When I began this column about Rick I said I would tell you how he came to have the wealth of patience and understanding which allowed him to calm down people who ran off the rails in a fit of anger. Rick was born in a small town just outside the German city of Dresden. His full name was Ulrich Conze. His father died young, and during the war in February 1945, 14-year-old Rick and his middle-aged mother were struggling with wartime shortages in Dresden, which they were glad was not a legitimate bombing target.
Dresden, a city of almost half a million, was a major center for the quiet and peaceful production of things like ceramics, musical instruments, medical equipment, and the like. It was known for its magnificent buildings, erected in earlier centuries when it was the nation’s capital. The adopted home of Frederick Chopin, who had fled Poland during its mid-1800 rioting, it was also a center of European art and music.
Because Dresden was a place of safety and sanity, 100,000 to 200,000 civilian refugees, most of them women, children, or aging men had fled to Dresden as brutal Soviet forces entered Germany. And then — can you believe it? — the high command of the Royal Air Force made a decision to bomb it even though it was packed with innocent civilians ...
Listen to the lame excuse given by British Air Commodore Colin Grierson after the bombing, when the British press questioned the slaughter of innocent civilians. “Dresden,” he said, “[and other cities] are centres to which evacuees are being moved. They are centres through which traffic [might move] to the Russian Front. I think these reasons probably justify their bombing.”
It happens that history has given us the perfect answer to his excuses. Kurt Vonnegut, an American author who had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge, was right there in Dresden and saw the bombing. To quote from him:
- “There was no war in Dresden. The few (air raid) shelters were not much more than a gesture, a casual recognition of the national emergency. I was a prisoner, hungry, dirty and full of hate for our captors, but I loved that city and saw the blessed wonder of her past and the rich promise of her future.” See link for more.
One day, 773 virtually unchallenged Lancaster bombers rained 1,477 tons of high explosive bombs on the city and nearby innocent villages. In addition, they flew back and forth across the sky raining down over 600,000 incendiary bombs, making sure that anything that was not burning was set on fire. Why? Obviously to kill all the civilians!
The entire sky was filled with flames. The people fled, but many were trapped inside homes or fried in the streets. Vonnegut, speaking of the horrible task of removing piles of dead bodies after the raid says, “A grim procession clogged the outbound highways; people with blackened faces streaked with tears, some bearing wounded, some bearing dead. They gathered in the fields. No one spoke.”
Two of those people were Rick and his mother, who when they returned to their village not only couldn’t find their house, but couldn’t find their street! It was that terrible moment which Rick always compared with any trouble which later arose.
Despite everything he did to avoid it, Rick’s aging mother passed away as they struggled through the aftermath. Rick survived, and somehow learned to rid his heart of hatred and use his experience to help others.
Vonnegut’s full comments are really worth reading: https://pulsemedia.org/2011/06/25/the-blood-of-dresden/