Several things, musical and otherwise, have lately reminded me of the city of Dresden. I know it’s early, but it is getting close enough to the 68th anniversary of the firebombing of that city on 13-15 February, 1945. So, I thought I’d cheer the blog a bit with these observations.
The bombing remains a hugely controversial event. I was reminded of that by mentioning it on the Althouse blog a few years ago, which got me into a flame war of my own. At the time, I commented it was a shame “lovely, Baroque Dresden” had been wrecked in The War (as us Boomers learned to refer to it: The War). I don’t know what led me to write something like that, except pure obliviousness. The words, “lovely, Baroque” set off a nutcase commenter, who, not having been anywhere near the military himself, never met a bomb he didn’t like. Things quickly turned ugly. What did I expect?
The world remains divided between those who think bombing Dresden was a War Crime, essentially because Anglo-Saxon Capitalists did it, and those who think it was totally justified, again, because brave, Anglo-Saxon Warriors did it, serving those awful Huns right for the Blitz. Mix Soviet Marxist-Lenninism and German nationalism in the caldron, and you have a witches’ brew that has poisoned any hint of dispassion on the subject since it happened. Some say 250,000 perished, others, a mere 25,000. For my own part, I am extremely sad the Silbermann organ in the Frauenkirche was destroyed (along with the rest of that edifice). I could go on and on about the burnt symbols of Christian Civilization, and what they mean, yada, yada. Others might be more upset about the poor circus horses, fresh off a performance with flaming costumes on their backs, running terrified through the exploding streets. Burn the damn place down in 45 minutes during a random evening in February, and it does make for gripping stories.
And then there are the more exotic appreciations of the event, such as that of the habitual Althouse commenter who, as an artist, seems to have viewed it with a Brutalist sensibility. The drone of the bombers, the burning Zwinger, the collapsing Frauenkirche, the scream of people trying to escape the flames in “lovely Baroque” fountains while boiling to death, the terrified horses and the exploding circus, why, all this was a Gesamtkunstwerk beyond imagining, and the greatest thing the Anglo-American Air Forces ever did. At least that’s the logical conclusion I drew from his remarks. We all know the internet is full of such people.
I also should mention Kurt Vonnegut, another artist, albeit a much better literary one. You ought to read him. He really put this event in front of Americans. But I wouldn’t dream of telling you what to think, as I am not selling any particular normative take on this (or hardly anything else), nor do I want to be a literary critic. Vonnegut did unhinge Dresden from time in the course of Slaughterhouse Five, but that was a device dreamt up after the fact for the story. It was a made-up, literary unhinging. The picture that’s the subject of this post is made-up as well, but it was made-up well before the event, and so qualifies as that rare and deeper thing than literature: genuine prophecy. Prophecy, by definition, disjoints time—strikingly, if it’s good enough. I think this is damn good.
So, here’s the painting, done in a kind of German Expressionist style by Hans Grundig, a Communist hack, who had a long career creating otherwise drab art appropriate to celebrate Stalin’s social handiwork. I believe every person with a creative spark, no matter how pedestrian otherwise, has the possibility of genius. This is Hans Grundig’s one inspired work. To give it its proper Socialist label, it’s really in a New Objectivist style, but who’s picking art-historical nits?
The picture shows the destruction of Dresden from simultaneous multiple perspectives. The bent cross atop the dome of the Frauenkirche and the cupola of the Zwinger Palace are visible among the flames and smashed buildings. Waves of bombers are overhead in the lurid night pierced by searchlights, while the population is literally “buried” in the wrecked city, some with gas masks as useless protection against what proved to be an effective mix of incendiary and high-explosive bombs.
Yes, a striking picture of the events of February, 1945.
Odd thing, it was painted in 1936