In the news today is an article with the headline Study: Dresden Bombing Exaggerated.
Here is a quote from the article:
(March 19) — On Feb. 13-15, 1945, British and U.S. bombers pounded the eastern German city of Dresden with 3,900 tons of high explosives and incendiaries. How many people lost their lives in the devastating firestorms that followed has long been a subject of contention — the Nazis claimed the dead numbered close to 500,000; modern historians have estimated up to 40,000.
Now a five-year study by a panel of German historians has concluded that about 25,000 people died in the attack, far fewer than most experts thought. Researchers pored over records from the city’s archives, cemeteries, official registries and courts. They discovered that the death toll among refugees from the Eastern Front was lower than previously reported. They also dismissed the idea that hundreds of thousands of bodies could have lain undiscovered in the smoldering ruins.
The German people love to beat themselves up and atone for their past sins; they consider it wrong to have any pride in being German or to have any loyalty to their country. Can you imagine Americans doing a five-year study to prove that a war crime committed against America was not so bad?
I know this is hard to believe, but I didn’t even know about the bombing of Dresden, until I got on the Internet in 1993 and read about it on a news group. Americans don’t agonize over war crimes like today’s Germans.
The bombing of Dresden took place during Fasching, or what we call Mardi Gras. There was an unknown number of people in the city for the festivities. There was also an unknown number of refugees in Dresden who were trying to escape the Soviet Army which was advancing westward. The names of these thousands of people are unknown; the bodies could not be identified or even counted because they were burned to ashes. So even a five-year study could not possibly determine the number of deaths in the Dresden bombing.
A war crime is not defined by the number of people killed. So what does it matter if 500,000 or 25,000 people were killed in the Dresden bombing? Apparently, it matters to the Germans who don’t want to feel good about themselves, but only want to feel guilt.
But that’s not all the German guilt in the news today:
Bernhard Schlink, the author of The Reader, which was made into a movie, has a new book out, called Guilt about the Past. That is a title that will certainly resonate with the Germans who can’t get enough of feeling guilty about the past. For the Germans of today, Guilt has replaced national Pride. (I wrote a review of The Reader which you can read here.)
Here is a quote from an article about Schlink’s new book:
“I don’t know of any intellectual who would say, ‘Let’s close this chapter. It’s over. Let’s move forward’,” he says of the Holocaust. But the passage of time, though it might not heal wounds, will perhaps allow clarity of vision. In Germany, he argues, the era of genocide “has become such an undoubted integral element of our cultural and historical memory because it’s not as painful as it used to be before. It’s more painful when it’s about the guilt of your father or your mother or uncle or professor – or the teacher whom you respected. When it is about a great-grandfather, the pain disappears”.
Can you imagine Americans today feeling guilty about our “era of genocide” when almost the entire race of Native Americans was wiped out? Americans never even give this a thought. The natives were in our way and we got rid of them. What’s wrong about that? Americans have more pride in themselves than any other people, and we don’t let past sins bother us.
Bernhard Schlink said in an interview:
For them (the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the Nazis), to seek to understand the motives of a death-camp guard itself ranks as a kind of complicity in evil. “You have to condemn. Period.”
The great-grandchildren of the American soldiers who killed POWs at Dachau certainly don’t “condemn. Period.” No, we take great pride in the fact that Americans came into Dachau with guns blazing and mowed down the Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent from the battlefield to surrender the camp.
According to the article about Bernhard Schlink’s new book Guilt about the Past, it took long years of struggle for the German people to tell the now-conventional story of genocide (the Holocaust) at all.
As quoted in the article, Bernhard Schlink said:
“When I was growing up in the 1950s these stories (of German suffering) were told so much more than any Holocaust story,” he recalls. “So I grew up with stories told by my teachers, by relatives… about the expulsions of Germans from central and eastern Europe, and about the bombings. Teachers told about their times in camps in Siberia. All these stories disappeared in the 1960s once we realised (sic) the Holocaust in its full dimensions – not just in figures and numbers… but what it actually meant.”
I lived in Germany in the 1950s, during the American occupation. The American Army had taken over the SS garrison at Dachau and Americans in Germany were not ordered, but expected, to visit the former Dachau camp. I decided not to go because others who had gone to Dachau reported that there was nothing there to see except pathetic German refugees. I didn’t know at that time that these were the “expellees.” There were plenty of homeless German refugees on the streets at that time, so I didn’t have to go to Dachau to see them. Bernard Schlink is right — the Germans didn’t talk about the Holocaust in the 1950s. They were still suffering from the aftermath of World War II and they had no sympathy for the Holocaust victims. Now the pendulum has swung too far the other way, in my humble opinion.