International Conference "Remembrance
as a commitment for peace, democracy and human rights"
(Dresden, Germany).

Valery Novoselsky

On 8-11 February 2008 Cultural Bureau of Saxony in cooperation with the municipality of Dresden and several German foundations has held the international conference "Remembrance as a commitment for peace, democracy and human rights". The main languages of a given event were English and German, the simultaneous translation of speeches was provided. The conference focused on contemporary dialogue on the value of history and identity in strengthening of peace, democracy and human rights in Europe. More then 90 delegates from various countries of Europe and from Israel participated in a conference. First two days of the event were held within the premises of Evangelical Reform Church, then, the next two days in the Cultural center of local Jewish community situated near by.

Reflections on merciless bombing of Dresden by the aviation of British and American Allies in February 1945, on the reasons and consequences, it’s results and lessons, stimulated interesting discussions in a course of the whole event. The opinion of some about the Allies, who delayed the destruction of the system of genocide by non-bombing of railways leading to concentration camps and also committed a war crime while killing about 25 thousands and wounding 30 thousands civil citizens in a city without meaningful military significance, found equivocal responses of discussion participants. There was also sharp criticism regarding the term Bombenholocaust («bombing holocaust») in relation to bombardment of the cities of Germany by the Allies - the term used by the country’s right-wing politicians.

Anti-military rhetoric was the core of academic level lectures of intellectuals from Dresden, Coventry, Wrotzlaw and Yad Vashem Museum (Mr. Yariv Lapid). The information from books, film exhibition and recollections of concrete people who survived the bombings in Dresden (13-15 February 1945) and in Coventry (14 November 1940) have helped to understand all the dramatism of given historical period. One specific item was not forgotten there and it is the book written by Kurt Vonnegut in 1969 "Slaughterhouse-Five" - an autobiographic novel of a writer about the bombing of Dresden, where he resided since December 1944 as an American prisoner of war (POW). He was one among the seven American POWs, who survived in this city that day... His experience was reflected in many of his writings, especially, in the novel, which brought world-wide fame to the author. In writer’s opinion, the bombings were not caused by military necessity. In the USA this novel has been subjected to censorship.

In addition to the topic of war crimes, there was the presentation by Dr. Krzysztof Ruchniewicz on mass execution by NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs) of 15 thousands of Polish POWs (of Polish, Ukrainian, Belarusian and even Georgian ethnicities) in Katyń Forest in the spring of 1940 (including B.Shtainberg - the chief rabbi of Polish Armed Forces ...).

The staff member of Cultural Bureau of Saxony presented to the audience the list with the names of 22 Jews of Dresden, who escaped the deportation to Theresin or concrete execution (which continued even at the end of WW2) due to the chaos in ruined city. Among these survivors was Dr. Victor Klemperer - philologist, writer and journalist, known in post-war world as the researcher of totalitarian thinking and language. These people have survived into Victory!

The delegates had the opportunity to visit the offices of local organizations participating in a process of reconciliation and Judeo-Christian dialogue. Together with the churchman from Coventry, UK, and the eloquent activists of organization representing the interests of victims of a terrorist attack in Madrid (11 March 2004), I had a chance to meet the people from local Association "13 February 1945" in Dreikonigskirche (translation "Church of the Three Kings").

Until recently the topic of barbaric bombing of Dresden have been subjected to speculations of different political forces: either during the period of Cold War, either in attempts to revive the neo-Nazism or in pursuing the goal to improve someone’s "politically correct" image. Over and over again, in between the lines, the disaffection between the groups of people and even the antagonism to foreigners have been heard in connection with such fact ... The impression on inability of Dresden’s residents in having their own voice has been shaped. However, the general public of Dresden already took it’s own initiative on holding of mass commemorations of the victims of World War Two in this city on Elba River. And such initiatives are carried out with the active role of youth, of foreigners living here and of local Jewish community (including the immigrants from CIS and Baltics).

The idea for conducting of such events is concrete "To learn correct lessons from the past and to reach the reconciliation for the sake of a better future". And the film about the encounter of American and Israeli family members of Holocaust survivors with the children of the ones who served in Wehrmacht and SS, demonstrated in the beginning of a conference, is a glaring example of such aspiration for better world, spared from hatred and war.

Mr. Valery Novoselsky
Consultant of European Roma Information Office (ERIO)

Galilee, Israel

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