Sunday, February 14, 2010

Politics and memory

The German city of Dresden suffered a series of the most destructive bombing raids of World War II between 13 and 15 February 1945. The exact number of casualties will never be known, but reliable estimates range between 25,000 and 35,000 people. Today the bombing of Dresden remains one of the most controversial operations of the allied air forces in World War II.

Sixty-five years later commemoration of Dresden's suffering has become a political hot potato. A 2006 two-part TV mini-series titled Dresden The Inferno helped raise German awareness of the city's fate, even though the film was burdened with a fictional and highly unlikely love story between a British pilot and a German nurse. The commemoration of the dead from Dresden began in the first years after World War II and was politically charged from the beginning. When Germany was divided in 1949 the city found itself in communist East Germany and Dresden became a symbol of American capitalist imperialism. In 1950 signs with slogans such as "We Hate the American Warmongers Who Murdered Dresden".

Today the controversy remains and this weekend's commemoration looked like it would be overshadowed by extreme-right political groups who were keen to push a neo-Nazi agenda and portray the bombing as an attempt to destroy German culture. Last week a German court overruled the City of Dresden's ban on a march by extreme-right groups to commemorate the attacks. Police warned of violence as the Mayor of the city called for a human chain around the city to stop the rally. Eventually the rally was called off and the day passed without any major incidents.

Dresden remains symbolic for the political charge contained in many historical events from different parts of the world. The way we remember, commemorate and interpret the past remains one of the most important elements of our present and future.

Image: Wanderer above the Mists , Caspar David Friedrich (1818) Kunsthalle, Hamburg

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