In Dresden, the commemoration of February 13, 1945 and the Allied bombing raids are the subject of heated debate. An ancient monument also speaks of this.

In the center of the city of Nickern, among single-family houses, there is the memorial obelisk with the inscription: We commemorate the victims of the Anglo-American terrorist bombing.  Two people with dogs are also away from home.

The obelisk in memory of the victims of the bombing of Dresden Photo: Sven Döring/laif

DRESDEN taz | The stone in question protrudes from some bushes. It has been there for more than a hundred years, in a small square in the Nickern district of Dresden. An obelisk, greenish gray in color. In the middle you can read in simple letters: “We remember the victims of the Anglo-American terrorist bombing.” And then another date: “13. February 1945.”

Probably no one can tell the story of this stone better than Richard Funke. He is sitting on the bench in his garden, it is the end of summer 2023. On the table, in front of him, there is a folder with the inscription: “Monument”. Funke is both a contemporary witness to the air raids against Nazi Germany and a chronicler and resident of Nickern, a district in the southeast of Dresden.

Large-scale bombing raids on Dresden began on the night of February 13, 1945, with British and American bombers destroying much of the city in a total of four waves of attacks. Richard Funke, then ten years old, survived the attack; About 25,000 people died.

Altered, restored, sprayed with paint.

When Funke speaks, he seems to return to that time. She places his staff in front of him, leans on it with her hands and looks out into the greenery. Accompanied by his gestures, the house seems to shake again. Funke looks at his property and gets his bearings.

“We were lucky,” he says, pointing to the roof of his house. Despite the force of a five-hundred-pound bomb, only a small hole was opened in the roof of her parents' house: “A small fruit tree was protruding from there, otherwise the house was standing. Only the windows were completely destroyed.”

Richard Funke still lives in the house from then. He is now 88 years old. The roof has long been repaired, only his words remind us of the horror of the impact, the destruction and the panic.

The formulation of “Anglo-American terrorist bombing” fits with the ideology of the GDR

Funke walks over to the table and takes out the folder. He meticulously compiles newspaper articles, photographs and brochures about the monument. It has been cared for, changed, restored, sprayed with paint, hated and classified. Funke documented all of this.

Erected in October 1920, the obelisk initially commemorated those who died in the First World War. In 1945, the monument was rededicated after the air raids. Funke has searched the city archives, but to this day it is not entirely clear when exactly the stone was rededicated and by whom. The phrase “Anglo-American bombing terror” literally reflects the propaganda of the National Socialists.

The survival of the Nazi myth

The residents of Dresden saw themselves as victims in 1945, shortly after the war ended with Germany's unconditional surrender, without reflecting on German guilt. Richard Funke explains it with a historical-political tone after “twelve years of propaganda.”

“Ethnic Germans” could not think otherwise, he says. “Hitler was fine, but he shouldn't have fought in the war,” is how he describes the attitude of many citizens. Sometimes he resorts to formulations from the Nazi era and speaks of times when “the Germans had to endure the shame of being defeated by prehistoric peoples.”

These phrases alternate with passages from the local chronicler: “Civilian objectives were destroyed, it was not about attacking important infrastructure.” It is important that Funke emphasizes that the so-called moral bombardment was a controversial tactic used by England, aiming to destroy the morale of the civilian population through regional bombing.

The anti-Western formulation of “Anglo-American bomb terror” fits with the ideology of the GDR, founded in 1949. In this way, the propaganda of bombing terrorism was reused and the Nazi myth of “the senseless destruction of innocent people” was not addressed. and only cultural capital of Dresden.”

Only since the fall of communism has there been a battle over words and the sovereignty of interpretation. Who are the victims here? The Germans who spread the war throughout Europe and committed the Holocaust?

Right-wing radicals talk about the “bomb holocaust”

Some in Dresden want to forget, others want to remember. And some misuse memory for their own purposes. In recent years, on February 13, the NPD sometimes laid wreaths at the memorial stone and right-wing radicals gave speeches about the “bomb holocaust.”

In response, leftists covered the obelisk or sprayed it with paint. They argued that the inscription distorted historical facts. After all, the airstrikes were a direct response to the criminal war Germany had waged.

A third group has a personal connection to the nights of the bombings that shapes their perspective.

In 2023, February 13 attracted around 1,000 neo-Nazis to Dresden. Every year there is a so-called funeral march for right-wing extremists and a counter-demonstration. Both are regularly accompanied and separated by a large police presence.

Struggling with “controversial monuments”

The city is struggling with “controversial monuments,” as they were called at one event. The experts invite you to the Blue Factory, the former Leipzig train station in Dresden, to “reflect on our past without compromising the future vision of our diverse urban society.” Where does memory end and where does the misuse of memory begin? And how do we do justice to the current understanding of history?

In 2017, the Dresden city council decided to erect a stele next to the obelisk in Nickern. Since 2022, the inscriptions are historically classified on a text board and call for peaceful coexistence.

At the Heidefriedhof, another controversial memorial site, there is a monument to the victims of the bombing of Dresden, amidst the stone steles in memory of the victims of the National Socialist concentration and extermination camps. Critics complain that Dresden symbolically equates Nazi extermination crimes with bombings. The Mayor of Culture, Annekatrin Klepsch (left), stated at the event at the Blue Factory: “This cannot continue like this. We held a competition for controversial memorial sites, but nothing good came of it for the Heidefriedhof. “No one dares to go there.”

After about 45 minutes of the conference, a woman from the audience spoke. She takes a deep breath and speaks quickly: “It's all interesting,” she says. “I've been listening to this for three quarters of an hour and I wanted to know something about the Leipzig station.” Mayor of Culture Klepsch responds: “The issue is the controversial monuments. “I hope we agree that deporting Jews is bad.” At that time, Jews were deported to concentration camps from the Leipzig train station.

Klepsch crosses his legs and hits his thigh several times with his left hand; Chairs are moved among the audience. It is still unclear if the woman in the audience misunderstood something or if she just doesn't like the topic. She leaves the event early.

Back to nap. Nadja Schwarze lives near the obelisk. You're upset about the whole debate. She is sitting in a lawn chair in her garden, wearing glasses and a striped t-shirt.

The AfD does not want a contextual panel

He considers the city's initiative with the stele and historical classification unnecessary. Schwarze says: “It was a terrorist bombing, that's a fact, it was a war crime. National Socialism was terrible, but so was the attack on Dresden.” Ninety percent of the Nickerners saw it the same way, Schwarze says.

His neighbor, contemporary witness Richard Funke, sees it differently. He says: “The terminology of bomb terrorism is wrong, it no longer fits today. The historical classification was a good decision.” In 2023 there was no vandalism or gatherings at the obelisk.

Nadja Schwarze says that deep down she is still leftist. But with age reason prevails and she is right. She is bothered by the direction Germany has taken in the war against Ukraine. She complains about Corona and the injection. “All this scares me.” She grips the back of the chair, looks down and remains silent.

Nadja Schwarze no longer trusts the State; he does not feel seen or heard, except by Alternative for Germany (AfD).

AfD regional advisory council Harald Gilke shares Schwarz's opinion on the monument. He would like to dismantle the stele with the plaque again: “The obelisk has lived its culture of memory for many years and just because a new political perspective emerges, not everything should and cannot be changed.”

The AfD is considered far-right in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia and is supervised by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. According to a survey by the Insa Institute, the party could become the strongest force in the 2024 state elections in Saxony, Thuringia and Brandenburg.

Shortly after the war, some brave people expressed cautious criticism of rumors about the “Anglo-American bombing terror” and the concealment of German guilt, says Richard Funke on his garden bench. There are only rumors about who exactly carved the enlargement on one side of the obelisk in Nickern around 1947. Since then, there has been a phrase there that today sounds like a modern warning: “The fact that they do not rest senselessly in the tombs is due to our will and our actions.”