Moral Equivelence?: The Nazi Holocaust v. The Allied “Bomb Holocaust”

Neo-Nazis, every February 14th, turn the anniversary of Dresden’s bombing (in which approximately 25,000 residents died) into an anti-Semitic “cause celebre” for Holocaust-equivalence, claiming (contrary to contemporary historians’ best estimates) that “hundreds of thousands” died in Allied bombing there.

According to Der Spiegel, this year in Dresden saw “one of the largest” gathering of Neo-Nazis since 1945:

[Neo-Nazis] refer to the attack as a “bomb Holocaust” — a position that goes far in relativizing the crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Most in Dresden, of course, would like to commemorate the bombing absent the political wrangling over its historical meaning. Instead, each year turns into an absurd competition over which side can produce the most demonstrators, the neo-Nazis or the anti-Nazis. This year, there were some 10,000 marchers — including leaders from the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party — against roughly 6,000 neo-Nazis, one of the largest such right-extremist gatherings since 1945.

Der Spiegel characterizes the historical bombing of Dresden this way:

According to the most recent research, up to 25,000 people died in the bombing runs and resulting firestorm and much of Dresden’s sublimely beautiful city center was obliterated. The stench of death wafted through the rubble for weeks after the last fires had burned themselves out.

Civilian lives should not be measured against one another (6,000,000 Jews v. 25,000 German residents of Dresden), but context matters here. The Allies were trying to bring Nazi Germany to prompt defeat, and so not prolong the suffering of war. The Nazi government, by contrast, was engaged in a concerted attempt at genocide.

Hitler’s ideological fanaticism, stupidity, and obstinancy was ultimately responsible for the bombing of Dresden—as well as the Holocaust.

It was his irrationality—and the irrationality of those who were supportive of him—that brought the world to such a dire extremity of situation.

For a British historian’s take on the bombing of Dresden (in an interview with Der Spiegel), see here.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, Slaughterhouse Five (1969), is about the Dresden bombings. Vonnegut was a soldier during the war, and in Dresden.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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