise impossible to uphold Dresden’s identity as a symbol for peace and reconciliation. The realization that the recognition of the “twelve dark years” had advantages came slowly. The SPD/Green coalition government in Berlin led the way. It put forward the idea that Germany was the world champion in coming to terms with the past, that Germany could once again wage war “not in spite of, but because of Auschwitz,” that Germany’s exemplary analysis of its own history gave it not only the qualification, but also the moral responsibility to intervene anywhere in the world where injustice occurred. The analysis of its own “dark history” was thus instrumentalized as a moral bonus point within the international community. Since the time of the SPD/Green coalition, Germany’s handling of its past is no longer marked by suppression, denial and “leaving it behind,” but rather by acknowledgement and even the incorporation of its National Socialist past into the German identity. Germany’s image was now one of a modern and purified nation. This image began to assert itself in Dresden.

Commemoration in transition

It would take five years, but by the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden the changes in the commemoration of the city were in full swing. Instead of holding fast to myths and ignoring its role in the history of National Socialism, Dresden began to acknowledge its past, and, first and foremost, to distance itself from the thousands of Nazis who, in 2005, paraded through the city in a “funeral march.”

In 2004 a commission of historians was appointed to establish a historically unobjectionable fundament for the city’s memorial events. The commission presented its conclusions in 2008 at the annual Convention of German Historians, held that year in Dresden. Their report stated facts that had long been known, but never recognized: a death toll of 20,000 to 25,000, and no proof of low-flying bombers. The military importance of Dresden during the war and the role the city played in the National Socialist regime also began to be acknowledged, for example in the historical pageant in 2006 on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the city’s establishment. Rather than simply leaving out the years between 1933 and 1945, one of the floats was specially designed to portray slave-labor, deportation, Aryanization and militarization. Nevertheless, the established facts were not enough to make the myths disappear. While they made headway among political activists and public representatives, many Dresdeners still deny them today. If one asks “the man on the street” in front of the Frauenkirche about the 13th of February, the answer remains the same: a senseless attack shortly before the end of the war on an innocent city of art and culture full of refugees, a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, low-flying bombers firing at fleeing civilians in the Elbe meadows, phosphorous rain. As late as 2010, the Saxony Center for Civic Education published a booklet with several uncommented eyewitnesses accounts.

In the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the bombing, a group of Dresden citizens, with the support of the mayor, published a statement called “A Framework for Remembrance,” which was intended to initiate a change in the culture of remembrance among the broad masses. It called for expanding the focus of the ceremonies to include not only the city’s fate, but also the suffering of others. Not only should the city’s victim status be recognized, but also its role as perpetrator. It spoke of learning from history. With reference to the fact that Germany initiated the war and that Dresden has learned from its sorrowful history, the city presented itself as a repentant symbol of peace and reconciliation. “We are remembering because the events of history constitute a duty and obligation to stand up for peace, against violence and war. […] We want the 13th of February to be the starting point for an ongoing process of learning and commitment for peace and humanity.”10 An interpretation of Dresden as an anti-war memorial is made possible by combining everything together into a single horrific fate, regardless of the historical context. This universalization of sorrow was exemplified on a poster printed by the city of Dresden on the occasion of the 2005 ceremonies: Baghdad, Coventry, Dresden, Grozny, Guernica, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Leningrad, Monrovia, New York, Sarajevo, Warsaw – Destruction is Destruction. The singularity of the German crimes disappears into the universal suffering caused by war, which Dresden was also forced to endure.

The “Framework for Remembrance” was also meant to serve as a dissociation to the ever-growing number of Nazis who migrated to Dresden for the ceremonies: “We stand up against the abuse of our remembrance to play down the crimes of the National Socialist German society between 1933 and 1945.”11 The branding of the Nazis’ agenda as abuse makes an actual debate with them and their speeches on the occasion of the 13th of February seem unnecessary, as superfluous as analyzing common points of interest in the commemoration of Dresden, or even with the common core – the commemoration of the German victims. Instead a real, irreproachable commemoration is purported, one that has nothing to do with what others make out of it.

Following this “Framework for Remembrance,” the memorial program for the 60th anniversary was full of concerts, readings, plays and panels of eyewitnesses who not only recalled the bombing of Dresden, but dutifully recounted the “preliminary events leading to this event.” For the annual lecture series, the Dresdner Reden, at the Dresden State Playhouse, Ruth Klüger was invited to speak on the 13th of February 2005 about Victor Klemperer. In an open letter she refused to comply with the attempt to use her presence as a symbolic dissociation and as an acknowledgement of the “preexisting events”: “[…] I have only now realized that right-wing extremists hold a march every year on the 13th of February in Dresden. You should not have kept this information from me, but you probably didn’t even think about what kind of effect such rallies have on a Shoah survivor. […] When a formerly persecuted Jew – as I am primarily known in Germany – holds a lecture about another persecuted Jew, namely Victor Klemperer, while thousands (sic) of anti-Semitic party members are demonstrating outside on the street, it will inevitably result in a political three ring circus. I could not have expected this, and for this reason I would prefer not to participate. […] The role I am expected to play as a visitor is, as I see it, incommensurable. For me personally, this role is, to put it bluntly, unacceptable.”12 And while several tens of thousands of people held their silent commemoration in front of the Frauenkirche, and inside the cross of Coventry was presented to the regional bishop as a sign of reconciliation, 6,500 Nazis marched through the city center of Dresden. The commemoration itself was set in scene as a protest against the Nazis. City notables called for participation in the “10,000 Candles for Dresden” campaign, which would create a large symbolic candle in front of the theater as a “sign of admonition and commemoration.” Another group of citizens, who also made use of the candle tradition, but were satisfied with 4,000, spelled out Diese Stadt hat Nazis satt [This city is sick of Nazis]. The working group 13. Februar called on the residents of Dresden to wear a white rose as a sign of silent protest, and thus established the symbol of “truthful commemoration.” But despite all symbolic exertions, thousands of Nazis marched through the city. They also pinned white roses to their lapels – “In commemoration of the victims of the Dresden Holocaust!” as they reasoned, since with this commemoration they were the true opposition to the “debt bondage” imposed on the Germans.

>The shift in the discourse was also visible in the official commemoration ceremony. The officials had refused for some time to change the schedule of events even slightly, but the pressure finally became too much when Dresden’s Jewish community refused to participate due to the presence of the Nazis. In 2009 Mayor Helma Orosz broke, for the first time, with the tradition of silent commemoration. Her speech reflects the current interpretation of the bombing and the remembrance of it. While she used the typical tropes such as “a jewel of art and culture” in her speech, she also put the blame for the suffering on the “National Socialist band on criminals.” Orosz declared, in the name of all citizens of Dresden: “[The Nazis] defile the memory of the dead, they do not belong in this city.” Just as this speech externalized the Nazis of the 1930s and 1940s as a “band of criminals” from German society, thus making them victims of National Socialism, the modern Nazis were shut out of the collective of truthful commemoration and stylized as defiling trouble-makers from outside the community. Dresden thus once again became a victim.

All’s well that ends well?

The placement of the bombing of Dresden in historical context and the acknowledgement of German culpability – both of which are core elements of the commonly lauded modern German culture of remembrance – remain purely formal. An actual debate about German history, about blame and responsibility, about a war of annihilation and the Shoah neither takes place nor is it desired. Instead the focus is shifted to suffering and blame in general. The universalization of suffering was epitomized in the poster of 2005, the universalization of blame in the phrase “War returns to Dresden,” which can be read on the monument at the Altmarkt: “This is a place of admonition, of remembrance, and of commemoration. The bodies of thousands of victims of the air raids of the 13th and 14th of February 1945 were burned here. On those days the horrors of the war that Germany inflicted on the world came back to our city.” The bombing of Dresden was, however, not an instance of the war of annihilation perpetrated by the Germans backfiring. This assertion can only be upheld if human suffering, seen from a moral perspective, is the only point of reference. In it, war makes everyone into both perpetrator and victim at the same time. The specificity of the German crime and the preexisting conditions that made it possible disappear when the focus is shifted to a backfiring of the war. This idea generalizes and moralizes, which, in the end, serves only to relativize the German guilt.

When it is abstracted in this way, the “preexisting conditions” become compatible with the myth of victimhood, which can then be transposed into a modernized form of commemoration. This culture of remembrance of the world champion of coming to terms with the past is as useful for a modern Dresden identity as it is for a modern German identity.

Commemoration re-invents itself

The annual Nazi rallies refused to disappear by themselves, and increasingly dominated the image of the commemorations in Dresden. By the 65th anniversary in 2010, a simple change in the schedule of events at the Heidefriedhof and the insistence on a truthful commemoration that excluded the Nazis per se were no longer sufficient. Participation in the commemoration at the Frauenkirche had declined continually since 2005, and attempts to revive it with large stages, guest speakers and candle installations were unsuccessful. The commemoration found new meaning in its function as a bastion of truthfulness against extremists: against those who abused the commemoration – meaning the Nazis – and against those who instrumentalized the anniversary – meaning the left-wing groups, who, year for year, used the 13th of February as an opportunity to formulate a fundamental criticism of commemoration in general. A human chain with the motto “Remembering and Acting for my Dresden,” initiated by Mayor Helma Orosz together with the working group 13 February,13 was considered the ideal form of commemoration. “The human chain will encompass the historical city center. It is a representation of commemoration, admonition and resistance combined. I invite you to send this peaceful signal together with us. Only in this way can we commemorate, powerfully and emphatically, the horrific events of 1945 and protect our city from violence and extremism.”14 In the end, however, it was thousands of anti-fascist activists, who hindered the Nazi demonstration with organized blockades placed directly in its path.

Because of the developments in the past three years – the increasing focus on the protest against the Nazi demonstration, the international attention to Dresden and how it deals with its past and the annual migration of thousands of Nazis to the city, and the reorientation of the commemoration ceremonies as an appeal against “abuse” – the wish to return to the tradition of silent commemoration is making itself heard more and more frequently. Thomas de Maizière, for example, asked in the Sächsische Zeitung in 2010 “Is there no way back to silent commemoration?” and demanded: “To all demonstrators from outside the city: stay out of Dresden on the 13th of February. Leave us in peace. In peace to commemorate with the power of candles and the power of reconciliation.”15 Thus a debate about the “correct” form of commemoration in Dresden has arisen, whose outcome cannot be foreseen. In April of 2012 the Dresden City Council, in response to a proposal by the CDU faction, resolved: “On the basis of the experiences of the past years, the mayor is charged with submitting proposals for the future organization of the main activities for the day of commemoration in Dresden – the 13th of February. The peaceful commemoration of the victims of the devastating bombing raids of the 13th and 14th of February 1945 and the idea of reconciliation between nations should once again be the primary focus.”16

Citation Andrea Hübler: Make do and mend – The Commemoration of Dresden in Reunited Germany, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse relating to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX [dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Amy Lee

1 Peter Ufer, “Der unschuldig schuldige Tag“ [The Innocent Guilty Day], Sächsische Zeitung, 04 March 2010.

2 Christine Wosnitza, “Dresden hat mir das Leben verdorben“ [Dresden ruined my Life], Die Union, 15 February 1990.

3 Letter to the editor, Gabriele Merthen, “Dresden“, Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, Easter 2000.

4 Director of the Dresden Music Festival Michael Hampe in the 1995 Music Festival program, which had “Apocalypse” as its theme; quoted from: N.N., “Tränen lügen – nicht?“ [Tears – don’t? – lie], Analyse & Kritik, 376, 03 March 1995, p. 16.

5 President Roman Herzog, speech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the destruction of Dresden in World War II; (retrieved 12 October 2012).

6 Klaus Naumann, “Deutsche Pietà“ [German Pietà], Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, 3, 1995, pp. 263f.

7 Güttler always steps into the spotlight when the topic of setting Dresden’s history and identity in scene. The last time was with the Dresden Path of Commemoration; see the essay Dresden Christ Superstar by Andrea Hübler in this book.

8 “Ruf aus Dresden“ [Appeal from Dresden]; (retrieved 30 August 2012).

9 (retrieved 30 August 2012).

10 “A Framework for Remembrance”; (retrieved 20 November 2014).

11 Ibid.

12 Ruth Klüger made her letter to the director of the State Playhouse available for publication to the MDR radio station FIGARO; quoted from: (retrieved 01 November 2012). See also: Hubert Spiegel, “Das Gefühl, in Dresden fehl am Platz zu sein“ [The Feeling of Being out of Place in Dresden], Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11 February 2005.

13 The working group includes representatives from the city’s Christian churches and the Jewish community, as well as from political leadership, industry, academics, civil society, sports, cultural institutions and the Dresden city administration. “The ’13 February’ working group was first convened by Mayor Helma Orosz in 2009, the aim then and now being for many important social groups to agree upon a joint course of action for the anniversary of the destruction of Dresden.” http://13februar.dresden.de/en/working-group.php (retrieved 21 November 2014).

14 Statement to the press by the City of Dresden, 13 January 2010.

15 Thomas de Maizière, “Lasst uns in Ruhe gedenken“ [Let us Commemorate in Peace], Sächsische Zeitung, 10 February 2010.

16 Transcript of the public part of the 39th meeting of the City Council (SR/039/2012), 04 April 2012.

Chronology of the protests

by (ed.) ‘Dissonanz’ author collective


The discussion and lecture tour throughout East Germany by the Hamburger Wohlfahrtsausschuss stops off in Dresden, too. An antifascist group from Hamburg has produced flyers and posters to be distributed in Dresden. In these flyers the group points out the German role during National Socialism and addresses the racist pogrom-like atmosphere in the early 1990s. The observation of the current situation results in the bottom line at the end of the flyer: “Bomber Harris says: I would do it again. We say: Do it, now!” This sentence sparks controversial discussions among the groups following this tour, and finally it is being decided to not hang up these posters in Dresden. Although they are being put up in Hamburg at the 50th anniversary of the bombing.


February 12 and 13

An anti-german event with provocative character is being planned under the slogan “No peace with Germany! No tear for Dresden – Against the German cult of victimhood!” Preparations for a nationwide intervention against the cult of victimhood by several groups are taking place by the anti-german group “Don’t Cry at the 8th of May – No Tears For Krauts!” from Leipzig. The action did not took place after no consensus between the groups could be achieved.
Instead, two independent actions take place. At February 12 the antinationalist plenum Hamburg protests with a banner during the remembrance service inside the Hofkirche. Guests of the event were, among others, Helmut and Hannelore Kohl. The formal commemoration ceremony with the Federal President at that time Roman Herzog takes place in the Kulturpalast (Palace of Culture) and is criticized by the anti-german group “Don’t Cry at the 8th of May” from Leipzig with banners and flyers.


After there was no response to the 50th anniversary within the Dresden left, activist from the Infoladen Schlagloch developed two poster designs in order to put the topic on the agenda. The first image shows the Dresden Schlossstraße during the Reichstheaterwoche (Reichs Theatre Week) 1934 decorated with swastika flags and an added slogan “Some things will never have happened!” At the second one a Dresden daily live picture from the time of National Socialism is shown together with the slogan “German perpetrators are no victims”. Left groups within a wide spectrum hung up the first poster, while the message of the second one goes too far.


The A.N.D. (Autonomous News Service, flyer of the magazine venceremos) is published as a poster with the slogan “I give a shit about your national consensus” and a collection of textes on the back side. The texts provided by the Infoladen Schlagloch, contained contrary positions to initiate a discussion about the bombing and its handling within the Dresden left.


At the evening of February 13 protests against the wreath-laying ceremony take place at Frauenkirche.


The first time a registered march by Nazis takes place from main station via Prager Straße to the Frauenkirche. While a small group of Nazis was stopped by the police in the previous year, the Dresden Nazi scene gained more self-confidence after their march against the exhibition “War crimes of the Wehrmacht” at the 24th of January. The Nazis are convoyed and attacked by a few antifascists. There are attempts to interfere with the wreath-laying at the Frauenkirche.


The Antifa Research Team Dresden organizes various actions under the motto “Better a bomb on the head as to Auschwitz …” this year. Two events – a panel discussion with Hermann L. Gremliza, Udo Behner and Tjark Kunstreich and a video installation at the Frauenkirche – take place to question left historical revisionism and the annual ritual of commemoration.
The video installation can be seen at all three entrances to the Neumarkt/Frauenkirche.


At February 13 the inauguration of a Arthur-Harris-Memorial is planned as part of a manifestation in the inner city in the presence of former Royal Air Force officers. Despite the obvious lack of seriousness, fellow Dresdeners threaten to lynch the organizers for the announced action. The event becomes a number one topic of the local press, where there is no shortage of statements of historical revisionism this days. The inauguration is cancelled just before February 13.


venceremos.antifa.net calls to a demonstration in the city centre of Dresden. The city administration shifts the demonstration route out of the inner city area in order to protect the commemoration. venceremos.antifa.net files a complaint against the ban zone which city administration established by a general ruling. In the evening a manifestation accompanied by techno music is planned to break the air of mourning. Unfortunetaly technics upsets the plan, the manifestation does not take place. There are attempts to interfere with the wreath-laying at the Frauenkirche.


February 13

The carnival committee of the Autonomous Antifa Dresden against German chauvinism calls for action against the Nazi march and protests against the commemoration in front of the Frauenkirche with the slogan “Call for carnival – good mood against bad habits. Confront the monster-mob shit and stop the Neonazi march!”.
There are confetti bags attached to the flyers to support the carnival mood. The club RM16 invites for tea-time and opens the exhibition “with trash-art through the 13th of February”. In the evening anti-fascists distribute copies of the historical leaflet “a message from the commander-in-chief of the British combat aircrafts to the German people” with champagne, confetti and slogans like “German perpetrators are no victims”. The next day original English breakfast is served at club RM16, where the exhibition can be seen.

September 4

Jörg Friedrich presents his book “The Fire” in the context of an event on the subject “Germany in the bomb war” at the 4th of September. Anti-fascists interfere with the lecture using frenetic applause and critical questions. Finally stink bombs and fire-alarm help to end the event.


February 9 – 20

The group//sabotage organizes a series of events under the motto “Deutschland Trau(er)t sich wieder” about the topics “New German national sentiment” with Martin Rohloff and Hannes G. (Leipzig), “February 13 – a national holiday?!” with Martin Blumentritt and “anti-Americanism, peace movement and February 13” with Sebastian Voigt and Karsten Völtzke (Leipzig).

February 13

For the first time the group “Friday 13″ calls for a nation-wide alliance under the slogan ”Targeting the German victim’s myth – against all forms of historical revisionism!”, for actions against the commemoration and a demonstration. The “Bündnis gegen Rechts” Leipzig supports the demonstration with an own call “Thank you, Mr. Harris – No tears for krauts”. About 500 anti-fascists demonstrate accompanied with the music of the band Mash Gordon at the edge of the inner city. A subsequent interference takes place during the bell-ringing in front of the Frauenkirche with champagne and chanting.

February 14

For the first time two Nazi marches take place. About 400 anti-fascists follow the call “Tears of Nazis galore – against all forms of historical revisionism”. Like in a game of cat-and-mouse large groups of Nazis move around the inner city and attack anti-fascists. A left-wing protest is nearly impossible due to the high numbers of Nazis.

The Antifa Research Team addresses the cemetery Heidefriedhof as a place of remembrance in a videoclip for mobilization against the Nazi march and the civic commemoration. Accompanied by the Matrix song “Clubbed to death” the film shows an animation of the memorial place, followed by pictures of the commemoration and the Nazi march.

The poster “Some things will never have happened” is published as postcard.

June 2 – 4

“Forms of cinematic memory – visual strategies of remembrance of – and reflection on the Holocaust in film”, a film seminar with Tobias Ebbrecht at the Academy of Fine Arts, is organised by group//sabotage.

November 16

Critical attendance at a movie: “Grandma, Grandpa and Hans-Peter were no victims but perpetrators” – flyers and champange at the Dresden premiere of “The Downfall” (Der Untergang) by the group//sabotage. The activists break off the action after being physically attacked by other spectators.


February 12 and 13

A nation-wide alliance invites to a demonstration in Dresden at February 12 with the slogan “If Germany, then Dresden – no tears for krauts” and for decentralized actions against the commemoration at February 13. Another call of the Autonomous Antifa Dresden focusses more on the Nazi march, which they find underrepresented in the call of the alliance. Beforehand a mobilization demo takes place in Berlin at January 30. 700 anti-fascists attend a demonstration through the city center to the Frauenkirche. There is a call for intervention “11am to 11pm” against the civic mob and the Nazi march. A registered manifestation at the Synagoge functions as a meeting point for the whole day. Tea, snacks and information are provided. Egotronic gives a concert in the evening. On that day more than 1.000 anti-fascists from all over Germany protest against the commemoration and the Nazi march in various ways. At 9:45 pm during bell-ringing three fireworks go off. Activists serve champagne, beer and chants, and hand out tissues with hidden subversive flyers inside.

June 24 -26

Under the title “Good Germans, Bad Nazis” a film seminar at the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden takes place with Tobias Ebbrecht, organized by group//sabotage.


January 27

A reading by group//sabotage takes place at the 61st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz at the 7th Floor Dresden. Autobiographical reports of Primo Levi, Inka Wajsbort and Halina Birenbaum are being read to focus on these people, who escaped the mania of annihilation only by chance. Individuals whose survivals had to be wrest from the german project of “total murder”. This murder, the annihilation of the European Jews, simultaneously followed the agenda of annihilating any memory of them.

February 11

About 1.000 anti-fascists take part in a trans-regional demonstration against the Nazi march and the myth of Dresden being a victim of WW2. The demonstration ends just 500 meters away from the starting point of the Nazi parade. The attempt to blockade the Nazi march even before the start is spoilt by a massive force of police. However, there is a successful blockade of the Augustus Bridge eventually, over which the planned route of the Nazi parade should go. After hours of waiting and temperatures below zero the Nazis turn around and take the same way back to their starting point. For the very first time the so called Nazi Mourning Parade has been blocked in Dresden.

February 13

An antifascist demonstration against the city government’s commemoration on the city cemetery Heidefriedhof takes place for the first time. Historical revisionism openly expressed by the Stelenkreis is criticized as well as the common commemoration of citizens together with nazis. About 100 anti-fascists gather on a Monday morning opposite the main entrance of the cemetery clearly visible and audible. The formal wreath-laying at the memorial site of the cemetery is critically commented by a banner.

July 28 – 30

Under the title “Imaginations of femininity, family and German nation – National Socialism and post-National Socialist culture in German movies” a film seminar at the Academy of Fine Arts Dresden takes place with Tobias Ebbrecht and Till Harning, organised by group//sabotage.

Dezember 14

An antifascist gala as a kick-off event for the mobilization campaign for the antifascist demonstration at February 13th takes place with about 50 guests. The motto “Deconstruct – Against all forms of historical revisionism – German perpetrators are no victims.” is presented as well as the call for action, the poster and the film production “The myth of the innocent city” by the collective Filmpiraten. The film documents the activities of anti-fascists at February 13, 2006 and also the civic commemoration which is characterized by the victim’s myth and historical revisionism.


January 27

“One always says, we had been liberated. I have not been liberated from Auswitz.” (Sarah Goldberg). January 27 a reading on the occasion of the 62th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz takes place at 7th Floor Dresden organised by group//sabotage with reflections of Shoa survivors about the (im)possibility of liberation from/of Auschwitz.

February 13

The second time an antifascist manifestation against the city government’s commemoration with Nazis takes place under the slogan “Against all forms of historical revisionism – at the cemetery Heidefriedhof, in the city center and elsewhere”.

A trans-regional alliance calls for the antifascist demonstration on February 13 under the motto “Deconstruct! Against all forms of historical revisionism. German perpetrators are no victims. Stop the Nazi parade.” in the Dresden city center. The purpose of the demonstration is, both, to express critique of historical revisionism and the commemoration and to blockade the Nazi Parade.
The campaign “Stop the glorification of National Socialism” supports the mobilisation against the Nazi parade with a website and an own call to block “No place for the glorification of National Socialism! No space for the distortion of history!”
About 1.500 anti-fascists follow the calls to Dresden. The demonstration is broken up by the organizers already after half the route at the closest point to the Nazi’s marching route, with the purpose to blockade it. The intention fails because of the massive police force, which at first succeeds in pushing the protesters into the direction of the city center. There they break in on the silent commemoration atmosphere of the Dresdeners. Later step-by-step a remarkable part of the demonstrators achieves to get onto the route of the Nazis and to hold up the march with serveral blockades. Not until late evening the more than 1.500 Nazis get under way on a shortened route, pass by the Synagogue and arrive at the City Hall at midnight. The Nazi march – which meanwhile shrank to only 500 participants – ends around 00:30 am at the pond at the Zwinger Palace.


The preparation group Februar 13 as initiative against all form of historical revisionism organizes a manifestation on Februar 13 and a demonstration at Februar 16 with the slogan “Your own fault!” Moreover the initiative sends an open letter to all members of city and state parliament, in which it criticizes the historical revisionism of the commemoration in Dresden in general and at the city cemetery Heidefriedhof in particular and calls for a critical reflection.

February 13

Once again an antifascist manifestation of about 100 participants takes place against the commemoration in front of the Heidefriedhof cemetery entrance. In the evening another manifestation at the synagogue functions as a meeting point for up to 300 anti-fascists, who attempt to oppose the Nazi march. Darkness and extensive police presence prevent any kind of interference of the so called mourning march.

February 16

The regulatory agency (“Ordnungsamt”) shifts the registered antifascist demonstration for February 16 out of the inner city area to Dresden-Neustadt at the other side of the river Elbe in order to enable a trouble-free procedure of the Nazi march. The registration for the demo is cancelled therefore. A manifestation in front of the main station is registered on short notice and serves as a replacement for about 1.000 anti-fascists. From there the participants succeed to get under way into the direction of the inner city and onto the route of the Nazi march despite the police forces. Another blockade of 250 people simultaneously takes place at the synagogue. Another demonstration “Geh-denken (Go and think)” with 3.000 citizens walks from Goldener Reiter to the synagogue, too. Therefore the Nazis have to accept changes of their route again. For the first time it was possible to prevent thousands of Nazis passing by the Dresden synagogue.

The Dresden group “No Pasarán” is constituted with the main focus on the Nazi march dissociating itself from the previous mobilizations. A nation-wide antifa-alliance under the label No Pasarán mobilizes for activities against the Nazi march in February 2009.

November 5 – 11

The audio-guided city walk “audioscript on the persecution and annihilation of Jews in Dresden 1933-1945” is presented from November 5 to 11 on occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Pogromnacht. It is introduced by the authors and Dr. Holger Birkholz (Academy of Fine Arts Dresden). Later on the screening of the film “Pourqoui Israel” by Claude Lanzmann takes place. During the week audioscript on mp3 Players can be borrowed from the Project Room in Gewandhausstraße 2, afterwards the devices for public use are being transfered to the Dresden City Museum and the Jewish Community Center.
The audiocript is an audio production which presents the German society during National Socialism, its continuity up to the present day and its treatment of the Shoa at 12 places The audioscript is provided in German and English.


January 20 – 29

Series of events by the preparation group February 13 and the department for political education at the Technical University Dresden with Claudia Krieg “The nation of reformed commemorative experts – levelling, equalisation and identity formation within the german commemorative discourse using the example of the new federal law on memorial sites”; Gunda Ulbricht, “HATiKVA Dresden: Commemoration in Dresden using the example of the 9th of November”; Claudia Jerzak, “Dresden, February 13 – the debate on ritual and symbol structures within commemorative culture from a protagonist perspective”; Antonia Schmid, “Commemoration and German history in the media – the recent German histotainment event movies”.

February 13

A commemoration event at Johannesfriedhof carried out by Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (War Graves Commission) and the Protestant church is criticized loudly and with banners by anti-fascists. The one-sided perspective of commemoration of the victims is to be countered by focussing on adversaries and victims of the nazi regime.

Some 800 anti-fascists follow the call for a concert rally in front of Altmarktgalerie with the bands Frittenbude and Egotronic. The concert is promoted by the label audiolith with its own poster. This rally is meant to counter the air of mourning on February 13 with speeches, good music and a cheerful atmosphere. Afterwards the nazi march in the evening is to be disturbed. From early evening hours on, the rally is enclosed by police and nobody is allowed to leave – as long as one is not willing to provide personal data, being fotographed and accepts being expelled from the inner-city. As a result, the nazi march can be carried out unimpeded and without any disturbance.

February 14

A registered rally in front of the Altmarktgalerie, which is meant to be contact point for anti-fascists who try to interfere with the Nazi march is being transfered to the other side of the river Elbe by the local authorities.

The demonstration by No Pasarán against the Nazi marches with around 4.000 antifascists. The route which was initially declared to start at main station and lead through the old town of Dresden, is later transferred to the other side of the river by the office of public order. The demonstration cannot get near enough to the Nazi march to be seen or heard because the start was delayed by the police. The police repeatedly interferes with the demonstration.

The preparation group February 13 is now called group No reconciliation with Germany.


February 9

“In the night from Monday to Tuesday, the extensive redesign of the Dresdner Heidefriedhof, which has been overdue for a long time, has been brought to mind explicitly. According to police reports, ‘unknown offenders’ took heart and gave the ‘Memorial for the victims of the bomb attack’ a new coating: as as for the morning of February 9, it is now shining in white and pink instead the former grey and brown” reports venceremos.antifa.net.

February 12

Up to 1.500 anti-fascists take part in a demonstration on the evening before the 65th anniversary of the bomb attack on Dresden. Their goal is to criticize the annual commemoration of german victims. The demonstration under the motto “No reconciliation with Germany. German perpetrators are no victims” is concluded at Schlossplatz by a concert with the band Egotronic.

February 13

For the anniversary there is a wide range of activities criticizing the commemoration. Even Pink Rabbit goes for one last trip at the 65th anniversary to critically accompany the Pathway of Remembrance. It is joined by a carnival reveler, who throws pink paper planes from the vendor’s tray of Pink Rabbit. At Busmannkapelle, another station of the Pathway of Remembrance, banners are being unveiled and brochures distributed which criticize the staging of Dresden as a victim. At the commemoration event in the evening in front of the Frauenkirche, the silence is being broken by alarm beepers and “German perpetrators are not victims”-chants. The ecumenical service is being loudly and critically accompanied. The peal of bells at 9:45pm is flanked with fireworks, a banner unveiled vis-à-vis of Frauenkirche and more chants. The candles are being extinguished with a leaf blower.

This year, the mobilization against victim’s myth and nazi march is supported by gruppe gegenstrom and basisgruppe geschichte Göttingen, Avanti Projekt undogmatische Linke, TOP B3rlin, autonome antifa [f] from Frankfurt M. with individual calls from each group.

For the first time, the so called mourning march of the JLO at February 13 is blocked. The alliances “Dresden Nazifrei” and “No pasaràn” managed to mobilize 12.000 people in mass blockades. From the early morning hours thousands of blockers show up around Neustädter Bahnhof. Due to the quarter-wide chaos, including burning barricades, disoriented nazi cars and busses which drive into anti-fascist’s blockades, several attempts of the police to remove the blockades fail. The mobilization succeeds at the expense of a critique of the revisionist commemoration in Dresden.


February 2013

“No reconciliation with Germany” calls for critical attendance of the commemoration. With the help of several spontaneous actions it is accomplished to disturb the commemoration of the bombing of Dresden. 60 people held a demonstration against the commemoration with banners, flyers and a speech at the city cemetery Heidefriedhof. The human chain “against violence and extremism” is split at various points as about 300 critics of the commemoration move spontaneously in direction of the Frauenkirche while chanting “Germany, never again!” and “german perpetrators are no victims”. About 100 people disturb the silent commemoration at the Frauenkirche in the evening and fireworks start at 9.45 pm just in time for the peal of bells.

Right before the human chain begins, several people shape the word “Shoa” out of candles in front of the Frauenkirche, and thereby provoke different reactions of passers-by. Mostly a lack of understanding.

The memorial walk along the traces of Nazi criminals wants to change the perspective regarding February 13 in Dresden. It uncovers them as part of Dresden’s history. During the themed walk through Dresden it is supposed to bring prominent Nazi-offenders to mind, like Martin Mutschmann, Henry Schmidt, and Ernst Wegner, as well as to look back on everyday life of persecution and outlawing. Locations of compulsory labor, armor production, as well as the Judenlager Hellerberg shall be retrieved from oblivion to consciousness.
The city administration Dresden makes the execution of the commemoration march’s concept impossible by placing it at the Neustadt side of the river Elbe. Because only the Nazi march is supposed to walk through the inner city – undisturbed. About 500 people show up at Comeniusplatz for a manifestation, despite of the actual prohibition regarding the commemoration march, and to protest against the regulative ignorance. The Leipziger Volkszeitung reported that afterward a small group has walked the commemoration march’s route, ignored by the police.

Dresden Nazifrei calls for an intervention against the Nazi march in the evening with the motto “To make short work”. Although the full prevention of the Nazi march does not succeed, the protest of several thousand people within the range of audibility and visibility is seen as a success.

February 16

“Dresden gut, alles gut?!” asks TOP B3RLIN in the context of a panel discussion with Olaf Kistenmacher and Danilo Starosta in the socio-cultural center Scheune in Dresden.

February 19

Dresden Nazifrei again mobilizes for mass blockades on Saturday. 20.000 people, coming from the whole federal territory, prevent the great march of the Nazis.
The Saxon administration’s attempts to criminalize the alliance Dresden Nazifrei in advance. This does not reduce the success of the protests. A police task force attacks the Haus der Begegnung, the office where Dresden Nazifrei resides, at February 19. All 17 attendant people are arrested, their fingerprints taken and photographed, 10 laptops, 14 mobile phones and all permanently installed technical devices are confiscated. Investigations, according to §129 StGB – the creation of a criminal union, against the arrested people are undertaken for one and a half year until the proceedings are closed in July 2012. Moreover, the police performs extensive surveillance measures inside the municipal area during February 13 and 19. More than a million data records are collected and stored by radio cell inquiries. Afterwards police and prosecution take action against sit-in activists by initiating hundreds of preliminary proceedings due to violation of the assembly act.

The connection of commemoration criticism on the one hand and mobilization against the Nazi march on the other is supported by different groups with their own calls for action: TOP B3RLIN: “Dresden gut, alles gut?! Torwards a critique of the commemoration culture in Dresden or Every City gets the Nazi march it deserves.”; the nationwide alliance No Pasarán: “Block Nazis – fight nonsense about extremism and victim’s myth” and “Switch off the lights! 13th February – Destroy the spirit of Dresden!”, including the website dresden-opferfrei.de.vu and an own poster from Thüringen.


February 13

Similar to the previous year activists intervene at the commemoration at the city cemetery Heidefriedhof, the human chain and the Silent commemoration at the Frauenkirche although a massive force of police limits the scope for creative actions this time.

In 2012 the memorial walk takes place without any problems compared to the quasi-ban in the previous year. 2.500 people visit various locations of National Socialist crimes in Dresden.

The alliance Dresden Nazifrei! mobilizes once more against the Nazi march in the evening of February 13. 6.000 protesters make sure, with the help of several blockades, that the march of about 1.500 Nazis with torches walks just one kilometer and turns into a disaster.

Feburary 18

The Nazi march on the weekend is cancelled that year based on internal debates and organizational incompetence and because of the resolute antifascist practice of the previous years. Nonetheless, the alliance Dresden Nazifrei sticks to the mobilization to Dresden and helds a demonstration from main station to the Haus der Begegnung. An alliance of anti-Saxon extremists with participate with an own “extrem_is(t)_in”-block against the criminalization of antifascist commitment and the Saxon particularities. About 10.000 people from all over Germany take part in the demonstration.

Citation (ed.) ‘Dissonanz’ author collective: Chronology of the protests, in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX[dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Heike Ehrlich

“Look around you, now you know.” Politics of peace initiatives within the context of the commemorations of the bombing raids of Dresden since 1980.

 by Claudia Jerzak

Initiative 1982: The peace movement as outlet for criticism of the system

At the time the whole thing just started as something spontaneous. Following up on a conversation, Johanna sat down at her parents’ typewriter (…) What [she] had in mind was some kind of romantic sit-in for peace.(…) But then there was this quite enthusiastic response. 1

Roman Kalex2 was a co-initiator of the protest that took place beside the Frauenkirche [Church of Our Lady] on 13 February 1982. The occasion he depicts as a happening carried out by hippies high on flower-power set off a wave of repression at the time. What evolved out of it over the next few decades ultimately became one of the central rituals of the Federal Republic of Germany’s commemoration of the German victims of the Second World War.

This article does not aim at recounting how it came about that the somewhat recklessly and casually initiated protest very clearly became a serious threat to the SED’s [Socialist Unity Party] ideological monopoly on the subjects of rearmament and militarization. Initially, the pacifist protests were implicitly set off against the negative foil the National Socialist dictatorship, carried or at least condoned by the population (Lüdke, Bajohr). The really important question here is how this pacifist protest metamorphosed into a de-contextualized commemoration of victimhood.3 What also becomes clear is that, in the course of subsequent historical generalizing and de-contextualizing, the focus on the cause of peace offered different religious and political groups, in particular from the extreme Right, the opportunity to participate in the movement.

Initially, however, the Friedenskreis [peace circle] protest was above all an expression of anger and contradiction within the GDR society, which had no provision for discourse or participation. Through the historical de-contextualizing reference to Dresden as a symbol of peace, the initiators thus involuntarily fortified the narrative of victimization in Dresden. The lack of any historical or political discussion on National Socialism or the Second World War in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), allowed the group (later Wolfspelz) to remain uncommitted in this respect. It was not until the mobilization of the extreme Right became visible in the mid-1980s4 that these blank areas received some attention.

After a relatively quiet phase in the culture of remembrance in the 1960s and 1970s5, the commemoration of the bombing raids on Dresden was re-vitalized by the critical young pacifists’ initiative in 1982.6

In 1981 a loosely-knit group of young people emerged in Dresden. They were members of churches, and also part of the hippie movement and they met up in downtown Dresden or in cafés such as the Mokkastube. A few of these young people – Johanna Kalex (real name Anett Ebischbach), Torsten Schenk, Oliver Kloß, Nils Reifenstein and Mac Scholz – decided to ‘express their desire for peace’7.

Their initiative was part of the worldwide peace movement that had been gathering momentum since 1977. Around that time people became aware that the USA was working on a neutron bomb, and the NATO Doppelbeschluss [NATO Double-Track Decision] led to million-strong protest marches, starting in 1979 and continuing for years. The Double-Track Decision meant the deployment of the US medium-range Pershing II and cruise missiles to Europe as a reaction to the stationing of Soviet SS-20 missiles. People were afraid that the US would defend its interests by means of a nuclear war in Europe. In addition, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Johanna Kalex had the idea of holding a protest after hearing a friend describe a Roman Catholic pilgrimage to Poland where people laid out candles in the form of a cross and held prayers for peace. A year earlier the free trade union Solidarność had been founded with some support from the Catholic Church, so a transfer of symbols from one system to another had been established.

In October 1981 Johanna Kalex handed out 12 leaflets that she had typed up herself. Within hours a lot of others reproduced the hand-outs and distributed them. Over the next couple of days Elke Schanu illegally printed several thousand using the newspaper printing press of the Sächsische Zeitung. The initiative was well received in the circles oflatterday hippies”, as Roman Kalex refers to them, both in Dresden and in the GDR in general, and thus the information on the planned peace event was widely circulated between October and February.

In their leaflet for what they referred to as a commemoration service the initiators laid out the order of ceremony

  • 09.50 pm we all meet at the Frauenkirche

  • Everyone is to bring a flower and a candle

  • The flowers will be laid down to form a cross that we will sit around in a wide circle with our candles in front of us (don’t forget matches)

  • 10 pm tolling of the bells

  • We wait for about two minutes

  • Then we sing “We shall overcome”

There is to be complete silence the entire time. No talking whatsoever.8

Johanna Kalex wanted “to get across the idea that if you want to have peace, you can’t start wars.”9 She regarded the re-armament measures in the East (and West) as contradicting and undermining the GDR’s image of itself as an anti-imperialist Friedensstaat [peaceful state],10 propagated in keeping with Dimitroff’s theory of fascism11 and very much in evidence in Dresden commemorations since the late 1940s. She questioned the GDR version of the Cold War, summed up as “We are being attacked. We are the good guys”12.

Imperialismus Altmarkt
Dresden Gedenkveranstaltungen anlässlich des 20. Jahrestages des anglo-amerikanischen Luftangriffes auf Dresden am 13./14. Februar 1945 Großkundgebung mit Hermann Matern. 
Foto: SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek / Erich Höhne & Erich Pohl.

There were a variety of reasons for focusing on this contradiction within a commemoration ceremony on precisely 13 February. First and foremost, there was to be a solemn reminder of the bombing and a comment on the typical elements of the collective narrative of the population, namely that they had no knowledge and bore no guilt for National Socialism. “Look around you, now you know”. This interpretation of the past necessarily led to criticism of nationalism when it became clear that those critical were “not available for that kind of war. We don’t have that kind of relation with a Vaterland (…) that we would be willing to do anything for it.”13

Oliver Kloß for his part describes the choice of peace as rallying point as a means rather than an end: The right of assembly was anchored in the constitution but was in fact non-existent. This contradiction was to be made visible by means of an organized demonstration, provoking the state into its usual repressive reaction, and thus into delegitimizing itself. In appealing for peace the initiators could count on the solidarity of the population.14 Roman Kalex sees this differently: “It wasn’t until those early days in February that we realized there was potential for protest in the movement.”

Dresden presented a very visible case study of the results of military conflicts through its countless ruins – above all through the Frauenkirche, declared a memorial site as early as 1966. Within East Germany and beyond, it had become a symbol,15 in particular of the destruction resulting from the externalized war of conquest initiated by Nazi aggressors. The peace activists integrated this interpretation with the local significance of the memorial and anti-war day. The Staatssicherheit [state security (secret police)] noted at the time that one of the initiators criticized “how many of Dresden’s citizens [had] already forgotten the date.”16

In order to avoid repression for dangerous pacifist agitation17, the initiators of the event accepted the Lutheran Church’s offer of moving the proceedings to the nearby Kreuzkirche [Church of the Cross].

In 1980, Christof Ziemer, the then superintendent of the church district of central Dresden had already applied for permission to hold a public commemorative service beside the ruins of the Frauenkirche.18 The occasion was provided by the ten-day peace vigils, which started in 1980 and called for a complete demilitarization of both German states. The accompanying symbol of “swords to ploughshares” was printed on fabric by Harald Bretschneider, state youth pastor, and passed on in the form of bookmarks and patches. It was to become the sign of the East German peace movement. Ziemer’s priority, even ahead of commemoration and questions of peace, was to stimulate a discussion on what led up to the bombing in Dresden, in particular the bombing raids by German forces in other countries.

Against the background of the current Cold War conflicts, engagement in the politics of peace became the fundamental position for activists of the time, and Dresden, particularly through members of its church circles, went on to exert significant influence in other parts of the GDR.19

The concerns of the Friedenskreis [peace circle]20 were taken up by the Lutheran church and were to be incorporated in a peace forum.21 On 13 February 1982 around 5000 people came to the Kreuzkirche.22 Church officials gave answers to questions handed in anonymously on such subjects as the Soziale Friedensdienst [social peace service], on the arrest of the pastor Rainer Eppelmann following his Berlin Appeal23, and on the “possibility of non-violent resistance” in the event of a military occupation of the GDR24

According to Stasi records, the peace forum ended around 9 45 pm. “Approximately 400-500 young people, most of them between 15- 18 years old, met in groups and twos and threes in the ruins of the Frauenkirche. They moved there in an orderly fashion; there was no form of organization apparent. Approximately 50 candles were lit by the young people.”25 Then until 11pm they laid down flowers, sang “We shall overcome” and “Where have all the flowers gone” and set up a cross made of a couple of rough boards with “35,000 dead – why” written on it. The Stasi is satisfied.26

Public demonstrations based on private initiatives were only possible within limits in the GDR. This regulation led to the specific symbolic and ritual form of the peace circle’s events: the initiators’ invitations always called for participants to bring flowers and candles, and to maintain complete silence during the remembrance. Ziemer describes the candle as a sign of hope, devotion and non-violence, adopted from the Taizé brothers who were touring through the GDR at the time. Roman Kalex regarded the candle simply as a symbol of a better world. The silence in which the act of commemoration took place was to reduce the risk of repression from the authorities, but was also intended as counterpoint to the long propaganda speeches of the SED [Socialist Unity Party], full of repetitions and slogans.”We shall overcome” was a deliberate reference to the civil rights movement. 27

Neumarkt 1983
Gedenkkundgebung anlässlich des 38. Jahrestages der Zerstörung Dresdens auf dem Neumarkt 13. Februar 1983. 
Foto: SLUB Dresden / Deutsche Fotothek / Rainer Siegert.

Thus the symbolic structure of the silent commemoration was composed of several elements: the reference to the peace and civil rights movements; the use of Christian iconography, which was common even among non-religious groups, given that the GDR opposition often operated under the protection of the church; and Ziemer’s initiative. Traditional symbols and contemporary sign systems were combined into a secular-Protestant ritual (Karl-Siegbert Rehberg). Consequently the Frauenkirche became a space both for protest and for commemoration. There was little reflection after 1989/90 and in the 2000s on the political conditions of the time that gave rise to and legitimized the silent ceremony of commemoration as a ritual.

Peace movement and silent commemoration in the 80s: between confrontation with National Socialism and a resurgence of nationalism.

The initiators of the Friedenskreis no longer took part in its activities as early as 1983: instead in 1985 they gave concrete form to their reflection on Germany’s guilt and responsibility in the Second World War and National Socialism in an exhibition “…oder Dresden” (“or Dresden”)28. The commemorative site of the Frauenkirche was nonetheless used from 1982 as a space for protest. It thus influenced the development of the silent commemoration form in the 1980s, which in turn led to the legend of the Friedenskreis being the origin of the “peaceful revolution”.29

In the post-Wende [Fall of the Berlin Wall] depiction of oppositional groups, Wolfspelz was often presented as following the same line as conservative church groups who based their activities on their critical distance and rejection of socialist ideas.30 Wolfspelz was even linked to those who simply wanted to leave the GDR, though less for political reasons. “Starting in 1987, a lot of people with suitcases turned up, hoping to speed up the process of getting out of the country (…)”. “We had a different agenda: the question of what a society that was socialist and allowed citizens to participate fully could look like”, said Roman Kalex.31 The Federal German president Roman Herzog, in his 1995 speech in the Dresden commemoration service, assumed that the group was in fundamental opposition, and suggested that it potentially subscribed to West German criticism of East Germany and was in fact aiming at re-unification.32

The development of the silent commemoration form was not just subject to tension from outside and from within. In the struggle over the competing historical and political readings of events, which was re-ignited from 1989 onwards, the significance attached to the Frauenkirche, as a site of cultural remembrance, increased. This became apparent as early as December 1989, when in his speech the German chancellor Helmut Kohl chose the following formulation in the ruins of the Frauenkirche: “And here in this very place [!], before all of you, I want to extend this pledge and to swear: in future only peace shall ever come forth from Germany – that is the common ground on which we have come together in a re-united Germany!”33 This was the moment, at the very latest, that the Frauenkirche and Dresden became an all-German symbol that could be drawn upon to legitimize the Wiedervereinigung [re-unification]. From the day he took office, Kohl set off down the path from de-concretizing National Socialism34 to this proclamation of the “Unity of the Nation” in Dresden. With his inauguration slogan “Renewal means re-engaging with German history”35, he had placed the question of an all-German identity at the centre of Federal German politics.

Admissions of guilt and responsibility, like Federal German President Weizsäcker’s in 1985, or accompanying gestures of reconciliation, like President Herzog’s in 1995 were not able to prevent a resurgence of the victims’ narrativeabout the so-called civilian population in bombed German cities. If anything, they fuelled activity to defend this exclusive victim status36. Kohl’s pledge was immediately taken up by the citizens’ initiative for the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche on the 12 February 1990 in the “Call from Dresden”: “We call for a world-wide response to rebuild Dresden’s Frauenkirche and make it an international Christian peace centre in renewed Europe (…) we call in particular on the nations that waged the Second World War. We are painfully conscious that Germany unleashed this war.”37

In reunited Germany: from peace to reconciliation

Since 1989/90, the influence of pacifist concerns within the culture of remembrance has diminished.38 In a parallel process to the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche the message of peace was replaced by the concept of reconciliation.39

Members of the peace movement criticized the re-construction of the Frauenkirche because they feared it would mean the loss of the admonitory character of the church as a ruin. Furthermore, they feared that it would not be able to carry the symbolic weight attributed to it through the unique circumstances – wide-spread participation in its reconstruction, an international and inter-generational common effort, the material evidence of reconciliation. Several groups thus organized “GeDenken” [ReFlect] an event held from 2001 to 2007 in the Altmarkt [Old Market Place],40 considered to be an authentic site of remembrance. GeDenken was discontinued as a result of a number of those involved criticizing its lack of a clear message, and accusing the organizing team of not being aware of the need for a much stricter approach to the whole question of commemoration of the bombing raids, in order to bring about changes to the practices of remembrance. Furthermore, GeDenken had begun to attract revisionist groups.41

Despite their lack of consensus on content, almost all those active in Dresden had pacifism in common. The DGB [German Trade Union Council] and the ÖIZ [Ecumenical Information Centre] objected that the 13 February had become a worldwide “Day of Mourning” without becoming a worldwide Day of Peace. Far-right groups used the occasion in connection with their European meetings in Dresden and groups such as the Junge Landsmannschaft Ostpreußen [East-Prussian Territorial Youth Association] used the peace movement slogans, “War between brothers [civil war]– never again”. “Let there be no more war!” The CDU [Christian Democratic Party] undertook a further extension of the pacifist cause, clearly in keeping with various current interests, when they included the prevention of dictatorships and tyranny in their catalogue of messages of peace – the pointlessness of war and violence, the need for moral courage, the chances and benefits of reconciliation. As a result of these processes, a number of individuals in Dresden began to distance themselves from the de-contextualization and generalization of the perpetrator and victim roles. Instead they argued that their efforts lay on analyzing political and economic causes and effects, and thus on revealing the specific nature of National Socialism.42

In spite of the later differentiation and alienation between groups, it can be said that after the Wende a broad spectrum of activists used 13 February to take up a position against the Gulf War, the wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq, and to protest against international intervention.43 This continuation of (de-) contextualizing through reference to other destroyed cities was adopted in the city’s posters and brochures,44 first printed to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing raids in 2005, and used subsequently. This campaign, initiated by the city authorities, picked up the theme of the Stelenkreis [circle of columns] in the Heidefriedhof [cemetery]45 and extended its reference to other sites and times.

Official poster of the city of Dresden in 2005, publisher Landeshauptstadt Dresden.

This construction of symbols within the culture of commemoration makes it quite plain that the hallmark of this pacifist engagement is generalization and subsequent historical de-contextualization. Through their reference to other cities destroyed in the Second World War and other wars, to other sites of destruction and to current military conflicts, the advocates of pacifism have become generalizers. Thus the extension both in space and in time has led to a collectivizing of all these sites into a pan-European or international community of victims.

Furthermore, the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche started a shift from the terminology of peace to that of reconciliation. This was a further step down the road towards de-contextualization, and had two consequences: ultimately it put an end to reflection on National Socialism – in the case of the Frauenkirche to any scrutiny of that church’s own role as a cathedral/bishopric of the German Christians of that period – and secondly it allowed a switch of the perpetrator and victim roles,46 thus making calls for apologies from the USA and Great Britain possible.47 The question of reconciliation is almost entirely directed towards these countries, while individual victims of National Socialism are rarely addressed. It should be added here that starting with the Cross of Nails community in Coventry in 1965, a largely religious peace and reconciliation movement had become established. In connection with reconciliation initiatives with Coventry and Warschau, for example, the English city’s Bishop Gibbs said in 1985 in Dresden’s Annenkirche [Church of St Anne] that he felt shame towards Dresden and the hope for peace.48

One can’t help but be somewhat puzzled and astonished: surely the primary victims of National Socialism should be the ones to offer reconciliation, and not the people of Dresden? Or as the historian Nora Goldbogen, head of the Jewish community in Dresden said, “Something different is important to us: remembering. (…) [Reconciliation] is not about you reconciling yourself with the others, but the others becoming reconciled with you. Or rather somehow managing to achieve this, by thinking about what you did wrong yourself, whether big mistakes or small ones.49

Citation Claudia Jerzak: “Look around you, now you know.” Politics of peace initiatives within the context of the commemorations of the bombing raids of Dresden since 1980., in: Abolish Commemoration – A Critique of the Discourse relating to the Bombing of Dresden in 1945, online at http://www.abolishcommemoration.org/XXXXXXX [dd.mm.yyyy].

translated by Teresa Woods

1  Roman Kalex in an interview for the documentary film „Come together. Dresden und 13. Februar” (in the following: Interview CT).

2 I am grateful to Roman Kalex for his willingness to answer all my questions about the situation in the 1980s and for his thoughtful contributions on the initiatives of the Friedenskreis, Wolfspelz and the Anti-Nazi-Liga.

3 In connection with the return of Germany’s memorializing of victimhood and de-contextualizing in the heated debate during the ‘Super Commemoration Years’ 1993-95 over the bombing of cities cf. Malte Thießen Eingebrannt ins Gedächtnis. Hamburgs Gedanken an Luftkrieg und Kriegsende 1943 bis 2005, Hamburg: Dolling und Galitz Verlag, 2007 p 316ff; in the 2000s s. Martin Sabrow: „Den Zweiten Weltkrieg erinnern“, APuZ, 36-37, 2009, pp 14-21, hier p 19 ff and also the central role of the Dresden commemoration ceremonies cf Harald Schmid: „Deutungsmacht und kalendarisches Gedächtnis – die politischen Gedenktage“ in Peter Reichel/Harald Schmidt/Peter Steinbach (ed.): Der Nationalsozialismus – Die Zweite Geschichte. Überwindung – Deutung – Erinnerung, München: CH.Beck, 2009, pp 175-216, here p 212ff.

4 Roman Kalex in interview CT.

5 Cf Michael Ulrich: Dresden – Nach der Synagoge brannte die Stadt, Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2002 and Matthias Neutzner: „Vom Anklagen zum Erinnern. Die Erzählung vom 13 Februar“ in Oliver Reinhard/Matthias Neutzner/Wolfgang Hesse (ed.): Das rote Leuchten. Dresden und der Bombenkrieg, Dresden: Edition Sächsische Zeitung, 2005, pp 128-168, hier p 157. Christof Ziemer, the then superintendent, spoke of a “formalized”, “ritualized” culture of remembrance (interview CT).

6 See also Claudia Jerzak: „Der 13. Februar in Dresden: Gedenkrituale, Wandel der Erinnerungskultur und ihre Demokratisierungspotenziale“, in Weiterdenken – Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Sachsen/Kulturbüro Sachsen (ed.): “Sachsens Demokratie”? Demokratische Kultur und Erinnerung, Medienlandschaft und Überwachungspolitik in Sachsen, Dresden, 2012 pp 35-46.

7 Flyer, error in original, copy in author’s archive.

8 Flyer, error in original, copy in author’s archive.

9 Johanna Kalex in interview CT.

10 Dimitroff’s definition of Fascism: “When Fascism rules, comrades, it is the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, chauvinistic imperialistic elements of finance capital. (…) It is a system of political banditry, a system of provocation and torture of the working classes and of the revolutionary elements of the peasantry, the lower middle class, and the intelligentsia.” (Georgi Dimitroff: Ausgewählte Schriften 1933-1945, Cologne:Verlag Rote Fahne, 1976, p.97).

 11 As a result of the founding of two separate German states the subject of peace became the central issue in the commemoration in 1950, and “Anglo-American bombers” and “American war-mongers” became the new enemy, along with the FRG as the “successor state to the Third Reich”.

12 Johanna Kalex in interview CT.

13 Roman Kalex in Interview CT. He summed up their attitude: “And we didn’t find the idea at all sexy that we should put an end to our fairly young lives because a couple of people felt their Vaterländer had to be defended against one another.”

14 http://issuu.com/ifm-archiv/docs/1882_mfs_bv_ddn_bericht-an-modrow-frauenkirche (accessed 12.09.2012).

15 Cf.Tony Joel, „Reconstruction over Ruins. Rebuilding Dresden’s Frauenkirche”, in Martin Gegner/Bart Ziino (ed.): The Heritage of War, London: Routledge, 2011, pp 197-218, here p 204. Furthermore cf. the contribution Frauenkirche-Mania von Philipp Klein in this volume.

16 BStU, Archive of the Außenstelle Dresden, Reg.-Nr XII 33/82, „Ruine“, Vol.25.

17 Cf ibid, Vols.45,47.

18 Cf Olaf Meyer: „Erinnern und Trauern als öffentliche Ausdrucksformen der christlichen Gemeinde. Das Beispiel Dresdens“, in: Werner Dannowski/Wolfgang Grünberg/Michael Göpfert/Günter Krusche (ed.): Erinnern und Gedenken (Kirche in der Stadt, Bd.1) Hamburg: Steinmann und Steinmann, 1991, pp 62-69; Ulrich, Dresden, 2002, op cit.; cf also Christof Ziemer: „So on my first venture into the city hall I asked the deputy mayor, (…) whether I could go to the Frauenkirche on 13 February and hold a service there. (…) And two days later they told me that regretfully it was not possible, and that church activity naturally had to be confined to within church premises and not take place in public areas.” To get around this Ziemer held an introductory service, after which 500 people remained to pray for peace. (interview CT).

19 Cf also Josef Schmid: „Sozialethisch engagierte Gruppen in Dresden“, in: Detlef Pollack/Dieter Rink (ed.) Zwischen Verweigerung und Opposition. Politischer Protest in der DDR 1970-1989, Frankfurt am Main 1997, pp 171-187.

20 As a response to their experiences on13 February, some young people founded the Friedenskreis with the aim of holding a well-publicized demonstration on 1 May. During the exhibition “…oder Dresden” the state bishop Hempel commented on the group’s standpoint, describing them as wolves in sheep’ clothing or sheepskins. The group saw themselves in exactly the opposite role and called the group Wolfspelz [Wolfskin].

21 In the years that followed and up to this day the prayers for peace are still the main emphasis of the commemoration ceremonies of the Kreuzkirche on 13 February. Cf. Erhart Neubert, Geschichte der Opposition in der DDR 1949-1989, Berlin: Christoph Links Verlag, 1997, p 398; Claudia Jerzak, Gedenken an den 13. Februar 1945. Perspektiven Dresdner AkteurInnen auf die Entwicklung von Erinnerungskultur und kollektivem Gedächtnis seit 1990, Magisterarbeit an der Technischen Universität Dresden/Institut für Soziologie, 2009. Download from (accessed 11.12.2012).

22 “From around noon on 13 February 1982 young people in numerous groups and twos-and-threes moved in the city centre to the start of the service in the Kreuzkirche without signs of negative behavior”. At 5 pm they entered the church “in an orderly fashion” (BstU, “Ruine”, Vol.47).

23 The initiative was registered in the FRG (Die Welt, 10.02.1982, s 1) and to some extent placed in the context of the peace movement (cf. e.g. Berliner Morgenpost, 10.02.1982, p 1) West German television teams, including the two Federal German public-service channels, were present and the Stasi noted that there were radio reports.

24 BstU, „Ruine“ vol 48.

25 Ibid vol.49.

26 MfS-Oberst Böhm [officer in the Ministry for State Security] ends his report: “In sum it can be said that the political operative measures taken achieved the intended goal” (ibid Vol 50) – although the counter demonstration – torchlight procession and Kampfmeeting of the FDJ- Freie Deutsche Jugend (East Germany’s official youth movement) – planned for 1982 (ibid, Vol 23) did not in fact take place until 1983 onwards.

27 Interview Christof Ziemer and Roman Kalex CT.

28 Lutheran Superintendent of Dresden-Mitte (ed.) “…oder Dresden”. Fotos, Dokumente und Texte einer Ausstellung 40 Jahre nach der Zerstörung der Stadt, Dresden, 1987.

29 Cf Neuber, Geschichte der Opposition, 1997, op cit., p 398. The group connected with Harald Bretschneider were more focused on the Kreuzkirche and Friedensforum and saw themselves in the tradition of peaceful revolution. They set up their own memorial in front of the Kreuzkirche with the Steine des Anstoßes [stones of provocation]; cf (accessed 09.10.2012)

30 Cf contrast to Schmid, „Gruppen in Dresden“, 1997, op cit. Also Neubert, Geschichte der Opposition, 1997, op cit.

31 Roman Kalex Interview CT.

32 “The citizens of Dresden in this procession [between the two churches as part of the ecumenical service- author’s note, CJ.] consciously resisted the attempts of the SED regime to turn the commemoration of 13 February 1945 into an anti-British, anti-American, and ultimately an anti-Western statement. Instead they protested and took the first steps along the right path (…).They showed that they were capable, entirely on their own, of overcoming the shadows of the past, and thus of opening the gate to a better future.” ? global.printview=2 (accessed 03.04.2009).

33 (accessed 20.11.2012); Teltschik, Deputy head of the Chancellor’s Office 1983-1990, on the relevance of this speech cf. Horst Teltschik, 329 Tage.Innenansichten der Einigung, Berlin: Siedler, 1991. ”We are all aware that the speech tomorrow will be a balancing act. It has to do justice to the hopes and feelings of those gathered in the church square, and at the same time the world will be listening and weighing every word.“(p 86), and “we are fully aware that it is a great occasion, a historic day, an experience that will be forever unique (…)“ (p.87); ”(…) The Chancellor thought about having the afternoon ceremony brought to a close with the hymn “Nun danket Gott”, so as to have a fitting vehicle for the emotions people were likely to feel, and also to prevent anyone singing the first verse of the German national anthem [Deutschland, Deutschland über alles – trans. note] (p.88): Against the backdrop of the ruins of theFrauenkirche: “The crowd chanted ‘Deutschland, Deutschland’, ‘Helmut, Helmut’ and ‘Wir sind das Volk’ [We are the people]. The Chancellor had a lump in his throat as he closed his speech with the words ‘Gott segne unser deutsches Vaterland’ [May God bless our German Fatherland]”. (p 91) Teltschik quoted Foreign Minister Genscher as having said in the cabinet meeting chaired by Helmut Kohl next day: ”The entire world witnessed that Germans have learned their lessons from history.”

34 Cf Sabine Müller, Die Entkronkretisierung der NS-Herrschaft in der Ära Kohl, Hannover: Offizin, 1998

35 Helmut Kohl, „Regierungserklärung des Bundeskanzlers vor dem Deutschen Bundestag“, Bulletin der Bundesregierung Nr 93, 14.10.1982, p.866.

36 Cf Dietmar Süß, Tod aus der Luft. Kriegsgesellschaft und Luftkrieg in Deutschland und England, München: Siedler, 2011, p 551, 553.

37 (accessed 22.02.2008)

38 Michael Müller, former pastor of the Kreuzkirche thinks that the Lutheran church was much more pacifist in character in the 1980s as a result of the Cold War than it is currently, since it is now possible to become a conscientious objector, and the military is subject to democratic institutions. Furthermore, Müller points out that in the GDR church members who held senior positions in the army or the police were put under pressure to give up their membership. The result was a clearer line of confrontation between the church and the military. Cf. Claudia Jerzak, Gedenken an den 13 Februar 1945. Perspektiven Dresdner AkteurInnen auf die Entwicklung von Erinnerungskultur und kollektivem Gedächtnis seit 1990. Masters thesis at the Technische Universität Dresden/Institut für Soziologie, 2009 Download under: (accessed 11.12 2012).

39 Anne Pannewitz discovered in her media analysis that the Frauenkirche is described above all as a symbol of reconciliation (in just under 50% of the reports), as a sign of peace (33%) and of international and European understanding (28%), and as a warning against war, destruction, and collapse (27%). Cf. Anja Pannewitz, Die Symbolik der Frauenkirche im öffentlichen Gedächtnis. Eine Analyse von Pressetexten zum Zeitpunkt der Weihe 2005, 2007, http://www.weiterdenken.de/download/Medienanalyse_monitor.pdf (accessed 12.01.2009).

40 In choosing the Altmarkt, the organizers wanted to distance themselves from the Frauenkirche and to provide a contrasting event with different content, and with a reference to the burning of the corpses of the bombing victims.

41 Cf.Jerzak, Gedenken, 2009, op cit.

42 Ibid.

43 In 1991 the Gulf War was the focal point of the commemoration events, and there were slogans such as “Remember Dresden. Immediate ceasefire. Stop the War in the Middle East – negotiate.” It was also the focus of the prayers for peace, spoken within the ecumenical service in which Richard von Weizsäcker took part. (cf. Ulrich, Dresden, 2002, op cit. p. 78). In 1993 the war in Yugoslavia was the new focus (cf. Gunnar Schubert: Die kollektive Unschuld. Wie der Dresden-Schwindel zum nationalen Opfermythos wurde, Hamburg: KVV konkret, 2006, p 112). On 13 February 2003 survivors of the German bombing raid on Guernica together with survivors of the Dresden bombing read out an appeal against the Iraq War in the Frauenkirche; http://www.dresden-1945.de/download/03_02_08_Pressemitteilung.pdf (accessed 20.11.2012).

44 The posters show the cities of Bagdad, Coventry, Dresden, Grosny, Guernica, Hamburg, Hiroshima, Leningrad, Monrovia, New York, Sarajevo, Warsaw; http://www.dreden.de/de/02/110/03/c_025.php (accessed 12.01.2008).

45 See the contribution Nicht Gedenkort, sondern Lernort by Swen Steinberg in this collection.

46 This is very evident in the Flammenvase [vase of flames] in Gostyn; http://www.frauenkirche-dresden.de/flammenvase.html (accessed10.10 2012).

48 Cf.Meyer, „Erinnerung und Trauern“, 1991,a.a.o., p 69.

49 Nora Goldbogen Interview CT.