Anti-fascist groups in the German city of Dresden have been vigilant in countering neo-Nazi attempts to hijack the commemoration of the bombing of Dresden by the British and American air forces during World War II. This year, the anti-Nazi platform Dresden Nazifrei and other progressive groups organized counter-mobilizations against the ‘mourning march’ that neo-Nazi and right-wing groups had called to mark the 78th anniversary of the air raids between February 13 and 15, 1945.
On Friday, February 17, anti-fascist groups organized a vigil at Theaterplatz in the city, titled ‘Traces of the Perpetrators’ 2023, depicting the influence of the Nazis on art. Earlier, on February 11 and 13, anti-fascist groups organized counter-demonstrations against right-wing rallies in Dresden.
On February 13, anti-fascist groups organized blockades in several parts of the city to stop neo-Nazi demonstrations from reaching the city center. The anti-fascists denounced Nazi attempts to falsify history and also criticized the highhandedness of the police with anti-fascist activists. On February 11 and 12, members of the Socialist German Workers Youth (SDAJ) hosted an anti-fascist city tour in Dresden, visiting places and monuments commemorating resistance fighters who opposed the Nazis and Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
Over the last two decades, neo-Nazi groups and states led by far-right governments in many parts of Europe have begun organizing events glorifying Nazi criminals and collaborators by falsifying history. They have also attempted to manipulate the memory of the collateral damage suffered during World War II by equating the Nazi terror with fatalities inflicted by the Allied Forces, which included the Soviet Union.
Over 25,000 people died in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. Large parts of the city were leveled by 772 heavy bombers of the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) and 527 of the United States Air Force. According to reports, more than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs were dropped over the city in four back-to-back air raids between February 13 and 15, targeting rail transport, communication centers, and major factories supporting Nazi Germany’s war efforts.
Over half a century, the residents of Dresden have been organizing official and unofficial annual commemorative events to pay tribute to the victims of the bombing. There are those who also acknowledge and emphasize the responsibility of Nazi Germany in the events that led to the bombings, but, over the last two decades, far-right political parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and National Democratic Party (NDP) and several neo-Nazi, fascist groups have been mobilizing and organizing events in Dresden to hijack the narrative around these annual events. They have done this attempting to suggest that the bombing of Dresden by the Allied Forces was equivalent to the terrible crimes committed by the Nazis, including the genocide of European Jews and others during World War II and before it.
On February 14, Anne Herpertz from the alliance ‘Dresden Wi(e)dersetzen’ said that “so much of the ‘commemoration’ around Dresden Bombings is a farce and almost forgotten-about history. The fact that well-known right-wing radicals also feel comfortable in the official commemorations should give everyone, especially the city leadership, food for thought. […] The people who blocked the neo-Nazi march yesterday are now supposedly saving the image of Dresden, while the majority has looked the other way when neo-Nazis abuse this date.”
“But, nevertheless: yesterday was a very good start and the stable side of Dresden showed what it can do. We will be back, no question. Until right-wing extremist ideas no longer find a place in Dresden,” she added.
Regarding the vigil titled ‘Traces of the Perpetrators’ 2023, on February 17, the Dresden Nazifrei platform stated that “preparations for the expulsion of progressive artists, including many Jews, from art began as early as the Weimar Republic. Already at this time there were indications of what was planned with art and especially with artists who did not share the views of “German art’.”
“Here we show how the Nazis intervened in the world of theater, in painting and fine arts as well as in teaching here in Dresden and imposed their ideology on them.The exhibition ‘Degenerate Art’ took place here in Dresden long before the one organized at the imperial level in Munich. As was often the case during this period, the city proved to be a pioneer in the implementation of Nazi ideology in art and culture,” added the platform.
In Nazi Germany, Modernist art was derided as ‘degenerate art’ (entartete kunst) and was banned and removed from state-run museums. Many artists were persecuted in Nazi Germany for promoting ‘degenerate art,’ which was seen as essentially ‘anti-German,’ communist, and Jewish, according to Nazi ideology. The Nazis organized an exhibition titled ‘Degenerate Art’ in Munich in 1937, and subsequently in 11 more cities in Germany and Austria, ridiculing many modernist paintings in order to mobilize public opinion against what they claimed was ‘anti-German’ culture.
On February 17, Selma Kleinau of the Socialist German Workers Youth (SDAJ) told Peoples Dispatch, “on February 11 and 12 we supported the anti-fascist protests in Dresden. On the occasion of the bombing of Dresden on February 13, 1945—where most of the city was destroyed—German fascists have been trying to falsify history and propagate a ‘bomb holocaust.’ They purposefully present Nazis as innocent victims of the British and American attacks. This is a falsification of history! As the SDAJ, we took part in the counter-protest on February 11 and organized an anti-fascist city tour on February 12. We commemorated the various resistance fighters from Dresden who lost their lives fighting fascism. Because anti-fascist work also means for us to uncover the root of fascism: capitalism.”