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Monday, December 21, 2015

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.

5/18/45

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.

14 comments:

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.

O_o

Bernie O'Hare said...

O_o

True.

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/

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...

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.

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.

Anonymous said...

I've commented on your inspiring postings about your Dad before, and I have nothing specific to add now -- but I do have the most essential of general comments that cannot be repeated often enough by enough Americans: God Bless America and God Bless your Dad (and my Dad and my very recently dearly departed Father-in-law) and all the men who fought valiantly and selflessly for our great nation. Their sacrifice made possible the the freedom and prosperity we still enjoy to this day.

We can't possibly praise and honor them enough.

- Jeffrey Anthony

Anonymous said...

Bernie,

Only for relatively short periods in human history was there any concept of "innocent victims" in warfare. In fact terror was curiously seen as compassionate if the slaughter facilitated an early end to combat and a speedy surrender. The US firebombed Tokyo and other Japanese cities at the close of world war 2. If I remember correctly far more people were killed in the Tokyo raid than died in either Atomic blast. Yet these mass incineration to this day draw little comment or condemnation. Perhaps Dresden gets some attention is that it was a German/European city rather than Asian. I do believe US prisoners of war were killed in the bombings in Japan.
All this said, my hat is off to all the veterans. We are free because they were willing to fight and defend liberty.

Scott Armstrong

Anonymous said...

By the way, my wife's family lived in a town named Vire in Normandy. For several reasons it was bombed by the Americans,shortly after the invasion, hundreds of civilians were killed( a significant portion of the population) and the city turned to ruble. Saw a remembrance of the event some time ago and there was no acrimony towards the bombing just a tribute to those who lost their lives and sorrow over the destruction of a once lovely old town. There were Americans present in an official capacity and all were treated as allies and liberators.

Scott Armstrong