The Bombing of Dresden

April 1, 2012
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It was around 9:30 PM when the sirens began to go off. They echoed throughout Dresden.

Many months ago, when the sirens would go off, my mom would gather me and my sister and bring us down to the bomb shelter in the basement of our home. I would have to carry my sister, because she was so afraid it seemed to paralyze her. She would cry on me, screaming about how she didn’t want to die. I would try to calm her down and tell her everything was going to be okay. I told her that we weren’t going to die, and that this was just a false alarm. I didn’t think she believed me, but it seemed to calm her down, which was enough for my mom and me.

I don’t blame her for not believing me, because I didn’t really believe it myself.

World War II had already taken its toll on my family, stealing my father from us. The constant stress and threat that Dresden would be bombed sure didn’t help. It meant that every month or so, the sirens would go off, and would leave every citizen in Dresden scrambling in fear for their lives, trying to find shelter. My mother would hold me and my little sister tight, and together we would pray that we would be able to live another day.

I hate this war.

But every time, it would be a false alarm. After anxiously waiting in the shelter for an hour, we would realize that God seemed to have answered our prayers. We were safe. There were so many false alarms, that I started believe that Dresden would never be bombed.

I figured God and my father were watching over us.

The alarms would always be false. Dresden would be largely unaffected by this war. Me, my mom, and my little sister would always be okay.

I was wrong, and it was incredibly foolish of me to believe that.

This time, when the siren went off, I wasn’t with my family. I was at a very close friends house having a sleepover. My mother wouldn’t let me visit a friend's house, even if they lived very close. It was war time, and again, Dresden could always be potentially bombed. She wanted the family to always be together, just in case the sirens would go off.

I understood, and would stay home for the duration of my days after school. And while I had my little sister and my mother, when she wasn’t working, to entertain and be with me, it was lonely staying home after school each day. I missed having frequent sleepovers with my friends. When Dresden hadn’t had its sirens go off for months, and with rumors of World War II finally coming to an end soon, I decided to try and persuade my mom to let me go out and have sleepovers again.

She was against this at first, but I convinced her.

Me and my close friend, Annette, were in her bedroom talking when the sirens went off. Both of us were instantly stricken with fear. Her parents would quickly rush to her room, collect us, and scream, “Hurry, to the cellar!” Annette began crying, and me and her mother would try to calm down and comfort her as we made our way to the cellar.

She seemed to be hysterical, and it reminded me of my little sister. “She must be so scared right now,” I would think, and I resented the fact I wasn’t there with her. This would be the first time I wouldn’t be there to comfort her and calm her down. I thought of my mother, too. I couldn’t even bear to think of the stress she would we going through, not having her family be there with her during a time like this. I don’t think I could bear it, either.

That’s when I realized I had to go home. I needed to be with my family. I broke free of Annette’s mother's grasp, and made for the front door.

“I need to get back to my family!” I exclaimed. Annette’s parents looked at me like I was crazy.

“You can’t go out there! We could be bombed at any second! You’re mom and sister are probably already safe in their shelter! They wouldn’t want you risking your life to be there with them! Just come with us!” Her father would say. Annette, who seemed to be crying even more now, ran up to me and grabbed me, trying to pull me towards their basement.

“Karen, you can’t leave! Please don’t leave! You could die out there!” She would tell me. I broke free from her hold on me, and shook my head.

“I’m sorry. I have to be with my family. My little sister needs me. Goodbye.” And opened the door, ready to leave. Annette, once again, ran up to me, but instead of trying to drag me by the arm, she had me in an embrace. She hugged me tight, crying on my shoulders, and she told me to be safe and hurry home, and that she was her best friend and that she loved me. My ears began getting teary as well, but I know I didn’t have much time to get home, so I quickly hugged her back, and told her similar things, before I bolted out the door.

This would be the last time I would see Annette.

As soon as I was out on the streets, I realized that they were in chaos. People were practically rioting, but not out of protest or anger, but out of bone-chilling fear. Mothers and fathers would grab hold and carry their children. Store doors would burst open, and floods of people would come out, pushing and shoving people along the way to reach their homes where their families were, or scrambling to find and reach the nearest air-raid shelter.

The sirens continued to echo throughout the streets of Dresden.

Never before were the emotions of Dresden citizens so unanimous; everyone was afraid, with fear-stricken and panicked looks on everyone's faces. People were screaming, afraid for their lives.

I don’t blame them.

It wouldn’t take me long to get to my house if I hurried, as Annette didn’t live too far away from me. I started to run, maneuvering my way through crowds and crowds of people. Thoughts of my little sister and mom filled my mind as I ran home.

I regretted persuading my mother to let me go out. How could I been such a fool? I knew, even if the war was coming to a close, that Dresden was potentially still in great danger. Or maybe I didn’t know. Maybe I had blinded myself by thinking God really was protecting us and nothing bad would happen to us, and as I was running, somewhere in the back of my mind I still believed that. This had to be a false alarm.

But even if it was, I wanted to be home, with my family. They needed me, and frankly, I needed them too.

Running as fast as I could through blocks of streets left my legs in great pain. My lungs desperately grasped and yearned for air. I didn’t have time, or rather, I didn’t think far enough ahead to put my shoes on before leaving Annette’s house, and now my feet were being cut and brutalized by the rough pavement road. I was running solely off of adrenaline. Nothing was going to stop me from getting home.

That is, until I began to hear a loud, terrifying buzzing sound from behind me. I quickly glanced behind me and then came to a full stop. I saw planes off in the distance, and they were making their way towards Dresden. Many others in the crowd saw and heard the planes approaching too. Some of them began exclaiming things like:

“Here they come!”

“The bombers!”

“We’re going to die!”

And they were right. They were coming.

This wasn’t a false alarm.

We were going to die.

Germany’s enemies were here to end us. I knew that soon, Dresden would be no more, and that thousands and thousands of my fellow citizens, neighbors, and friends would be dead.

People began to realize this, and some sat down and cried, accepting their fate. Some were more resilient, and began running even faster to reach their homes and shelters. I was faced with indecision. I still had a minute of running before I got home, but the planes were approaching quickly, and I wasn’t sure I had enough time.

I began regretting my decision to leave Annette’s house. I didn’t totally consider the fact that I may not make it in time. My mother and little sister would be safe in a shelter, and they would think I would be safe, too. But little did they know, I was out, standing in the middle of the street. I realized that Annette’s father was right, and they wouldn’t want me so desperately trying to get to them.

Because it may cost me my life.

The buzzing was much louder now, and shook me out of my thoughts. The bombs would be dropped any second now. I needed to make a decision, and make one quickly if I wanted to live. I couldn’t make it home in time, and I begrudgingly accepted that. I had failed my family. If I was going to die on this night, it wouldn’t be surrounded by the people I love. No, I would die alone. I may never see my family again.

But I wasn’t planning to die. I wanted to see them again, and I would pray for their safety, but I wouldn’t be able to see them again if I didn’t make it out alive, myself. I scoured the buildings surrounding me, and looked for a place I could take shelter. I saw a big furniture store with its door open, and ran inside of it. I took one last look at the places above, and I saw that the bomb-bay-doors were already opened, and bombs of destruction were headed their way to Dresden.

Once inside the store, I glanced around the store to find something to hide under. I noticed that other people here taking refuge as well. They were on the ground, hands brought together near their face. They were praying. They were praying for their safety, and their family’s safety, I’m sure. I would have done the same, if I had the time.

I ran deeper into the store, looking for something that could cover my head.

But before I could find anything, the bombs had come in contact Dresden.

And it was as if Hell had finally been unleashed.

The effects seemed to hit me all at once. I was thrown to the ground by the sheer force of the bombs hitting Dresden. The ground was trembling, like an earthquake. Windows and glass around the store, hell, all over Dresden, shattered. Thousands and thousands of small fragments of glass flew in every direction, like shrapnel from a grenade. I felt glass penetrate my left upper thigh. I could feel the streaks of blood from my wound beginning to roll down my left leg.

The sounds of loud, terrifying, and deafening explosions echoed throughout Dresden. The explosions were so loud, I began feeling an intense pain in my ears. My ears began to bleed furiously. I screamed at the top of my lungs from pain and agony, but could barely only barely hear myself. I was losing my hearing.

I laid there, in a puddle of my own blood and tears, for the duration of the first bombing. The bombs didn’t seem like they would stop. Dozens and dozens of bombs would make impact every second, and me, my family, and every citizen of Dresden felt every single one of them. Each bombed dropped brought more pain, death, and destruction.

I have lived in this beautiful, wonderfully city my entire life, and now, everything I’ve ever known was now being destroyed, including myself. The remarkable landmarks, mementos, and familiar faces would almost all be gone. I no longer felt the pain in my leg or ears, no, I had gone numb. I stopped crying. I could no longer hear the explosions go off. I no longer felt anything. All I did was lay there, helpless.

And with my eyes closed tight, I couldn’t tell if I was alive or dead.

I wished I was dead. I wished one of the bombs would drop directly on top of this store, and end my suffering and existence. I didn’t want to live in a world where one had to suffer through such an appalling and terrifying experience. And even worse, I knew it wasn’t just me suffering, oh no, it was every citizen of Dresden.

I thought about praying for me and my family’s safety, but decided against it. How can God allow such horribleness to exist in this world? Did I deserve this? Did anyone deserve this? Am I, and everyone else of Dresden paying for our horrible sins? I had remained faithful to him, but he has turned his back on me.

What a sick, sick world we live in.

The reality of the bombing was far worse than my wildest imaginings. It would be impossible for me to describe it, and have my description truly represent the experience.

I wouldn’t wish this on even my worst of enemies.

I wish the British felt the same way.

After what felt like an eternity, I felt the ground settle, and the explosions seemed to stop. The first wave of bombing was over.

And even if I was still alive and breathing, that first wave of bombing killed me.

Were my mother and little sister dead, too? If they had survived, I still had reason to continue living. I needed to go home and see if they were okay. If there was any decency left in this world, they would be okay.

I sat up and examined the damage inflicted to my leg, first. The once white pajamas I was wearing was now covered in red blood, especially on my left pants leg. I gently rolled up the pant leg up, and saw that my almost my entire leg was covered in blood. A piece of glass about half the size of my hand was embedded in my upper thigh. It was in pretty deep, but I could, theoretically, pull it out, as I could see it sticking out from my thigh. I decided against it, for now, because I’m not sure how safe that is, and frankly, I’m in enough pain already.

I brought my hands up to my ears, and before I knew it my entire hand was covered in blood. The bleeding was much worse then I thought. I wanted to test my hearing, so I screamed. I couldn’t hear myself at all. I was completely deaf.

I didn’t have the time to be concerned with that. I needed to see if my family made it.

I struggled to get up. The pain in my leg made this difficult, and I realized that any sort of movement would be an endeavor. I glanced around the store, and was shocked to see that a fair portion of the back of the store was in fiery rubble. Part of the roof was destroyed, but I couldn’t see the night sky, because it was blocked by black smoke.

The building itself wasn’t directly hit, I assumed, because the entire store would be destroyed, and, well, I would be dead. I’m sure we were fairly close to being directly hit, though, based on the destruction in the store. I wasn’t sure if I should feel lucky that I wasn’t hit directly, or feel deprived from feeling the sweet release of death.

I began making way for the door, and started to feel a piercing pain in my feet. While it was almost pitch black in the store, I could tell I was stepping on broken glass. Each step made toward the door left more and more shards of glass embedding themselves in my feet. It was a struggle to stay upright, with my wounded leg causing me to be unstable and limp, and now with my feet sending many shocks of pain through my body with every step. And if I were to fall, not only would I fall directly on many fragments of broken glass, but I wasn’t sure I’d have the will to get up again.

The only thing that kept me going was the idea that my family was okay.

I had finally reached the door after inching my way through the store.

As I stumbled out onto the streets, fire seemed to be the only light source illuminating this terrible, terrible night. I could see that stores, homes, and landmarks all over the city were in flames. I could see some beginning to collapse, and becoming just a pile of rubble. Seeing the city I’ve become so familiar with and grown to love in this hellish and chaotic state was really rough for me to see.

Dresden was always such a calm city. And prior to this point, Dresden was largely unaffected by World War II, baring the sirens every now and then. Dresden was known for being the center of flourishing and culture and art, and it showed. Running around Dresden and just seeing all of the beautiful sights used to be one of my favorite hobbies.

And now, it fire seemed to be consuming everything. All of my favorite sights and sounds are now being burned until they turned to ash.

It was a windy night, and when the wind passed by you, it would sting. It was as if the fire was in the very air itself. Black smoke filled the skies of Dresden, and began filling up my lungs too, whenever I took a breath. It became a harsh struggle to breath.

Across the street I saw doors to a burning building burst open. A man that seemed to engulfed by fire ran out. I was difficult for me to even recognize him as a human being, as his entire body was covered in flames. And the parts of skin I did see was black and were a burnt crust. He ran down the street before falling down to the ground and becoming immobile, becoming a patch a fire laid along the street. There were other patches of fire all over the streets of Dresden; men and women who suffered the same fate as this man.

The streets were in chaos as I walked home. Some were helping the wounded scattered along the sidewalk and streets. Firefighters were already out and trying to put out some of the fires while helping the wounded. Some were sitting next to the dead, and were crying. The looks of the dead were horrifying. Many had burned to death, and were becoming piles of ashes. I saw a crying woman carrying a dead child in her arms. The child had a piece of glass penetrating his head. Some victims had their limbs blown off from the explosions. Wounded were being rushed in ambulances.

Death was everywhere.

But I was indifferent to it all. I was still numb. The only thing I thought about was getting home and seeing my family. That’s all that mattered.

I wasn’t on the streets for very long before two firefighters saw me and ran toward me. It was easy to see why, as I was sure I was looking like a bloody mess. The firefighters approached me, and I could tell there were trying to speak to me. But I walked past them, and continued on my way home. I then felt one of them grab me from behind and began carrying me. I struggled to be released from their grasp, because I knew they were going to take me to a hospital.

I yelled and screamed about how I had to go see if my family was okay, and that seemed to catch their attention. They asked me where I thought they might be, and I told them in our home not far from here. They looked at each other for a brief moment, before finally telling me they would take me there, since they were waiting on more ambulances to arrive.

They carried me to my home, and if they weren’t, and I was on my own two feet, I may have fainted and collapsed. Like many other buildings in Dresden, my home was just a pile of fiery rubble.There was no way my family could have survived. I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was foolish of me to believe that my home would be unaffected when just about every other building in the area was destroyed, but…

I began crying. Crying more than I had ever before. The realization that I would never see my family ever again hit me like a truck. The firefighter set me down on the street and gave me sympathetic pat on the shoulder before gathering other firefighters and a hose to put out the fire on my home. I laid down on the road, and curled up into a tight ball. I closed my eyes, and because I had lost a staggering amount of blood and was beginning to feel very light-headed, I cried myself into unconsciousness.

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