February 13, 2006

New film portrays German side of Dresden bombings

By Erik Kirschbaum

BERLIN (Reuters) - German filmmakers have tackled the
touchy subject of whether the Allied firebombing of Dresden at
the end of World War Two was a "war crime" with a carefully
balanced melodrama that got its worldwide premiere on Monday.

Showing the German point of view of anything in World War
Two is always likely to cause a stir -- and that's precisely
what the makers of "Dresden" said they want to achieve.

"Dresden," which premiered at the European Film Market at
the Berlin Film Festival, quickly reopened old wounds about
what many Germans privately call a war crime -- and even act of

A film portraying Germans as victims would have been
unthinkable even a decade ago in a country weaned on guilt for
its war, but public broadcaster ZDF made the three-hour film to
stir a debate -- and maybe find overseas buyers.

"It's fine with us if it sparks controversy," said Guenther
van Endert, a ZDF film editor and co-producer of the most
expensive television film (10 million euros) in German history,
after a special press screening on Monday.

"We have tried to carefully show both sides," he added,
noting British and German historians served as advisers. "It
was an extremely delicate task. Controversy will be the
by-product but it's not its main aim. We wanted to make a
balanced story."

Told against the backdrop of the firebombing, "Dresden" is
about an improbable love story between a Royal Air Force pilot
hiding after he was shot down and a German nurse.

There are balancing scenes throughout, filmed in English,
of Royal Air Force officers and pilots preparing the attack.
Some provide the common justifications for the raid, while
others feel uneasy about hitting civilian targets.

Germans, both good and bad, along with Jews in Dresden who
view the attack as their liberation are also included.

World War Two was nearly over when British and American
bombers destroyed Dresden in three waves beginning on February
13, 1945. Largely untouched by the war until then, Dresden was
turned into an inferno where at least 35,000 people were

Throughout its post-war history, Germany has for the most
part quietly mourned Dresden, and refrained from openly blaming
Britain for what many privately call a massacre.

But six decades after the end of the war, and with most of
its main figures now dead, recent books and films have
portrayed Germans not only as perpetrators of the war but as
victims as well, triggering debate across Europe.

"I had long thought Dresden was bombed because Churchill
wanted to impress Stalin," said van Endert, referring to a
widely held German view that Britain's war time prime minister
sacrificed civilians without military justification.

"But the more I delved into the subject, the more I
realized Dresden was not an innocent city at all," he said,
noting it was an important crossroads for troops and also
produced armaments.

"In this film, we also wanted to show the British pilots
weren't evil but rather likeable English lads."

As balanced as the film tries to be, it is still stunning
to hear Germans calling Allies "terrorists." It is also
chilling to hear a British officer tell his pilots: "Good luck
lads, and bomb the city until it burns."