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The Fire-bombing of Dresden

An eye-witness account

Photograph of Lothar with his sister

Since the facts of the combined USAF and RAF raids on Dresden became known, mostly through the novel 'Slaughterhouse Five' by Kurt Vonnegut, there has been great controversy as to why this appalling raid was considered necessary.

The city had no military targets to speak of, and it was known that it was packed with civilian refugees from the east. Here is an eye-witness account by Lothar (shown here with his sister), just nine years old, who survived.

It was February. 13th, 1945. I lived with my mother and sisters (13, 5 and 5 months old twins) in Dresden and was looking forward to celebrating my 10th birthday February l6th. My father, a carpenter, had been a soldier since 1939 and we got his last letter in August 1944. My mother was very sad to receive her letters back with the note: "Not to be found." We lived in a 3 room flat on the 4th floor in a working class region of our town. I remember celebrating Shrove Tuesday (February 13th) together with other children, The activities of the war in the east came nearer and nearer. Lots of soldiers went east and lots of refugees went west through our town or stayed there, also in the air raid night February13th/14th.

About 9:30 PM the alarm was given. We children knew that sound and got up and dressed quickly, to hurry downstairs into our cellar which we used as an air raid shelter. My older sister and I carried my baby twin sisters, my mother carried a little suitcase and the bottles with milk for our babies. On the radio we heard with great horror the news: "Attention, a great air raid will corne over our town!" This news I will never forget.

Some minutes later we heard a horrible noise the bombers. There were nonstop explosions. Our cellar was filled with fire and smoke and was damaged, the lights went out and wounded people shouted dreadfully. In great fear we struggled to leave this cellar. My mother and my older sister carried the big basket in which the twins were lain. With one hand I grasped my younger sister and with the other I grasped the coat of my mother.

We did not recognize our street any more. Fire, only fire wherever we looked. Our 4th floor did not exist anymore. The broken remains of our house were burning. On the streets there were burning vehicles and carts with refugees, people, horses, all of them screaming and shouting in fear of death. I saw hurt women, children, old people searching a way through ruins and flames.

We fled into another cellar overcrowded with injured and distraught men women and children shouting, crying and praying. No light except some electric torches. And then suddenly the second raid began. This shelter was hit too, and so we fled through cellar after cellar. Many, so many, desperate people came in from the streets. lt is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. lt became more and more difficult to breathe. lt was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mothers hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.

Now rny rnother possessed only a little bag with our identitiy papers. The basket with the twins had disappeared and then suddenly my older sister vanished too . Although my rnother looked for her immediately it was in vain. The last hours af this night we found shelter in the cellar of a hospital nearby surrounded by crying and dying people. In the next morning we looked for our sister and the twins but without success. The house where we lived was only a burning ruin. The house where our twins were left we could not go in. Soldiers said everyone was burnt to death and we never saw my two baby sisters again.

Totally exhausted, with burnt hair and badly burnt and wounded by the fire we walked to the Loschwitz bridge where we found good people who allowed us to wash, to eat and to sleep. But only a short time because suddenly the second air raid began (February14th) and this house too was bombed and my mothers last identity papers burnt. Completely exhausted we hurried over the bridge (river Elbe) with many other homeless survivors and found another family ready to help us, because somehow their home survived this horror.

In all this tragedy I had completely forgotten my l0th birthday. But the next day rny mother surprised rne with a piece af sausage she begged from the "Red Cross". This was my birthday present. Dresden - the burnt city

In the next days and weeks we looked for my older Sister but in vain. We wrote our present adress an the last walls of our demaged house. In the middle of March we were evacuated to a little village near Oschatz and on March 3lst, we got a letter from my sister. She was alive! In that disastrous night she lost us and with other lost children she was taken to a nearby village. Later she found our address on the wall of our house and at the beginning of April my rnother brought her to our new home.

You can be sure that the horrible experiences of this night in Dresden led to confused dreams, sleepless nights and disturbed our souls, me and the rest of my farnily. Years later I intensively thought the matter over, the causes, the political contexts of this night. This became very important for my whole life and my further decisions.

Lothar Metzger
Berlin, May 1999

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