A new book by German author and historian Jorg Friedrich has caused a storm by questioning the Allied bombing of civilian targets during the Second World War.
A necessary wartime evil or an act of immorality?
Germany is a country that continues to face up to its history and role in the Second World War. In the past, the country that has been held responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and Slavs has been reticent about the suffering of its own people at the hands of the allied forces.
Now, a new book by German historian Jorg Friedrich has raised the subject by addressing the bombing tactics employed by British and American forces on German cities with high civilian populations.
British prime minister Winston Churchill, left, U.S. president Harry Truman, center, and Soviet premier Josef Stalin.
Friedrich, whose earlier work focused on Nazi atrocities, has ignited a raucous debate with his book, 'The Fire: Germany Under Bombardment, 1940-1945' that questions the morality of the Allied leaders' bombing campaign. Currently being serialized in Germany's largest tabloid Bild Zeitung, the book contains harrowing tales of destruction and death amongst the German population during the war years.
Book details Allied bombing raids in harrowing detail
One of the most disturbing is the account of Leon Kolberg, a survivor of the March 12 bombing raid on the German resort city of Swinemuende in 1945 - six weeks before the Germans surrendered. It details the scene seen through the eyes of the 14 year old survivor as he surfaces from his bunker after an Allied bombing raid.
"A woman was walking down the street with one hand missing, the other holding a baby. People were stacked on the footpaths, bodies everywhere. The buildings were gone. I got lost." Some 1,500 German soldiers were identified and buried after the raid, but most of the 23,000 people who were killed in 45 minutes of bombing were German refugees trying to flee the advancing Russian Army.
"It is one of the great slaughters of the Second World War," said Friedrich to the German press agency DPA. "Did children deserve to die? Or women?"
The book has caused British journalists to respond in defense and protest. Writing in cities that were attacked by Hitler's Luftwaffe and later pounded by German V-1 flying bombs and V-2 missiles, members of the press are up in arms at the portrayal of the Allied forces as immoral.
Author called a 'dangerous revisionist'
In one of London's daily newspapers Daily Mail, military author Correlli Barnett called Friedrich a dangerous revisionist whose "historical travesty" is an attempt to justify Adolf Hitler's crimes. In another London-based daily The Guardian, columnist Ian Buruma wrote that German right-wingers have long dwelled on their role as victims of the Second World War. He continued by saying the book had no worth and that "All Friedrich has done is break a left-wing taboo."
Coventry in the UK suffered at the hands of Hitler.
Although the author defends the historical worth of the book, the inclusion of 'inflammatory' language has raised hackles because some believe that the use of words such as 'massacre' and 'slaughter' suggest that there is some moral equivalence between the Nazis' genocide and the Allied tactics.
Friedrich remains unrepentant. He has spent the majority of his career documenting the Nuremberg war crimes trials and the activities of the Nazis. From his earliest research he concluded that the bombing of Germany was "something that came from the sky that punished the rotten and criminal kingdom of evil." But then he uncovered the testimony of a German general at Nuremberg - an account that added a different angle to his view.
Nuremberg testimony set Friedrich on investigative path
The general's account details how he defended the shooting of villagers Belarus who were suspected of helping the local rebels, saying that was better than bombing indiscriminately. Of course, Friedrich was aware that the Germans had also bombed indiscriminately but the general's account set the wheels of thought in motion.
Friedrich, born in Essen in 1944, describes himself as one of 'the generation of sons who questioned their parents.' "We asked: 'What happened in the war? Where were you in 1941 when the first Jews were deported? Who wrote for the Nazi papers?'"
Carrying this desire for the truth into his research, Friedrich started on an investigation that lasted a decade. He immersed himself in reports and accounts of the allied firebombing of Dresden and Hamburg and the leveling of cities such as Cologne, Kassel and Wurzburg with the general's testimony of defense in mind.
Motivation behind Allied tactics remains topic of debate
Nazi crimes and allied bombing: moral equivalence?
It has been a topic of debate for years between historians. Was the bombing of German cities, particularly as the British did, an effort to choke the Nazi war machine or to destroy German morale? Some argue that the Americans and British were merely avenging Hitler's destruction of Rotterdam, Warsaw, London and Coventry. Friedrich, however, maintains his position as a chronicler of the truth.
"I am not interested in blaming anyone," Friedrich said. "I am interested in clearing up the facts."