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A Marques of Lisbon has arguments about the 1945 Dresden death toll, Sunday, March 20, 2005
The Dresden 1945 death roll
I HAVE been reading the recent book "Dresden - Tuesday 13 February 1945" by Frederick Taylor, below, and I find its handling of the several possible sources for the number of victims of the Dresden bombing confused but nevertheless interesting.
I believe there are only three major single-document sources for the Dresden numbers, besides the evidence one could collect through the scattered local information such as the missing person center or the "street books" kept by the searchers who did the clearing of the ruins, apparently pointing to at least 30,000 or 40,000:
Taylor argues as follows (pages 505 - 506):
"The definite numbers in those documents (the Final Report and Situation Report) were between 18,000 and 22,000, estimates of final numbers around 25,000, so how could numbers of (exactly) ten times that level be cited in a document circulating at the same time? Moreover the text of T847 [sic] also included the explanation that the figures were being issued as an exceptional measure in order to scotch rumors of gigantic casualty rates: 'Since the rumors far exceed the reality, open use can be made of the actual figures.'
"If the 'actual figures' were up to 250,000, as the supporters of the fake TB47 had insisted, of what could the rumors possibly have whispered? Millions of dead? Clearly exceptional permission had been granted, in view of the widespread panic and fear aroused by wildly inflated casualty rates in Dresden, for the real (if temporary) numbers of dead to be cited by those in authority. And the real numbers were 20,240 and 25,000 respectively, [sic: the paragraph ends with a comma, apparently leaving the sentence unfinished and the word "respectively" ambiguous].
"There was indeed only one explanation. A zero had been added to these figures for propaganda purposes. Irving duly wrote a letter to The Times of London in which he admitted that the two six-figures estimates quoted in the so-called 'TB47' were 'probably' a Nazi fake."
I think Taylor may have a point, but allow me a couple of comments besides my asking your present opinion on the value of the FR and the SR as documentary evidence.
First of all, it seems to me that if the TB47 really had been "Goebbels's dark masterpiece", one would hardly expect to find in it a forgotten "exceptional permission for the real numbers of dead to be cited", left over from a previous report concerning much smaller figures and sounding odd in the context of the 250,000 projection with no actual rumors greater than that circulating, specially since no official numbers, large or small, were to be publicized anywhere, as Taylor makes clear elsewhere. "Goebbels's clear nonsense" might have been a more appropriate designation for the "masterpiece".
On the other hand, it doesn't surprise me that rumors really could exceed the TB47 figures. After all, most accounts of the preparation of the mission, from the British side, agree that something out of the ordinary was being sought for the "education" of the approaching Soviets, so to speak, resulting in the sort of incendiary bombing plan (cutting off the exit ways, with a second day of bombing to make any relief as difficult as possible etc.) used for inflicting maximum casualties.
And it's clear that the presence of a large number of refugees from Silesia was also known inside, as well as outside, Germany. If the U.S. Armed Forces paper Stars and Stripes itself later quoted Allied PWs who were brought in by the Germans for the relief work, placing the figure at 300,000 plus an indeterminate number among the 1,000,000 evacuees who had no records on them, then it seems clear that rumors may indeed have suggested greater figures than the actual ones in TB47.
Second, if the Dresden casualty figure is brought down to Taylor's 25,000, one is left with the very odd result that Allied air power, employed for exemplary purposes to its full measure and with no restrictions, over a specially vulnerable civilian target of large size, near the end of the War, when Allied air superiority was absolute and German defences nearly inexistent, was less effective than it used to be in previous, much more difficult, operations over Hamburg or Berlin, for instance. I believe the extension of the sad ruins left in Dresden suggest a degree of utter destruction rarely seen elsewhere, rather than a botched mission with only a fraction of the intended results achieved.
But Dresden is far from an isolated phenomenon. My 1986 Britannica still says that the estimates for the Hiroshima deed range higher than 200,000, while Nagasaki amounts to 80,000. Nowadays, I believe the most frequent numbers one encounters tend to something like 100,000 for the total of both. I wonder what the figures will be in a few months time, when some sort of 60 year commemorations may take place...
The Second World War is a very peculiar event, since, contrary to the usual historical rule, the wrongdoings of the vanquished are the ones that increase with time, while the same sort of actions on the part of the victors are constantly revealed to have been, much like Mark Twain's death, greatly exaggerated at first.
There are exceptions, of course, among those of the victors that by now have gone the way of the vanquished, into the very same dustbins of History, politically correct or otherwise, but "gone" is one thing, and "going, going" is quite another. It's a world of difference, and I believe Taylor's book reflects this.
It must be the most judeocentric book ever written on the subject of the bombing of Dresden. Indeed the subject of the title sometimes seems like a secondary one, but I think one should do justice to the author's intellectual courage when he writes (p.404-405):
"Six-figure numbers for the dead at Dresden would be encouraged by the Nazi propagandists and are still quoted more than half a century later -- though mostly by right-wing extremists attempting to gain converts to their cause by promoting the idea of a 'German holocaust' worse than Auschwitz."
Taylor's idea that the Dresden sort of six-figure numbers would be "a 'German holocaust' worse than Auschwitz" does him honor and should (again!) start worrying the Auschwitz Museum authorities that substituted 1,250,000 for 4,000,000 in their local multilingual / multinumeric stone monument...
Much the same (rather subtle, one hopes for the sake of his future health & wealth) ideas can be detected in such passages as this (p. 172):
"Ilana Turner went from [the ghetto of] Lodz to Auschwitz, but after a few days was transferred along with her fellow workers to Stutthof (...). It was sometime in the second week of October 1944 when they were put into boxcars and transferred by train from Stutthof to Dresden."
The intelligent reader, paying attention to the unfortunate Jewish slave-workers who went to Auschwitz, spent a couple of days there, presumably with no registration number issued to them for such a short period, then left to some other camp, cannot help but wondering whether the transport in question is one of those that gets listed as "straight to the crematoria". Taylor's book likely revises more History and raises more dead than the casual reader may suspect.
Lisbon, Portugal; address known to us
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