Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wartime Wickedness

The stereotypical representation of what went on in Europe during World War II paints the picture of the noble, righteous Allies standing up for Truth, Justice, and Decency in the face of the consistently evil Nazis.

The following excerpt from W. G. Sebald's book, On the Natural History of Destruction, tells a mostly-hidden tale of quite a different reality.

In the summer of 1943, during a long heatwave, the RAF, supported by the US Eighth Army Air Force, flew a series of raids on Hamburg. The aim of Operation Gomorrah, as it was called, was to destroy the city and reduce it as completely as possible to ashes. In a raid early in the morning of 27 July, beginning at 1 a.m., 10,000 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped on the densely populated residential area east of the Elbe. ... A now-familiar sequence of events occurred: first all the doors and windows were torn from their frames and smashed by high-explosive bombs weighing 4,000 pounds, then the attic floors of the buildings were ignited by lightweight incendiary mixtures, and at the same time fire-bombs weighing up to 15 kilograms fell into the lower storeys. Within a few minutes, huge fires were burning all over the target area, which covered some 20 square kilometres, and they merged so rapidly that only a quarter of an hour after the first bombs had dropped the whole airspace was a sea of flames as far as the eye could see. Another five minutes later, at 1.20 a.m., a firestorm of an intensity that no one would ever before have thought possible arose. The fire, now rising 2,000 metres into the sky, snatched oxygen to itself so violently that the air currents reached hurricane force, resonating like mighty organs with all their stops pulled out at once.

Residential districts with a street length of 200 kilometres in all were utterly destroyed. Horribly disfigured corpses lay everywhere. Bluish little phosphorus flames still flickered around many of them; others had been roasted brown or purple and reduced to a third of their normal size. They lay doubled up in pools of their own melted fat, which had sometimes already congealed. In the next few days, the central death zone was declared a no-go area. When punishment labour gangs and camp inmates could begin clearing it in August, after the rubble had cooled down, they found people still sitting at tables or up against walls where they had been overcome by monoxide gas. Elsewhere, clumps of flesh and bone or whole heaps of bodies had cooked in the water gushing from bursting boilers. Other victims had been so badly charred and reduced to ashes by the heat, which had risen to 1,000 degrees or more, that the remains of families consisting of several people could be carried away in a single laundry basket.

The exodus of survivors from Hamburg had begun on the night of the air raid itself. … The refugees, numbering one and a quarter million, dispersed all over the Reich as far as its outer borders. Under his diary entry for 20 August 1943, ... Friedrich Reck describes a group of forty to fifty such refugees trying to force their way into a train at a station in Upper Bavaria. As they do so, a cardboard suitcase 'falls on the platform, bursts open and spills its contents. Toys, a manicure case, singed underwear. And last of all, the roasted corpse of a child, shrunk like a mummy, which its half-deranged mother has been carrying about with her, the relic of a past that was still intact a few days ago.'

Truth is...no matter the conflict, "the enemy" never has a corner on the market for being evil.

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