After Dresden – Review of New Play based on Story of Rev Ray Davey & Corrymeela

afterdresden1After Dresden, a new play based on the wartime diaries of Rev Ray Davey, founder of the Corrymeela Community, concluded on Saturday after a short run at the Belvoir Playhouse. Written by Philip Orr, the play sold out or nearly sold out each day on its Thursday-Saturday run and has been reviewed favourably by Alan in Belfast.

The play is set in 2004, at the 40th anniversary celebrations for the ‘Community of the Rock,’ the name given for Corrymeela in this fictionalized account. It is framed around the story of a former volunteer at the community, artist and teacher Siobhan O’Hara, whose brother was murdered during the Troubles.

Siobhan’s story, which includes disappointment and disillusionment when she and her mother attempt to reach out to the ‘other side’ after her brother’s death, is juxtaposed to Rev Tom Moore’s (the name given to Davey’s character) experiences as a Prisoner of War in Germany during the Second World War.

Moore/Davey was based in a POW camp in Hohnstein, about 15 miles away from Dresden. Here, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Frau Klein, a woman whose son has died in the war and whose husband has recently been drafted – despite his age. Klein has excellent English, sings in the local church, and says that when she prays her prayers include those who are held in the POW camps.

In many ways Klein is the most fully-developed character in the play, as she reveals aspects of her life before and after the Nazis came to power and expresses anger about how even before the war the Hitler Youth attempted to indoctrinate her children.

In the post-show discussion after Friday’s performance, Dr Duncan Morrow from Ulster University remarked that this was a story ‘worthy of Hollywood’, as who would expect a padre from the British Army to have been wandering about behind enemy lines, drinking tea with an English-speaking German woman who showed so much humanity and compassion?

Apart from Davey’s unpublished wartime diaries, Frau Klein also makes an appearance in his book, Take Away this Hate, where his affection for her and the German civilians is abundantly clear. One wonders how these experiences made Davey question the boundaries between friend and enemy and strive to find common ground when he returned to Northern Ireland after the war.

Moore/Davey himself narrowly escapes being in Dresden during the bombing. He had been in the city visiting POWs, and asked for permission to stay overnight so that he could visit a gravely ill Scottish soldier in hospital the next day. But a German bureaucrat sent him back to Hohnstein, most probably sparing him his life.

The play depicts Moore as distraught during the bombing, while a British major enthusiastically cheers it on. Moore is thinking of his Scottish soldier and other POWs, and is horrified that the allies are destroying the city so close to what everyone seemed to know was the end of the war. In Take Away this Hate, Davey remarks how while previously the fire-storms brought by mass bombings had been an unintended consequence of the raids, now they were a deliberately strategy – meant to terrorize as much as to destroy military targets.

This raises questions about how the ‘good guys’, the guys on ‘our side,’ could engage in such behaviour, and what it might possibly mean when such things are done in ‘our name.’ This is captured in the play on Moore’s next visit to Frau Klein, when he confesses that he has been away so long because he is ashamed by what his ‘side’ has done to Dresden. Klein welcomes him simply with the words: ‘you are still my friend.’

The final scenes in the play – those between Moore and Frau Klein and then between Moore and Siobhan – are rather sombre. This is no play with a happy Hollywood ending; rather things are left ambiguous, as in real life.

Frau Klein, who Davey never heard from after the war, now fears and dreads the coming of the Red Army. She says:

Oh, I try to place my trust in God, but it does not make me confident. Not anymore. I used to sing, as you know. I used to play the organ in the church and I used to lead the choir each Sunday.  I used to pray and I would always say that my prayer was my hope. I struggle now to do any of these things. I do not have the heart for it any more.

Siobhan gets ready to return to her work in London. Her relationship with her mother seems distant and her feelings about her brother remain very much unresolved.

afterdresden2During the post-show discussion, Orr said that for the play he wanted to give the older Davey/Moore a ‘problem,’ and to show an instance when healing or reconciliation didn’t seem to ‘work.’

I was also taking part in the post-show discussion, and remarked that the message I got from the play wasn’t necessarily that what Corrymeela and other groups like this tried to do had ‘failed.’ To me, it seemed that Siobhan was just at a certain place on her journey, and that this didn’t mean that failure was inevitable.

If we have learned one thing from Corrymeela’s work over the last half century, it is that facilitating encounters and building relationships takes time, and ‘results’ or changes may be years, even generations in coming, but sowing the seeds is still vital for transformation to take place.

I also was struck by how much prayer was woven throughout the play. Perhaps this should not be surprising, given Davey/Moore’s central role as a pastor and the Community of the Rock’s Christian ethos. Prayer in this play was ambiguous (who do we pray for with integrity?), and not always answered. But it was always linked with hope. Not hope that God would answer as we think is right, but that broken humanity would find a way to keep going. As Moore says to Siobhan in one of the final scenes:

But, sometimes we are not rewarded with the truth.   And the friends I made in Germany became just a thought, a memory, a picture in my mind. But memory is a kind of prayer. And prayer is hope.  When the Communists relaxed a little, I visited Dresden, a guest of the Lutheran church. They took me to the Opera House and the Frauen Kirche, though the church was still desolate. And I saw Martin Luther restored to his pedestal in the public square, preaching a silent sermon, under the watchful eye of the government.  I was asked to visit a church in the suburbs and tell them about Ireland. They had heard about our little war.  During my days in the city I asked several times – ‘Did you know Ina Klein? She was a dentist. She played the organ in her church in Hohnstein?’ But no-one seemed to know.  And when I went walking, amongst those grey East German apartment blocks, I watched the trams glide past, and I hoped, somehow, to see a familiar face. But I never made the Dresden of my war-years come to life again.

In After Dresden, Philip Orr has brought to life again the story behind the origins of the Corrymeela community – one that has often been forgotten and is perhaps even unknown to many who are involved with Corrymeela today. The Belvoir Players production, directed by Trevor Gill, was sensitive and professional. The production deserves a wider airing and a longer run across these islands.

(Images by Brian O’Neill. Austin Branagh as Older Tom Moore and Gwen Scott as Siobhan O’Hara. Playwright Philip Orr at the post-show discussion).

  • Granni Trixie

    I am gutted to have missed this play as I have the greatest admiration for the Corrymeela project as well as its Presbyterian Leaders who in the context of 1965 (ie pre-Troubles) identified the need to address sectarianism. However whilst I would donate to Corrymeela and acknowledge their contribution to change, the praying and religious ethos is not for me.

    Will the play be on again?

  • Tim Page

    A thoughtful review, thank you.

    My first weekend at Ballycastle, I ended up drying the dishes being washed by somebody called Ray Davey, who seemed to be a great listener. We became involved with the community – seed group weekends encountering others and their stories, annual summer respite weeks with people living with profound disability or post-violence trauma, study weekends…

    For me, the end of the play’s first act was powerful. The cast standing, each alone, hands shielding eyes from inner pain, global conflict, toxic relationships. Tom/Ray, aware of his own frailties and present with people, touches people on the shoulder. Eyes are opened, people make contact and relate.

    After Dresden is an accomplished production of a powerful story and, yes, merits a wider audience.

    Thanks to writer, cast, production team.

  • tanyaj

    Thanks for this excellent review, Gladys. I was at the performance on Saturday evening and agree with all that you say. We’re hoping that the production will make it across to Fermanagh so that many more will be able to experience it.

  • Turgon

    Davey’s account of the bombing seems pretty likely to be post hoc and based to a significant extent on the work of holocaust denier and Nazi sympathiser David irving. Irving published a highly inaccurate anti allies and pro German account in 1963.

    It is unclear to what extent Davey actually opposed the bombings at the time as his diaries were not published early (as noted in the OP). I suspect his views were modified by the published claims of the likes of Irving and his desire to be “tolerant” etc. unaware that he was playing into the hands of neo Nazis.

    Dresden had become a major communications, manufacture and logistics centre for the Nazis who were still fighting fanatically against the Red Army. They were also still heavily involved in mass murder of Jews etc.

    Dresden was unequivocally a military target and bombers of the time simply could not perform precision strikes (their ability to do so even now is probably greatly overplayed).

    As such Dresden was an appropriate target to help our allies the Red Army to try to stop the Nazis and hence, it probably saved lives.

    Today the bombing of Dresden is opposed in Germany only by the far right neo Nazis. It is sad that the likes of Davey (albeit almost certainly post event) allowed themselves to join the neo Nazi criticism of the Dresden bombing.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Simply in the interests of balance, I feel I should state that this posting above questioning Davey’s sincere contemporary understanding of his experiences presents a rather one-sided and partial distortion of current thought on the destruction of Dresden. Although it is certainly true that David Irving gleefully employed the bombing of Dresden to support his own holocaust denial theories in a spirit of whataboutery, he is neither the origin nor the only proponent of the belief that the destruction of Dresden was a war crime. Many, many more objective studies have been published on the subject, researched by academics from all shades of political opinion who were simply outraged at attempts to justify this, and many other, clear breaches of the internationally agreed regulations against the targeting of civilians by bombardment in war (ariel bombardment included) in the evolution and enactment of Britain’s Area Bombing policies in the war. The Hague Convention of 1907, whose articles were used at the end of the last war to draft the Nuremberg Charter, upon which the Nuremberg Trials were conducted, declared such bombing a war crime. Article 6(b) states that:

    “Wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity”

    is a violation of the laws or customs of war. I know that the claim of “military necessity”, has been made above, but this is a highly controversial claim in this context, that has contested in considerable detail by many serious historians.

    It might help to quote the other appropriate clauses of the 1907 Hague Convention (IV), which clearly states:

    “Article 25: The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.

    Article 26: The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.

    Article 27: In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes. 
It is the duty of the besieged to indicate the presence of such buildings or places by distinctive and visible signs, which shall be notified to the enemy beforehand.”

    All of these articles were unquestionably breached in the British area bombing of Dresden.

    It is important to recognise that the serious critics of the raids come from across the entire political spectrum, from far left to far right and everything in-between. For example, Gunter Grass and Simon Jenkins have both described the Dresden raid as a war crime. Importantly, too, Dr. Gregory H. Stanton, president of the organization Genocide Watch, hardly a supporter of the German far right in anyones estimation, wrote: “The Nazi Holocaust was among the most evil genocides in history. But the Allies’ firebombing of Dresden and nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were also war crimes…”.

    Perhaps the series of essays in the 2006 book, “Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden 1945”, Edited by Paul Addison and Jeremy Crang might be an excellent starting point to review the range of contemporary opinion on this still highly controversial event.

    Particularly, Donald Bloxham’s essay in this book “Dresden as a War crime” is an excellent introduction to some of the issues around the debate, which sanely and objectively examines the case for Britain’s culpability in this action a possible war crime.

    Donald Bloxham is a Professor of Modern History at the University of Edinburgh, specialising in genocide, war crimes and other mass atrocities studies. He is the editor of the ‘Journal of Holocaust Education’. As far as I am aware Donald, an internationally recognised authority on the holocaust and atrocity in war, is no more the mouthpiece for the extreme right in Germany than Dr Gregory Stanton.

    Similar honest, honourable commentators across the world since 1945 have taken the position that the Bombing of Dresden was a war crime even in terms of the terrible inhumanity of the last war. It remains a highly influential blot on the allied record, and still attracts concern right across the political spectrum in German politics. It is, to say the least, highly misleading to make the claim “Today the bombing of Dresden is opposed in Germany only by the far right neo Nazis”. This is simply not the case, either in Germany or across the world, as I hope I’ve made clear.

  • Trevor Gill

    Tanyaj, it’s Trevor Gill here, I directed After Dresden. Happy to consider bringing the show to Fermanagh but that would need to happen soon. Our cast will disperse and take on other roles. If you want to correspond with me directly it’s Cheers, T

  • kalista63

    This man, a British soldier who was there, disagrees with you.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Excellent riposte Sean. Although I have not seen this play, Gladys’ excellent review highlights how it is about ambiguity among other things. And it is the sort of ambiguity that human beings and communities often experience difficulty embracing.

    The parallel with NI is that “our side” (the good guys) committed some terrible atrocities but we often resist acknowledging that or even greet it with outright denial. In some cases we construct an elaborate counter argument and convince ourselves of its truth. Humans are often victims of our own casuistry particularly in conflict.

    The contrast between WWII and the NI conflict is that our conflict was ultimately pointless and also produced no outright victor and a very uncertain outcome yet to be arrived at. Whereas WWII was a necessary fight against fascism and its defeat had to be achieved. We therefore became the victors in a righteous war and can appoint ourselves as its authors. But we should avoid editing out that which is unpalatable after a conflict. When this becomes the consensus, as it oftne does, then we are in danger of finding certainty in a delusion. It is much easier to delude ourselves of our righteousness or virtue. But it is dangerous to convince ourselves that self attributed worthiness as righteous victors or stainless victims is the sum total of ourselves as individuals or our communities.

  • Turgon

    Yes indeed. Yet it was the RAF which saved Mr. Gregg’s life though they killed his comrade also due to be executed. Mr. Gregg’s views are presumably a combination of survivor guilt, Stockholm syndrome and PTSD. Understandable but not terribly objective.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you Ben, I wholly agree with everything you say. Thank you for your kind words about my own posting. I was brought up in the discipline of not turning a blind eye to both personal and national faults. It is only in total honesty on matters such as this that we can ever find any real moral purchase against such horrors as the holocaust, not by attempting to justify similar wickedness when committed by our own people as somehow needed to counter such extreme evil. Much foulness that we have experienced, and continue to experience throughout our community would have been impossible if this habit of making allowance for “our own side” and giving far more licence to our own cause was clearly seen for the dangerous trash it really is.

    Yeats’ old mentor John O’Leary told him, “there are certain things that no honourable man should be willing to do for his country.” Certainly the murder of civilians is one of these things in my book. I am most grateful for the moral examples I’ve been given by men who had fought in both world wars and were unwilling to tell themselves or others lies about what had gone on. This has ensured that I have never found myself able to pardon those in power in their justification of unpalatable things, such as the targeting of a civilian population of a city which housed 300,000 refugees from the atrocities of rape and casual murders which the Red Army was engaged in at this time across eastern Europe.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Victor Gregg was not the only one to see the descent of his own people into the immorality of their enemies as shaming. Many others in Britain argued powerfully against the area bombing campaign during the war. Alfred Salter and Major Richard Stokes the Labour MPs frequently argued against it in the House of Commons and Bishop George Bell of Chichester in the Lords publicly questioned the morality of area bombing primarily intended to target civilians, “stating that it called into question all the humane and democratic values for which Britain had gone to war”. The Marquess of Salisbury wrote to a friend that “of course the Germans began it, but we do not take the devil as our example.” None of these people were Nazi fellow travellers or supporters of Hitler. Their stand was for adherence to the Hague Conventions and to what they considered to be the moral values that justified Britain’s war effort. The immorality of the area bombing campaign was widely questioned during and after the war, and I cannot imagine any reason why Ray Davey should not have formed his hatred of such licensed atrocity from his own personal experiences at the time.

  • tanyaj

    Thanks very much – I’ve passed this on.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Reading your comment again this morning, Ben, I fixed on : “But we should avoid editing out that which is unpalatable after a conflict.”

    I think this is the core of what I’m trying to say. The justification of unjustifiable things such as Dresden creates a moral vacuum in a community. Both political camps here go in for similar selectivity of facts as the justification of the Dresden raid entails, and then oblige themselves to whitewash utterly other unpalatable actions committed by their own “side” during our own years of conflict. Until this is properly recognised and full responsibility taken for such terrible things, no matter how many agreements are reached by politicians, any real reconciliation of the disparate portions of our community will continue to be frozen in the act of simply forgetting. Such amnesia is something that perhaps handles obvious symptoms but does not even begin to look at the festering disease in our community itself.

  • Gopher

    Your wasting your time Turgon even bothering to explain . One can point to the Battles of Breslau, Konigsberg, Stettin and Budapest to see what became of cities untouched by Bomber Command. Even when you remove Allied (Russian) casualties from these affairs and when German Military causaulties are removed from the equation Dresden becomes humane in comparrison. When you consider before the war, the bones of Harris’s British grenedier were not even in the colours it was an imperative that his life was not wasted in the dying days against 16 year old boys and elderly men whose will to resist was held together with summary execution from those tainted by the worst crimes in human history so he could return to his wife and children. Harris and “Lets be clear about this” and he always was defined it as exactly what it was, a successful op.

    “The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained
    by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden
    shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact
    government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is
    now none of these things.”

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Prof David |Blight was talking about “narrative” in national identity/consciousness this morning on BBC Radio 4. If you haven’t heard it it’s worth a listen:
    Blight’s lecture is about what place African America occupies within that US narrative if any. He draws a trajectory between the American Civil War (and its purpose) and Obama’s election to President as well as the now unavoidable reality of killings/ex judiciary executions of African Americans by their police force.
    In the case of the US it is oft said that it doesn’t have a history but a narrative and there are plenthy of reasons for that. Of course all history is narrative and nationalism/national identity is/are constructed around that. We here have to learn how to more effectively deal with our 2 competing narratives/truths/histories/myths. Unlike the US we do not continuously reinvent ourselves to drive the nation forward in a sense of togetherness and in pursuit of some shared notion of the future. However, each tribe here reinvents its respective past to reconnect strangely to it. In short, to remain imprisoned by it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    A lot of agreement between us from what you are saying. I’d just want to qualify a few things slightly, such as the inevitable imprisonment of history here. While I entirely agree that those narratives the political polarities here insist on serve to stop us all from ever re-inventing our community (all too true), there were some interesting alternative narratives before the “Beginning of History” for that version of the Wee Six we live in, which seemingly started in 1911. My own family experience is rooted in several of these earlier narratives, remembering the eighteenth century volunteer movement and the Ardrigh circles for starters. Both offered moments of Liberal pluralist counterfactual to the two current canonic narratives, the Volunteers articulating Belfast as the “Athens of the North”, and additionally Ardrigh’s massive but unsung contribution to the Irish Cultural Revival, which was in practice profoundly non-sectarian and inclusivist here.

    The programme you link to uses as an example the U.S., you say. I have strong family connections with the U.S., and even had an invite, strangely, to Jimmy Carter’s inauguration! We receive mostly the two U.S. narratives of Democrat/Republican here, but over there are any number of fringe radical narratives very current outside of the media simplifications. Many of my more “liberal” friends never trusted Obama, for one thing, any more than the Clintons. Too much money involved. I’ll chase up the programme, and check it out before getting too involved in something I’ve not yet seen.

    On the subject of national histories/narratives, have you come across the work Ernest Gellner, whom I used to see wardering round supermarkets in London when I was still making films? I was introduced to his perspicacious analysis of nationalism. It offers an analysis of political nationalism as something at odds with local cultural identity, with which it is all too often often conflated. I’ve found that his work has provided me with the most useful model with which to avoid seeing all cultural identity through a political filter, offering yet another possible way out of the maze we are all trapped in!

    Again, thanks for your insightful comments!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Despite your attempts to whitewash them, Gopher, the Dresden raids are still considered by quite a few authoritative academics, etc, as a war crime. The real issue here should not be to offer Harris’s self justification for an atrocity disguised as a description of facts, but to answer the all important question, does the Dresden raids or do they not actually contravene international agreements in the Hague Convention (IV) 1907? Clearly in primarily targeting civilians they did, should you read the articles I’ve provided above.

    The facts about the Dresden raids shocked even the British administration when they came out soon afterwards. Those disclosures Major Stokes offered the House of Commons in their aftermath profoundly shocked the government into recognising what some modern commentators seem unable to see in their attempts to defend the indefensible. Wikipedia (yes, I know…) says: “After the RAF’s bombing of Dresden on the night of 13 February and the early hours of 14 February 1945, his [Stokes’] questions in the House about the act, were in part responsible for the reappraisal of the Government’s bombing policy in the last month of the war in Europe.” Churchill himself wrote at the time: “It seems to me that the moment has come when the question of bombing German cities simply for the sake of increasing the terror (though under other pretexts) should be reviewed. Otherwise we shall come into control of an utterly ruined land. The destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of allied bombing. I feel the need for more precise concentration upon military objectives rather than the mere acts of terror and mass destruction, however impressive.”

    Your Harris quote, given just after the raids to counter murmurs of “a possible war crime” from among his own people, can hardly be taken as any sort of last word on Dresden’s importance as a target. Harris was speaking as the person responsible for an atrocity that was already distancing support from those very persons, such as Churchill, who had supported him before Dresden. Those Germans equally culpable for similar atrocities who were tried at Nuremberg would endeavour to justify their own war crimes in very similar terms as Harris used, as some kind of military necessity. The “mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East” in a Germany already disintegrating just over seventy days before Hitler’s suicide could, if dire necessity required it, have been taken out by the USAAF, who could almost range at will in these weeks across German skies, supported as they were by long range fighters, for the Luftwaffe opposition was at this time seriously incapacitated by the catastrophic disruption to German fuel supplies that the USAAF surgical raids had virtually effected by this date. Churchill himself viewed Harris’s explanation, claiming as targets factories beyond the actual planned bombing area that were hardly hit during the raids, as something of “a pretext.”

    What Harris was in fact targeting with his carefully planned area bombing technique of “firestorm” creation was not these things, but Dresden as a cultural centre, similar to Oxford, in order to experimentally test the effect of turning a previously untouched city into a furnace, in order to discover the effects of this on the 300,000 civilian refugees driven from the lands to the east by the atrocities of a Red Army who were attempting to exceed the barbarity of the Nazis themselves. In your quote Harris was attempting to justify the entirely unjustifiable to those he had finally succeeded in alienating by his immoral brutalism, the expression of an openly admitted policy to outdo the Nazis. Hardly an objective witness.

  • Gopher

    I really dont think the Battles of Budapest, Breslau or Konigsberg are whitewashed out of history despite attempts of your academics to do so. As I’ve said before Strategic Bombing was not illegal and not covered by the Hague agreement.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Strategic bombing was acceptable if it properly targeted legitimate military targets, and the unavoidable deaths of small numbers of civilians was deemed even as acceprtable in this context, but the specific targeting of civilians as the principal target of a raid, the general “area bombing” of entire cities specifically to achieve civilian deaths clearly was in contravention of the Hague Conventions on the treatment of civilians and civil targets in war. This targeting of civil populations is what Churchill was referring to euphemistically above as “increasing terror” and it was clearly covered by those articles of the Hague Conventions I’d mentioned above in my earliest posting here. It is no different in kind to the sort of things that the Nazis were tried for, under interpretations of the same authorative Hague Conventions. If you require more information on this please check out current scolarship, such as the book I recommend above which offers the entire spectrum of views on Dresden. The legal issues are very clearly discussed.

    I just cannot see what foundations you are still arguing from after all of this incontrovertable evidence, other than the belief that Britain cannot do wrong. The area bombing of cities, certainly the bombing of Dresden, was clearly a war crime and the only reason Harris and the architects of this strategy were not in the dock at Nuremberg alongside Russian military who had matched many of the brutalities of the Nazi regime is that the allies made the choice of not prosecuting their own war criminals and exposing their culpabilities. The recognition that our own leaders conceived and committed young men to carry out similar things to what was ordered by the Nazi leaders would be an important mark of genuine moral maturity in our culture This thankless task of whistle blowing on atrocities ordered by one’s own people was something the brave men I have mentioned above in other postings here undertook even during the most difficult periods of the war. Our own democratic structures permitted these honourable men, such as Major Stokes, to make such things publically known, and to shame the administration into rethinking terror bombing, something that could not happen openly in Nazi Germany. This is the part of this terrible story that deserves to be honoured, rather than the attempted excusing of atrocities out of what appears to be a misgusded patriotism.

    It is also a lesson for every shade of political opinion in Northern Ireland, where, if we had held our own people to strict account, rather than supported them in everything out of misguided political loyalty, the long decades of suffering would never have occured.

  • Nevin

    “Here, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with Frau Klein”

    In a paragraph in his 1946 book ‘Don’t Fence me in’ [page 103] Ray names the lady Frau Weisheit. “The original purpose of my visits was to get the BBC News and bring it into the prisoners. .. She was a Christian, and her husband had been choirmaster in the village church, and certainly I have known few people who met overwhelming anxiety and uncertainty with greater serenity and faith.”

    He also quotes from his 12th March 1945 log: ” Today I visited Dresden again and saw the ruins of that city in daylight in contrast to the first visit when I saw them under covering of dark. I walked for an hour and a half from Plauen Street to the Hauptbahnhof, and saw what modern bombing can do. It looked as if some superhuman monster had smashed up the town and set it on fire. I walked for a very long time without seeing a house fit for habitation. I’ve never seen such absolute devastation on so wide a scale.”

  • Gopher

    You have produced no incontravertable evidence outside certain people did not like it and thought it was wrong. No agreement between nations existed with regards the bombing of cities. This is an uncontravertable fact from WWI to WWII. The indictments against the German High Command are on your Wikipedia none mention bombing cities. The fact that Bomber Command ended up more effective than the Luftwaffe was not a crime no matter how you want to crowbar that into your narritive. The fact that in Cities not visited by Bomber Command more civilians were dying because they were turned into fortresses and fanatically defended even at this late stage is also lost on you.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Gopher, the terms of the Hague Convention agreements are incontrovertible evidence that the targeting of civilians was a war crime. I quote them above. Please read them carefully. You state that I only offer “certain people [who] did not like it and thought it was wrong”. An interesting way to evaluate the British equivalents of Martin Niemöller, those with the courage to oppose moral wrong where they saw it! No, rather certain people who knew that such raids contravened international agreements on warfare and had grasped that Britain was competing in atrocity with Germany, something even Portal, Harris’s superior, stated privately at the time, and which was (as noted above) recognised by Churchill himself after the event.

    You claim that “No agreement between nations existed with regards the bombing of cities”, but the primary targeting of civilians by any method, be it club, bullet or explosives was self evidently covered in the Hague (IV) 1907 agreements. You are seemingly ignoring this. While the proposed international treaty of 1925 specifically covering aerial bombardment was not ratified, it simply repeated the articles I’ve quoted above from the 1907 Hague agreements almost verbatim. These important issues were fully covered already. These agreements were in force in both world wars and were the legal foundation for the guidelines used for the Nuremberg trials.

    You also state “The indictments against the German High Command are on your Wikipedia none mention bombing cities.” After I’d worked out what you are trying to say, I realised that I’ve already answered you (I think) about this on another Slugger thread. The reason for this was twofold. At the beginning of the war Germany quite strictly adhered to the Hague Convention’s articles. Their airforce had been crafted to fit these international agreements. It was a short range daylight bomber force, created to attack specifically military targets, and was entirely unsuited to any other task. Later in the war this strict conformity to Hague (IV) was dropped when Germany developed “vengeance weapons” to attack cities in a manner that would inevitably lead to civilian casualties, but by then Harris’s raids had created a situation wherein citing Germany for indiscriminate attacks such as the use of the “V” weapons would have been simply too “mote/beam” for any serious allied war crimes tribunal of the post war period. The allies had incontrovertible evidence of many, many other German atrocities that were less dangerous to their own practices that they could use in order to bring their foes to the gallows, and had they attempted to collar Germans whose war crimes included aeriel bombardment their own area bombing strategy would have been fully aired at Nuremberg by the defence councils of any German they had had the gall to bring to the dock on such an issue.

    You’d quoted Harris’s self-defence for ordering the raid, with mention of Dresden providing a communications centre for the eastern front, her war industries and of “an intact government centre”. These excuses frequently come up in the writings of those people still defending the raids. Perhaps you should have checked on just how much damage was actually effected on these “targets” from Harris’s raids before citing them to justify his actions. In 1982 Alexander McKee, a soldier in the First Canadian army during the war, brought out his book about the raids, “Dresden 1945”. I quote p. 69 of my copy:

    “The standard whitewash gambit….is to mention that Dresden contained targets X, Y & Z [those mentioned above], and let the innocent reader assume that these targets were attacked, whereas in fact the bombing plan totally omitted them and that, except for one or two mere accidents, they escaped.”

    This is hard fact. McKee (and, of course, others) passing through the industrial areas of Dresden after the war found them virtually untouched. The autobahns that were the real communication links with the eastern front were about two miles beyond the town and were themselves untouched, as was the important bridge over the Elbe that carried both road and rail traffic, and whose destruction would have achieved something in damaging actual military communications. Despite one precision raid by the USAAF on the marshalling yards the railways passing through the city were in use again two days after the raids, their tracks had only been very slightly damaged by stray British incendiary bombs. The barracks and “command centre” was for military engineers, as were the military supplies held at its depot. Much of the military accommodation had been set aside for refugee women, children and the elderly from Silesia, who benefited from the RAF’s failure to target these camps, unlike those wretched refugees in the old city proper who were burnt in their tens of thousands in what was the RAF’s designated targeted area, Dresden’s cultural centre.

    It was known in Britain that the vast majority of anti-aircraft batteries of 88cmm guns defending the city had been removed for use on the eastern front. Searchlights and smoke apparatus had also been removed for use at targets with genuine importance to the war, such as Berlin. That the RAF could expect a clean run over city was a factor in choosing it as a target. The city was virtually undefended (if you exclude the very few, and consequentially ineffectual 88mm guns left). I’ll quote Hague (IV) 1907 again as you seem to have missed it in claiming above that “no agreement between nations existed with regards the bombing of cities.”

    1907 Hague Convention (IV) clearly states:

    “Article 25: The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.”

    Note please, “by whatever means”, and the having read the arguments of the prosecutors at Nuremberg carefully myself, I’m sure that had Harris faced similar legal prosecution, Dresden would have been deemed as “undefended” under the very exact criteria they customarily used.

    Perhaps in regard to those “important war industries” situated outside of the bombing zone, the most damning fact is that Dresden was primarily engaged in the production of medical supplies, food processing and the cigarette industry, and was not in any meaningful sense a centre for the production of armaments. The small USAAF precision raid did very little damage on Dresden’s industries, and McKee describes the industrial areas as almost untouched just after the war. What damage was done did not hinder production as Speer claimed it rapidly recovered after the raids.

    The RAF bombing of Dresden was planned to target the 300,000 refugees, women children and the elderly who had fled to the town, which was then thought of in Germany (and also among the British planners) to be an open city of refuge with minimal war importance, something similar to how Oxford was considered in the early years of the war. These civilians were uncontrovertibly the intended target of the raids. Sadly in the light of your repeated claim that the raids did not contravene international agreements, I must state again that the primary targeting of civilians in war was entirely prohibited by Hague (IV) 1907, and that although the burning of civilians in fire storms (something quite unimaginable to any sane diplomat in 1907) may not actually have been carefully described in the treaty, ANY attack primarily intended to kill civilians had been fully covered in the agreements Britain and Germany signed in 1907. Actions against civilians were considered not as legitimate acts of war but as simple murder. The area bombing of Dresden was unquestionably a war crime.

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: The small USAAF precision raid did very little damage on Dresden’s industries…
    527 USAAF bombers is not a “small” raid. And if they didn’t hit the intended target, what did they hit? Open fields? Or the city of Dresden?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hello Reader, it might help for you to picture the targeted areas. Go to Google Maps and call up Dresden so that the place names I’m mentioning here make some sense. There were no industries actually in the city centre of Dresden proper, only churches, galleries and cultural venues. A great number of city centre buildings had been turned over to refugee accommodation and to numerous hospitals. The nearest industry was sited in those villages to the west of the city that had become linked suburbs with nineteenth century industrialisation such as Löbtau. These industrial suburbs began over a mile out from the RAF targeted civilian cultural area of central Dresden. The entire USAAF bomber stream approached along the Elbe from Turgau to the north-west. The first bombardment group had a clear target and aimed at marshalling yards in the Friedrichstadt district, another industrialised suburb. Those following after them met cloud cover, made even more of an obstruction by the thick smoke from the city, still burning from the RAF raid the pervious night. They bombed by radar siting, a very poor substitute at this date for the excellent visual bomb sites the USAAF used normally. Factories were certainly hit, but the cloud cover nullified the obvious advantage of daylight aiming of bomb loads and the wide scatter of bombs created similar hit and miss results to the night bombing of the RAF. Bombing “creep” as loads were dropped early would have been to the north west along the elbe, following their line of approach and would have peppered the working class suburbs of Cotta and Briesnitz and Leutewitz and beyond.

    Some of the USAAF planes sent on the raid had even completely lost their way and bombed Prague by mistake! The inability to aim loads ensured that the raid on the Factories produced very poor results and, as Speer avers, the raid had little real effect on production.

    The figure you quote, where is its source? Around 2000 USAAF long range fighters and bombers in all were over Saxony that day. This force was split with some bombers sent to heavily defended Chemnitz and others to the synthetic oil plant at Magdeburg. From those 431 aircraft of 1st Bombardment Division who were actually sent to Dresden (according to my sources) sixty lost their way and bombed Prague, as I’ve mentioned. Others bombed Pilsen and Brux by mistake. It is described as “a small raid” in most accounts, and compared to the massive efforts the USAAF could put on for other cities, it was.