Friday, December 20, 2013

O'Hare's WWII Diary: Still No Word About Dresden Firebombing

This is the second in a series of entries from my father's recently-discovered dairy. He kept it about a week after his release from a German POW camp. This second post, like the first, is strictly present tense. Yet just three months before, my dad and writer Kurt Vonnegut had ringside seats, as POWs, to the American and RAF firebombing of Dresden - Florence of the Elbe.

POWs hid in meat lockers underneath a slaughterhouse during this incineration. One POW blurted out, "I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight." I can't help but think that was my dad. That was his humor.

In a public radio interview, Vonnegut speaks of a conversation he had with my father, some twenty years later.

"What did you learn?" Vonnegut asks.

"I will never believe my government again."

Churchill, who had advocated the firebombing, was knighted.


We moved over to the other compound today. That seems to be the chief benefit accruing to those who have been deloused. The rooms here are much cleaner and better equipped. We eat three times per day restaurant style and the shilly (chile?) is both good and thick - a happy set of circumstances not found readily in Germany. We spent most of the day getting our loot in order and this afternoon learned to our gratification that we were scheduled to move out. About an hour later a sergeant from the 1st Rangers division put in an appearance and announced that trucks were on their way to bring us either to Riesa or Leipzig where there are concentrations of former P.O.W.'s. I had no idea the sight of a G.I. would be so sensational. Needless to say, the limeys hogged him before any of his own countrymen had a chance to learn much from him concerning the good old U.S.A. Well, the trucks finally arrived and after the normal red tape we piled into them and took off. Approximately two hours later we found ourselves in Riesa. Temporary quarters were provided for us in some Jerry barracks. We are supposed to move in the morning to some other place in town where there are more G.I.'s. Our present barracks aren't at all bad except for the lack of anything soft upon which to lay our weary bones. There are some limeys here who have been waiting to get out for almost a month. It seems that Stalag W-B was liberated by the Russians on April 23.

Blogger's Note: This was originally published on 12/12/07.


river said...

Don't forget that the Nazis firebombed England first and I honestly thing the Nazis treated the American prisoners better than the Japanese did. Of coarse if you were Jewish it was a whole new ball game. I only made this comment because Bernie or Kurt or someone in the above letters made it seem like they were bashing WC for the bombing of Dresden at night. Now when we look back, dat or night... whats the difference. Nazi Germany would have won hands down if it wasn't for the fact that England had developed RADAR and had early warning that the nazis were coming. Big Fat Herman had his planes flying right over the RADAR towers and didn't know what it was till he lost the the air war with England. To quote WC... "never have so many owed so much to so few" WC speaking about the royal air force.

Bernie O'Hare said...


When this was done by the German blitz, it was a war crime. It was no less a war crime when we did it. But it seems only losers get tried for war crimes.

river said...

Bernie,Yes, you are right about WWII. what is your view on terrorist bombings? or the IED's? They don't follow, or even try to follow the Geneva Convention of many years ago.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Any group that targets or exhibits reckless disregard for civilians is committing a war crime and violating the Geneva conventions.

river said...

besides. it was kill or be killed back then, and you didn't have an hour to figure out what the nip or nazi was gonna do. It is fun to play monday morning quarterback. Save the woulda shoulda coulda for the new elections coming up and Bernie, don't embarrass yourself by trying to tell the few remaining WWII vets what they should have done 60 years ago. Baby,

Patrick "Dennis McDennison" Coughlin said...

My understanding of the attack was that although there was military implications and justifications for the attacks, the were minor at best. Churchill ok'd the attacks on the basis of retarding oil, troop and communication supplies to the eastern front (based on communication from his Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair). Granted, Dresden was on the eastern border of Germany, but I personally think the systematic destruction of the city had other, retributive justifications that were hind-sighted at best.

Dresden was the artistic capital of Germany, and arguably, Western Europe. From all accounts it was a beautiful city rich in culture and with little military significance other than a supply depot. It may be impossible to get in the minds of the military leaders of the allies, but this was not a hasty decision, and it was carried out not with the intent to stop the flow of oil or troops, but to kill as many as possible and destroy a city. With that in mind, it gets a lot easier to judge.

I think the point that my grandfather and KV were making can be best summed up in his words, not mine:

"And they miss his message, in which he pleads that world governments found thier rule on something more akin to the Sermon on the Mount than the preachings of those who lead the world to Armageddon."

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the diary posts immensely.

WWII stories cause me to consider how brutally the US fought those wars, and how we have fought all others since.

Sherman told us war was hell. Memories of the brutality of the enemy seem to fade with time, while reflection on our own brutality continues long after.

I'm glad I live in a country where it does. I'm also glad I live in a country that won those wars.

MAD AS BATS said...

As someone who walked the streets of Beirut after the Syrian backed Hezbollah shelled civilians in the 80s, I consider the idea of "collateral damage" insanity.
Victors write the history of War. Dresden was a war crime. Period. The V-1 Blitz on London, was a war crime, period. But we won. Things happen in war that are unspeakable. Deal with it

Anonymous said...

War is not Hell. Unlike Hell, war is not selective in who must suffer.


Bernie O'Hare said...



river said...

Some of you guys make me laugh. "making war on civilians". HaHa. The civilians are what support the armed forces. If it wasn't for the civilians Hitler would never have been in power. I think it was Sherman who declared war on the civilians in the Civil war because they were supporting the army supply train. Hey guys, come on. If you want to you can call everything a war crime. Bernie, do you think Hitler gave a rats ass about the London citizens during the blitz? The first 2 years, we were loosing the war. Just think if they won. Bernie would be speaking german with a japanees accent. AND HE WOULDN'T HAVE A BLOG EITHER. He would be working the rice patties were Nazareth once stood. Yet you guys cry about American war crimes. hahaha. Maybe you could have asked Hitler to be nice and have a nice war. Thats what Chaimberland did for England, And Stalin did too. They both had peace terms with Hitler. Oh wait, that didn't work either. Should we have cut Dresden a break? Well I can solve this easily. Just ask those 7 million German Jews what they think. Oh wait, you can't. they were all murdered.

Bernie O'Hare said...


You really have a twisted understanding of history. Sherman never condoned attacks against civilians. Don't make reckless statements like that without checking the facts. Read "The White Tecumseh." It totally contradicts you.

Then read those Geneva Conventions. Attacks against civilian populations are wrong. Is that so hard to get? Are you that dense? I expect childish comments like that at the MC Reader Forum, but not here.

river said...

geez bernie, you sure know how to hate someone.

river said...

7 million Jewish were murdered by the Third Reich and you are crying that I am the bad guy. I think you are the one who is "twisted". Perhaps since you have your own blog you think you are some angel, but are far from it and no better or worse than anyone else. You remind me of Dorian Gray.

Bernie O'Hare said...

The coments preceding this were posted in 2007.

Anonymous said...

6 million Jews and 6 million Poles were exterminated in the camps. Check your facts/

Anonymous said...

River, your feelings run deep. If you lost anyone or are Jewish that is easy to understand. I had very close relatives in combat in Europe. I nor they have or had no love for the Naziis or their agenda. They told of SS officiers ordered to shoot German army regulars who tried to surrender. There is also no question that Germany as a nation had to be defeated and civilians will always suffer horribly in war.

After much research, I do believe the firebombing of Dreden was more about breaking German resolve and British determination, than was militarily justified. The heat was so intense the resulting firestorms created winds of close to 100 mph. This blog entry is by American and British POW's who saw the aftermath.

While I believe the Atomic bombs dropped on Japan were historically justified in order to bring an end to a war that was costing America more and more in resources both financial and human. It also had to end to keep the Russians from extending control into the Pacific. However, the firebombing of Dresdin was more about revenge than any military objective.

As has been noted, history is written by the victors but historians most try to be as objective as possible.

The All Seeing Eye

Carol said...

Bernie, I was in grammar school during WWII, but I read the newspapers early on, we also had a Jewish survivor from the camps speak at our church sometime ago, in 1983, I spent 3 days in East Germany on a Lutheran tour, my son just came back from working in China for 3 weeks, God Bless America, whatever her faults. Merry Christmas, Bernie, Carol

Anonymous said...

"We forget the brutality of the enemy in short order and reflect upon ours forever." or something like that.

Sounds about right for f---ed Americans.

Bear in mind I am German.

Hey, so long as someone brought up the camps, do not forget to add Germans in the camps who were political prisoners because of their opposition to Hitler.

(it wasn't just one or two guys, either)

How many German officers were executed after the July 20, 1944 bombing?

About 4,980 or so.

Everybody remembers Judge Roland Freisler and the boys...


Are you trying to stir up hard feelings and divide people or what?

How about a story dealing with the Christmas Truce of 1914...

Anonymous said...

Including non-Jews, some historians estimate the total number of persons to have died in the concentration camps to be around 17 or 18 million.

Bernie O'Hare said...


Pig Pen,

My father and Vonnegut were captured 10 days before Christmas. My brother became aware of his diary right around Christmas. To me, this is a Christmas story.

c said...

Thanks Bernie, always enjoy these stories.

Anonymous said...

Historians will forever debate the value of Dresden as a military target. That debate was fueled in part by exaggerated death figures created by the Nazi propaganda machine. That distortion only prolonged the war and led to reprisals against Allied POWs. Your father was lucky that he did not suffer from those attacks as many POWs did. For those who believe that Germany was wronged by the bombings, many deaths could have been avoided had Nazis surrendered in early 1945. I have no sympathy for civilians who repeatedly denied knowledge of concentration camps. Remember, who started the war. It was not Britain or the US. I enjoy the stories and they are most appropriate any time of the year.