Photo: Dresden air raid victims being cremated 500 at a time on the Altmark square, Feb 25, 1945 (copyright photo by the late Walter Hahn from Apocalypse 1945: the Destruction of Dresden)
Thursday July 7, 1966
THE DRESDEN RAIDS
From Mr. David Irving
Sir, -- Your newspaper has an enviable reputation for accuracy, and your readiness to correct the smallest errors from one day to the next is an inspiration to your readers; but how can a historian correct a mistake, when once he finds himself to have been wrong? I ask the indulgence of your columns.
The bombing of Dresden in 1945 has in recent years been adduced by some people as evidence that conventional bombing can be more devastating than nuclear attacks, and others have sought to draw false lessons from this. My own share of the blame for this is large: in my 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden I stated that estimates of the casualties in that city varied between 35,000 and over 200,000.
The higher figures did not seem absurd when the circumstances were taken into account. I had tried for three years to bring to light German documents relating to the damage, but the east German authorities were unable to assist me. Two years ago I procured from a private east German source what purported to be extracts from the Police President's report, quoting the final death-roll as "a quarter of a million"; the other statistics it contained were accurate, but it is now obvious that the death-roll statistic was falsified, probably in 1945.
The east German authorities (who had originally declined to provide me with the documents have now supplied to me a copy of the 11-page "final report" written by the area police chief about one month after the Dresden raids, and there is no doubt as to this document's authenticity. In short, the report shows that the Dresden casualties were on much the same scale as in the heaviest Hamburg raids in 1943. The document's author, the Höhere SS- und Polizeiführer Elbe, was responsible for civil defence measures in Dresden, it should be noted.
His figures are very much lower than those I quoted. The crucial passage reads:
"Casualties: by 10th March, 1945, 18,375 dead, 2,212 seriously injured, and 13,918 slightly injured had been registered, with 350,000 homeless and permanently evacuated." The total death-roll, "primarily women and children", was expected to reach 25,000; fewer than a hundred of the dead were servicemen. Of the dead recovered by then, 6,865 had been cremated in one of the city squares. A total of 35,000 people were listed as "missing".
The general authenticity of the report is established beyond doubt, because within a very few days of receiving the first, a second wartime German report was supplied to me, this time from a western source. It repeats exactly the figures listed in the above report, upon which it was evidently based.
The second report, a Berlin police summary of "Air Raids on Reich Territory", dated March 22, 1945, was found, quite by chance, misfiled among the 25,000 Reich Finance Ministry files currently being explored at the west German Federal Archives. It was forwarded to me by one of their archivists, Doctor Boberach.
I have no interest in promoting or perpetuating false legends, and I feel it is important that in this respect the record should be set straight.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
25 Elgin Mansions, W.9.