In a speech at a
dinner in Chicago on July 31, 2009 David
Irving spoke on the February 1945 Dresden
death roll - he described how intercepted
messages of Dresden's police chief (see
below) justified his own 1963 book
claim that 135,000 died in the firestorm.
(In April 2000, before these decoded messages
were found, a British High Court judge
described him as a falsifier of
London, 15 February 1985
My Munich Publisher, Dr Albrecht Knaus (Bertelsmann Verlag) has sent me the enclosed article in the Suddeutsche Zeitung with the “recommendation to reply” since my book, ‘The Destruction of Dresden’ (Bertelsmann, Ullstein and other publishers) is mentioned in that. [...] My book, ‘The Destruction of Dresden’ which was published in April 1963 was the first to inform the English speaking world of this tragedy. As an article published on the 12th of this month [...] might leave the impression that I was partially responsible for creating this legend, may I comment on it?
The question of the strafing attacks on refugees on the Elbeufer embankment and the Great Garden is surely of lesser importance. Already on August 2, 1940 the C-in-C of the RAF Bomber Command, the later Chief of the British Air staff, Sir Charles Portal, explicitly requested permission for his crews to open fire with machine guns on civilians, and he expressly pointed out that women and children would then be among the dead (Public Records Office, London, Air Ministry, 14/1930). This request was approved at the Air Ministry by Sir Sholto Douglas (the later Military Governor of the British Occupation Zone who as an irony of history later rejected the appeal against the death sentence for war crimes of the Bavarian General, Alfred Jodl in the IMT trial).
The American Bomber Squadrons were accompanied by escort fighters — otherwise they would scarcely have been able to move in daylight across German territory; these fighters were permitted to fire on ground targets. While the British night bomber force employed on the double attack on Dresden [...] escort fighters, the 4 engined planes ﬂying at high altitude also made use of their gun armament. They had after all until this point not had to fire a single round in their own defence. And the British film taken actually during the second attack you can see the machine gun tracer bullets. This may well have led to an understandable mix-up on the part of the living and fleeing targets: the word legend is, however, somewhat too crude.
Is the question of the death toll at Dresden really of importance? Was it 250,000, or 135,000 or “only“ 35,000? Is nit-picking like this about numbers not the worst kind of casuistry, when one contemplates the nameless ones who here were burned in the fires of hell “created by human hands”.
After my book was published I donated my research papers, including the transcripts of my interviews with the survivors and the air crew members and the allied documents to the Dresden City Archives whose then Director, Dr Walter Lange had helped me considerably.
Then something unexpected happened. Three years later I received from him a photocopy of the report of the Police Chief “Elbe” on this raid which had just turned up, and in the same post, from the papers of the Reich finance Ministry in Koblenz , the contemporary Berlin Police summary which coincidentally confirmed the authenticity of the former report. In the former report, which was written on March 10 1945, the conclusion was that they would have to assume the final death toll would be 25,000 with 35,000 more people missing.
That created a dilemma for me. There are certainly historians, who would have covered something like that up — I am thinking of the Stuttgart Professor who published 78 “Hitler manuscripts”, all coming from a Mr Kujau: but the Professor later on under compulsion at first admitted only four of them might be questionable!
Although I considered these figures were barely credible, even less could I have permitted myself to keep the Dresden documents secret. Although my London publisher anxiously warned against this step, I took my pen, and wrote on July 7, 1966 a letter to ‘The Times’, to announce these differing figures. I even had the letter printed at my own expense as a leaflet by ‘The Times’, and I distributed it to interested parties.
The bottom line was and is still clear for me. On March 10, 1945 any kind of interview would have been out of the question. The senior SS and Police Commander, who was responsible for air-raid precautions in Dresden, also had most reason to minimise the casualties. During a similar air-raid on Hamburg, a magnificently equipped city with maximum experience of air-raids, 40,000 people were killed in a similar air-raid: for medieval Dresden, there were neither anti-aircraft guns, nor night fighters, nor air-raid bunkers, nor public air-raid shelters. Its citizens had only rarely, and the 1 million Eastern refugees had never heard the wail of the siren. In any case who was there to report these nameless refugees as missing? The entire city centre (the old town) became a fire storm area in 20 minutes. Nobody escaped who would not leave home in the first few minutes. So what is the truth? Because I have no interest in creating legends.
During the 3 years that I was researching in Dresden and in West Germany (1961-1963) I came across a school teacher living in Hanover, who had been a Dresden official at the time and had been given the job of setting up the Dead Persons Department after the air-raid, in the Municipal Bureau of Missing Persons. This man showed me his diary. On the basis of the card index which his department had created, and on the basis of the many bucketfuls of wedding rings which had been collected, he assessed the final death roll at 135,000 dead.
Our main Dresden Air Raid