Tens of thousands gathered in Dresden’s old town to pay tribute to the victims of Allied air raids in 1945. The commemoration has taken place every year since 2010 and often attracts right-wing demonstrators.
Around 11,500 people stood hand-in-hand to form a human chain around Dresden’s old town on Wednesday commemorating the 74th anniversary of an allied bombing in 1945 during World War II.
Dresden was decimated by a series of four air raids from February 13-15, 1945, during which British and US air forces dropped more than 3,900 tons of explosives. The heavy use of various incendiary bombs led to a firestorm in the city, a phenomenon is more typically seen in nature when a fire becomes so large it creates and sustains its own wind systems, sucking in more oxygen and facilitating its own spread.
Between 23,000 and 25,000 people are thought to have died in the area bombing, concentrated not on strategic targets but on a population center.
Since 2010, thousands have traditionally gathered in Dresden every year on February 13 to form a human chain around the old town, where most of the destruction occurred, to symbolically protect it.
Saxony’s state premier Michael Kretschmer and Dresden’s Mayor Dirk Hilbert were among those who participated. A delegation from Wroclaw, Poland and the British city of Coventry also joined the ranks — both cities suffered severe damage from the air in World War II and have had partnerships with Dresden over the past 60 years.
Hilbert, mayor since 2015, recalled the victims not only in Dresden but also in other European cities. He highlighted the importance of reconciliation, saying there were currently “reconciliation gaps” around Europe that need to be closed.
Around 100 people also gathered at Dresden’s Frauenkirche for a prayer for peace, where pastor Sebastian Feydt paid tribute to the 60-year partnership between Dresden and Coventry. All church bells in Dresden are also set to ring at 9:45 p.m. CET (2045 UTC), the time of the first air raid on February 13.
The annual commemorations in Dresden, a city that was once strong in its Nazi sympathies, have also traditionally attracted right-wing extremists, who organize events on the February 13 anniversary for their own political purposes.
The high numbers of civilian casualties during the bombings of cities like Dresden and Hamburg, coupled with historians questioning their strategic value so late in the war, are popular talking points among the far-right in Germany.
On Wednesday, members of the Young Alternative for Germany, the youth wing of Germany’s AfD party, and the ultranationalist National Democratic Party (NDP) laid a wreath at the Heide cemetery in Northern Dresden.
Other AfD party members also leaned wreaths on the Altmarkt memorial at the center of Dresden’s old town, where the bodies of thousands of victims were burned after the Allied attacks in 1945.