Ten young leftists disrupted a Sunday prayer service marking the 50th anniversary of Dresden’s destruction by British and U.S. bombers, rushing the altar and shouting “Germans were the criminals, not the victims.”
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and other dignitaries seated in the cathedral watched in disbelief as the protesters tried to unfurl a banner and tossed leaflets saying that commemorating the Dresden firebombing insults Jews murdered at Auschwitz. Church ushers ejected them after a scuffle.
The disturbance aptly illustrated the moral complexities of paying homage to an estimated 35,000 Germans who died in the air raids that leveled Dresden on Feb. 13-14, 1945.
Church and government observances portray Dresdeners not as victims of the World War II Allies but of a war begun by their own country.
The anniversary is being observed in lavish style. The German government, snubbed at some Allied commemorations, never before has marked a World War II event on such a grand scale.
Britain’s Duke of Kent, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II’s, arrives today for a wreath-laying ceremony at Dresden’s main cemetery, where firebombing victims lie.
American and British diplomats and military brass also will be on hand. Orchestras will play classical requiems. Historians, poets and novelists plan readings and lectures.
But not everyone is happy.
Outside the Dresden Cathedral, a group of Catholics protested that too much attention is being paid to German civilians killed a half century ago - and too little to people dying in Chechnya today.
Dresden was leveled by two formations of British Lancasters during the night of Feb. 13 and by American B-17 bombers in a Feb. 14 daylight raid. The attack has been likened to Hiroshima because of the carnage and civilian casualties.
The British raids unleashed a firestorm that swallowed most of Dresden’s famed architectural splendors, including the 18th-century Church of Our Lady, the 16th-century Dresden Palace and the Semper Opera.
The world has argued for five decades whether it was immoral to firebomb Dresden, a city with little military significance.