German president marks Dresden anniversary

Germany's President has used the anniversary of the Dresden bombing to warn against extremism.
Germany's President has used the anniversary of the Dresden bombing to warn against extremism.

Germany's president has called for his countrymen to stand up to extremism and nationalism, warning that hatred and a desire for authoritarianism are on the rise again in Europe.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden by allied forces at the end of World War II, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was important to recall who had started the devastating conflict.

The destruction of large parts of the baroque eastern German city have become a rallying point for those seeking to portray Germans as victims in the war.

"It was Germans who began this gruesome war," Steinmeier said.

"We won't forget the German guilt," he added. "And we stand by the responsibility that remains."

Still, Steinmeier said those who perished in the Dresden bombings deserved to be commemorated, just like those killed by Nazi Germany's aerial bombings in Guernica, Coventry, Naples, Le Havre and the Polish town of Wielun, where 1,200 people were killed by the Luftwaffe in the first hours of World War II.

Historians say the bombardment of Dresden in 1945 by American and British planes killed up to 25,000 people, including refugees and prisoners of war.

German nationalists have promoted the myth that as many as half a million civilians were killed in Dresden. Most recently the idea has been taken up by members of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which has grown into a significant force in German politics since its founding seven years ago.

Last week, the far-right party threw German politics into turmoil by unexpectedly backing a centrist candidate as governor in Thuringia state. The fumbled reaction to the situation by two other political parties - including Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Christian Democrats - triggered widespread outrage and numerous resignations, including that of Merkel's heir apparent.

After his speech, Steinmeier joined the Duke of Kent, a cousin of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, and thousands of Dresdeners to form a human peace chain in a gesture of reconciliation and to commemorate the victims of Nazi atrocities and mass bombings by all sides during World War II.

Australian Associated Press