DRESDEN, Germany — Germany’s president called Thursday for his countrymen to stand up to extremism and nationalism, warning that hatred and a desire for authoritarianism are on the rise again in Europe, including in his country.
Speaking at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of Dresden’s bombing by allied forces at the end of World War II, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was important to recall who had started the devastating conflict.
The man-made firestorm, vividly captured by American author Kurt Vonnegut in his book “Slaughterhouse — Five,” and the destruction of large parts of the baroque eastern German city have become a rallying point for those seeking to portray Germans as victims in the war.
“It was Germans who began this gruesome war,” Steinmeier said.
“We won’t forget the German guilt,” he added. “And we stand by the responsibility that remains.”
Still, Steinmeier said those who perished in the Dresden bombings deserved to be commemorated, just like those killed by Nazi Germany’s aerial bombings in Guernica, Coventry, Naples, Le Havre and the Polish town of Wielun, where 1,200 people were killed by the Luftwaffe in the first hours of World War II.
Historians say the Feb. 13-15, 1945, bombardment of Dresden by American and British planes killed up to 25,000 people, including refugees and prisoners of war. The toll was comparable to those from aerial bombings of other large German cities.
German nationalists have for decades promoted the myth that as many as half a million civilians were killed in Dresden. Most recently the idea has been taken up by members of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party.