Ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Allied firebombing of Dresden could be disrupted today by the biggest neo-Nazi demonstration in Germany since the Second World War, police warned.
As many as 7,000 far-right sympathisers, some from as far away as Sweden and Spain, as well as an Austrian contingent, are expected to take part in a midday “funeral march” to mark what the extreme right considers a war crime. Large numbers of police have been drafted in, and weeks of planning have gone into keeping the neo-Nazis apart from counter-demonstrators.
Security was tight yesterday on the cold, wet streets of the eastern German city as officials checked individuals they suspected of being part of the plan to ambush the day of mourning. Police have banned the far-right demonstrators from marching in formation, carrying Nazi flags or wearing their unofficial uniform, parachute boots and bomber jackets. Among left-wingers seeking to counter them is “No Tears for Krauts”, an anarchist group which plans 12 hours of “decentralised actions” to “attack the Nazis”.
Ordinary Dresdners are being urged to wear white roses, a traditional symbol of resistance to the Nazis, for their annual silent candlelit procession, but neo-Nazi websites were yesterday calling on the far right to wear roses as well, to confuse officials. “We mustn’t let them steal our history,” said Rosa Hartmann, a 71-year-old survivor of the firestorm that killed at least 35,000 people on the night of 13-14 February 1945.
Some 80,000 are expected to attend today’s ceremonies, which include clergy from Coventry Cathedral presenting a “cross of nails” to Dresden’s newly reconstructed Frauenkirchen Cathedral, and a wreath-laying at the city’s Heide cemetery, where the charred remains of Dresden’s citizens were interred in mass graves. Academics still argue about how many were actually killed, but the far right claims there were as many as 400,000 deaths. The anti-Semitic National Party of Germany (NPD) has dubbed the raid “the bombing Holocaust” and calls Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the controversial head of Bomber Command, a “mass murderer”.
The NPD has been planning an ambush in Dresden since last autumn. Under the motto “1945 – we’re not celebrating”, it is using war anniversaries to launch itself as a parliamentary force. It is already represented in the Saxon parliament, and is setting its sights on entering the Schleswig-Holstein parliament in next Sunday’s election.
Dresden plays a key role in the NPD gameplan, because resentment against the raid is still tangible – a television crew loudly speaking English in a city cafe yesterday attracted hostile looks – and there is a sense that the tragedy has been brushed under the carpet by the political class. It is still politically incorrect openly to mourn Germany’s war dead, let alone talk of British “war crimes”. Although President Horst Koehler went to Auschwitz for the 60th anniversary of its liberation last month, he will not be in Dresden.
After Dresden, the NPD is focusing on 8 May, the anniversary of the end of the War, when the party and its sympathisers plan to match through the centre of Berlin. But the NPD has other plans. “Fifty-four million Germans died after the end of the war in Allied or Soviet imprisonment, raped by Russians, or of untreated disease,” said Holger Apfel, the 35-year-old publisher helping to steer the NPD’s strategy. “There is nothing to celebrate.”
The government announced on Friday it would rush through a new ban on neo-Nazi rallies at Nazi-linked sites, but Bernd Ulrich, deputy editor of Die Zeit, opposed the plan, saying the point was to provide a political answer to the far right, not to muzzle them.