Queen to Unveil WWII Monument in London: Germans Grudgingly Accept Bomber Memorial 

By in Berlin

A memorial to the airmen killed flying bombing raids against Germany in World War II will be unveiled in London on Thursday. The project has been criticized in Germany, where many see the devastating attacks as criminal. But there is grudging acceptance here of Britain's desire to honor its dead.

The RAF Bomber Command Memorial in London. Zoom
Horst Friedrichs/DER SPIEGEL

The RAF Bomber Command Memorial in London.

The planned unveiling in London of a memorial to the 55,573 Royal Air Force Bomber Command airmen killed in World War II has sparked muted criticism in Germany, where many regard the Allied air raids that destroyed entire cities and killed over 500,000 civilians as unjustified and criminal.

Helma Orosz, the mayor of Dresden, which was devastated in an Allied attack in February 1945, criticized the plans for the monument when they first became public in 2010, and spoke to London Mayor Boris Johnson about it.

"The planned memorial triggered astonishment in Dresden and was judged critically by us in diplomatic terms," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "I am pleased that this exchange of views led to the monument now featuring an inscription commemorating the victims of the bombing war. The objections many people in Germany had to such a memorial have been taken seriously and I welcome this very much. It's a further gesture of reconciliation between Britain and Germany."

The 73-meter- (240-foot-) wide memorial, a tall pavilion flanked by colonnades, will be inaugurated in a ceremony in Green Park near Buckingham Palace at midday on June 28. Queen Elizabeth will unveil a nine foot high bronze sculpture inside it showing seven Bomber Command aircrew.

Thousands of Bomber Command veterans, widows and families are expected to attend and there will be a flypast including the RAF's last flying Lancaster bomber, which will drop red poppies over the park as a symbol of remembrance.

Late Recognition

The ceremony will complete a decades-long campaign by Bomber Command veterans to get acknowledgment for their losses and for the contribution they made to winning the war. The scale of the civilian casualties inflicted in the raids made Britain reluctant to honor them publicly. The airmen weren't recognized by medal or memorial, and Winston Churchill didn't mention them in his victory speech.

The bombing raids were a response to German attacks on British cities and were stepped up massively in the summer of 1944 after the D-Day landings. Their aim was to destroy Germany's military machinery and to crush public morale.

Many Germans believe that Dresden, where up to 25,000 people were killed in the Feb. 13 raid that caused a firestorm, symbolizes the ruthlessness and pointlessness of a bombing campaign that failed to break their spirit or bring their industry to its knees.

The military impact of the air raids has been the subject of decades of controversy.

'It Awakens Sad Memories'

"Everyone understands that such a memorial of course awakens sad memories in a city like Dresden," said Holger Zastrow, chairman of the Free Democratic Party's parliamentary group in the Dresden city council and deputy chairman of the national party.

"By rebuilding the city's Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), which was supported by many British donations, we in Dresden created a strong symbol for peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. For me that is exactly the right message in the current time."

Zastrow has described the planned memorial as a "tasteless" blow to the feelings of the people of Dresden.

Ursula Elsner, who survived the attack, had said in 2010 that Dresdners were appalled by the plan. She declined to comment on Monday.

Neo-Nazis regularly converge on Dresden for the anniversary of the attack in an attempt to hijack the ceremonies. They refer to it as a "Bombing Holocaust" -- a term that seeks to belittle Germany's own guilt by equating the campaign with the murder of 6 million Jews. This year, the extremists were heavily outnumbered by some 13,000 people who came to mark the event in a peaceful, non-political way.

'Such a Relief That it Has Come'

Veteran Dennis Wiltshire, 93, who served in Bomber Command between 1939 and 1945, said in a statement published on the memorial's website: "The 55,573 Bomber Command aircrew have always been in my mind. In truth, at this age, I never expected to see this memorial being built, so it is such a relief that it has come after almost 70 years of waiting.

"The fellas are still gone but this means that families have a place to come and pay their respects, and will hopefully give younger people a better understanding of Bomber Command and the sacrifice that was made."

The campaign for a memorial was led by Bee Gees singer Robin Gibb who died of cancer at the age of 62 in May.

'Bomber Command Made Decisive Contribution'

Professor Rolf-Dieter Müller, a German military historian who headed a commission investigating the extent of the civilian casualties in Dresden, said: "Germans have a contradictory and difficult relationship with the bombing campaign because the civilian losses were so great and one has the impression that Bomber Command wasn't just bent on destroying Hitler's war machine but on terrorizing the civilian population and crushing morale."

"But Bomber Command made a decisive contribution towards the Allied victory over Germany," Müller told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Without the Allied air raids, Hitler would have been able to carry on the war longer and more terribly, possibly with the use of poison gas and even nuclear weapons. In my opinion, the bombing was not just legitimate but even a necessary instrument to help end the war."

"Is it justified in war to factor in civilian losses and collateral damage? We judge by different standards today than in the 1940s. One overlooks the fact that the bombing crews suffered immense losses themselves, it wasn't a cakewalk for the RAF or the United States Air Force. Germany must respect the fact that the British see the need to honor the bombing crews with a memorial."

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