Blocking the Neo-Nazis: Peaceful March Remembers Dresden Bombing

In the past, right-wing extremists have sought to dominate Dresden efforts to remember the World War II bombing of the city on Feb. 13, 1945. But on Wednesday night, a vast human chain blocked a planned neo-Nazi march while peacefully marking the tension-filled anniversary.

Photo Gallery: Keeping Neo-Nazis at Bay in Dresden Photos
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Thousands of people joined hands to form a human chain in Dresden Wednesday, blocking a planned neo-Nazi march and remembering the World War II bombing of the city 68 years before.

During the night of Feb. 13-14, 1945 Allied bombers began a violently destructive bombing campaign of Dresden, decimating wide swaths of the historic center of the city on the Elbe River, including its centerpiece, the protestant cathedral Frauenkirche, or "Church of Our Lady." An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the raid.

For years, neo-Nazis have used the anniversary of the bombing to march on the city. The bombing of Dresden holds great emotional significance for some because of the vast destruction of the city -- long admired for its beauty and cultural heritage -- and because of the number of people killed in the attack. It has often been instrumentalized by right-wing extremists to highlight what they see as Allied barbarity.

Keeping Neo-Nazis at Bay

Peaceful protesters have been gathering in Dresden in recent years in counter demonstrations to the neo-Nazi marches, and local politicians say they have been effective in keeping the right-wing presence down. Until just a few years ago there were an estimated 6,000 right-wing marchers in the city on the anniversary each year. This year police say there were between 600 and 800.

Several arrests were made Wednesday, and some 3,000 police officers from around Germany were on site. Two police officers received head wounds after being attacked by masked assailants, and were treated in a local hospital. For the most part, however, Wednesday evening's march was peaceful.

Thousands of the victims of the 1945 bombing were buried at the Heide cemetery, where local dignitaries held a moment of silence on Wednesday. Dresden Mayor Helma Orosz said Wednesday that the bombing was deeply ingrained in the city's memory, but stressed that Germany bore the blame for World War II.

Bells at the city's churches rang at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, marking the time when the first bombs started falling 68 years before. Numerous churches held services and prayers for peace earlier in the day.

mbw -- with wires

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