Dresden, Germany (dpa) – The World War II-era destruction of the German city of Dresden weighed heavily on Thursday as the city marked 75 years since it was firebombed by Allied forces.
British and US forces began three days of bombing on February 13, 1945, leaving the city in ruins. Up to 25,000 people died.
Some 200 people gathered in the morning to lay wreaths and white roses at the Heidefriedhof cemetery in memory of those killed. The majority of victims are buried in a mass grave there.
Attendees included Mayor Detlef Sittel and the president of the state parliament, Matthias Roessler.
Michael Kretschmer, the state premier, attended a wreath-laying ceremony in the Annenfriedhof cemetery.
He said in a statement that it is important to remember history to prevent it from repeating itself and that people should draw the right conclusions from the past. “We all bear the responsibility for our democracy, and for dealing with one another peacefully,” he said.
The city’s lord mayor, Dirk Hilbert, also spoke of the importance of history’s lessons and warned against misusing the past. “February 13 demands of all of us to stand up for humanity, peacefulness and democracy,” he told dpa.
The city marks February 13 in the context of January 27, the day when victims of the Holocaust are remembered, and May 8, the end of World War II, he said.
The debate on how to commemorate the day should not be left to the margins but should considered by all, Hilbert said.
Hilbert’s comments referred to the fact that the historic event is still the subject of heated debate, as neo-Nazis seek to hijack public sentiment for their own agenda.
Dresden’s annual march and commemorative events aim to counter efforts by neo-Nazis who use the date of the attack as a symbol to argue that Germany’s wartime guilt should be put into perspective.
Germany launched attacks against multiple European neighbours in the 1930s and 1940s and masterminded the Holocaust, an attempt to kill a variety of social groups, primarily Europe’s Jews.
At this year’s commemorative events in Dresden, there was also left-wing protest for the first time as the names of 3,867 people killed were read aloud. The figure represents the number of remains that could be identified after the attack.
Left-wing demonstrators criticized the move, saying it meant the organizers were also paying tribute to Nazis. They held posters at a cemetery saying Germany’s Nazis were not victims, and exchanged a battle of words with attendees at the event until being removed by police.
Later Thursday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is expected to speak before joining a march with hundreds of people, including Britain’s Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s cousin.
They will form a human chain, seeking to protect the memorial events against misuse by right-wing extremists and other revisionists.
Later in the, bells are set to toll at 9:45 pm (2045 GMT), when the first bombs fell in 1945.
By Joerg Schurig and Simona Block, dpa