Brandstätten: Setting Germany Ablaze
Learning about the firsthand accounts of the Allied bombing campaign of German cities, add another layer to the war in the European Theater that never stops demonstrating its dark complexity.
I can’t get enough World War II footage, even though the horrific images are often difficult to process. After reading sections of Dresden: Tuesday, February 13, 1945 by Frederick Taylor, my morbid fascination ignited. Learning about the firsthand accounts of the Allied bombing campaign of German cities, add another layer to the war in the European Theater that never stops demonstrating its dark complexity.
Reading Dresden inspired me to purchase the coffee table-sized book by Jörg Friedrich, Brandstätten (which literally translates to “Fireplaces”), or The Fire. The book, written in German (no English translation version yet available), arrived three days ago. That night, bracing for sub-zero temperatures, huddled in my bed with several blankets and several cats, I flipped through the pages, reading the few German words that I could understand without the use of a German/English dictionary. I was stunned at the images that told of an unsettling, visual narrative of suffering. It struck a chord. My hands shook as my senses went elsewhere, back to the place in time that had undone me, two past lives ago now.
Remembering the Bombs: Nothing is Black and White
A long-forgotten sadness weighed heavy in my heart, taking in the scale of death and destruction left behind from the bombing campaign. Estimates of German civilian casualties range anywhere form nearly 500,000 to over a million. The air raids in Germany disturb me on a visceral level. The parts of my past life that I can recall during this time complicate and personalize the history, blending together the black and white parts of right and wrong into a grey-scale horizon of unconsidered possibilities.
This death is a trauma that I’ve carried since childhood, inexplicably fearing airplanes falling from the sky like missiles, cowering from the bright colors and explosive sounds of fireworks.
Having lived in Germany during the Second World War elevates my desire to learn about its history and to uncover from a personal perspective what drove a nation into utter madness and near demise.
Like many Germans of that time, I too met my fate during an air raid, gruesomely annihilated by incendiary bombs. This death is a trauma that I’ve carried since childhood, inexplicably fearing airplanes falling from the sky like missiles, cowering from the bright colors and explosive sounds of fireworks. The imprints of this past life are very real, although for many years prior to understanding or believing in the idea of past lives, I assumed that these fears were nothing more than irrational phobias.
Harsh Measures Lead to Fascism
All areas of history need to be understood, considered, and explored if we are ever to comprehend it in its entirety and not repeat it.
Confronting the ghastly images of charred bodies, I breathed in the ashes of Germany’s tragedy. A tragedy propelled by the provisions outlined in the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I, reducing the country to poverty, incurring an unfathomable debt from reparations, stripped of a military, confronted by crumbling infrastructure. Impoverished and desperate, the Germans turned to Hitler to carry them out of their misery no matter the costs.
All areas of history need to be understood, considered, and explored if we are ever to comprehend it in its entirety and not repeat it. It’s imperative to know the facts and yet deciphering the intricacies of history can be challenging.
If there is one thing I am starting to understand is that history is filled with perspectives—facts and figures, ambiguities, eyewitness accounts, omissions, and denials. I muddle through it with each book or article that I read, finding authors that speak to me on a gut level. Every perspective has a vital role in constructing history.
Death Toll Now Versus Death Toll Then
Over 60 million people around the world were killed during the Second World War. Today, many of the industrialized and developing countries either have or are currently developing long-range nuclear missiles. Killing 60 million people with our weapon capabilities today could occur in a matter of seconds, not years. Fear, religion, racism, and political agendas incite conflicts around the world. Avarice, megalomania, and the unwillingness to review history will continue to fuel the fires of perpetual barbarism.