Lost in the firestorm of Dresden

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At the begin of the 20th century the German city of Dresden was called “the Florence of the Elbe” and considered as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The magnificent baroque architecture the surrounding natural beauty of south valley of the river Elbe and the surrounding hills, the mild and pleasant climate and modern infrastructure (the railway connection with Berlin and Leipzig, a steel bridge (1891–93), a cable railway (1898–1901), and a funicular (1894–95)), the world famous Dresden Academy of Fine Arts  have made Dresden an industrial and Fine Art center of the North East Europe.   During the Second World War, Dresden’s contribution to the war effort was minimal compared with other German cities. In February 1945, refugees fleeing the Russian advance in the east took refuge there. As Hitler had thrown much of his surviving forces into a defense of Berlin in the north, city defenses were minimal, and the Russians would have had little trouble capturing Dresden. It seemed an unlikely target for a major Allied air attack.   From February 4 to February 11, the “Big Three” Allied leaders–U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) met at Yalta in the USSR and compromised on their visions of the postwar world. Other than deciding on what German territory would be conquered by which power, little time was given to military considerations in the war against the Third Reich. However, Churchill and Roosevelt did promise Stalin to continue their bombing campaign against eastern Germany in preparation for the advancing Soviet forces.   Roosevelt and Churchill were keen to keep their promise. That triggered one of the greatest horror episodes of World War Two – the bombing of Dresden between February 13 and 15, 1945.   In the night of February 13th, some 800 British bombers had dropped more than 1,400 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 1,100 tons of incendiaries on Dresden, creating a great firestorm that destroyed most of the city and killed numerous civilians. Later that day, as survivors made their way out of the smoldering city, more than 300 U.S. bombers began bombing Dresden’s railways, bridges and transportation facilities, killing thousands more. On February 15, another 200 U.S. bombers continued their assault on the city’s infrastructure. All told, the bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force dropped more than 950 tons of high-explosive bombs and more than 290 tons of incendiaries on Dresden.
Dresden-after-the-bombing-of-February-1945
Dresden after the bombing of February 1945

According to official numbers from 2010 report from the city of Dresden there we between 22700 and 25 000 dead in these two days. Unofficial numbers go above 135 000, because the refugees were not counted as citizen of Dresden.

One of the victims of this inferno of fire was the studio of the well-known Dresden impressionist Ernst Richard Dietze (1880-1961), He was educated at the Dresden Academy of Art, Paris, Munich and Berlin, and later was a teacher at the Malsaal academy. During the World War One, E.R. Dietze was a German war painter and travelled with German troops through Macedonia in the period of 1916-1918.

In this great firestorm, almost all his paintings and drawings were destroyed. The remaining few are today in the collection of the Dresden Art Museum. Fortunately I managed to discover three  oil paintings (Viaduct of Ushkub 1916; Bandits camp 1916 and March of the German Troops near Dojran 1917) , two watercolors (Turkish market and Harem in Skopje) and two etchings (Skopje and Radika bridge) and add them in my collection. But I wonder how many other works from Macedonia were lost in that fire.

Aquaduct-in-Skopje-1916
Aquaduct in Skopje-1916
Camp-of-bandits-1916
Camp of bandits 1916
Skopje
Skopje
Radika
Radika
Turkish-market
Turkish market
Harem-in-Ushkub
Harem in Ushkub

The horror of Dresden continued until April 1945. More air attacks and more bombing. The US Eighth Air Force dropped 2,800 more tons of bombs on Dresden in three other attacks before the war’s end. On 5th of April, Russian Marshal Zhukov started the final offensive of capturing Dresden. There was a little resistance, yet there was a great chaos on the Dresden streets.

On 17 April 1945, in the very last minutes of the Dresden offensive, a strained bullet killed Dresden painter Georg Hänel (1879 – 1945). He was a student of Dresden Fine Art academy and known for his idyllic paintings of animals and portraits. Int he World War One, he was a war painter of German Army in Macedonia, where he was making drawings that were published in the German magazines in the period 1916-17. Not many of his Macedonian paintings survived the Dresden destruction. Few of his Macedonian works are today in the collection of the Dresden city Gallery (Macedonian Tobacco worker), few in the collection of her granddaughter Mrs. Christine Hänel who lives in South Africa (sketches and drawings from Prilep)  and one in my collection ( Prilep , women at water well 1918). The watercolors and drawings of Hänel are specific with their incredible level of details and masterful capture of light.

Like the loss of the studio of E.R. Dietze, one can only wonder how many more Macedonian works of art are lost on that chaos of Dresden?

Georg Hänel Prilep-Women at water well
Georg Hänel Prilep-Women at water well
Georg Hänel Monastery Archangel Michael-Prilep
Georg Hänel Monastery Archangel Michael-Prilep
Georg Hänel Prilep-mountains
Georg Hänel Prilep-mountains
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