Emblems of war trauma

Richard Peter's photograph entitled: 'View form the Rathaus tower.'(Deutsche Fotothek Dresden)
Richard Peter's photograph entitled: 'View form the Rathaus tower.'(Deutsche Fotothek Dresden)

DEVASTATING events like the destruction of Dresden and Hiroshima are powerful global emblems of war trauma decades after they happened, in part because they remain disputed, a new book has found.

Allied bombing raids killed more people in other German cities during World War Two, but it is Dresden that has become a global icon of the gratuitousness of warfare.

In her new book, After the Dresden Bombing, Pathways of Memory 1945 to the Present, Professor Anne Fuchs of the University of St Andrews explores why it remains in the public consciousness while similar events have slipped from public memory.

Professor Fuchs, professor of German, said: “What I am interested in is explaining why places like Dresden or Hiroshima or Nagasaki have remained as such big incidents in a global cultural memory?

“Dresden is remembered to this day, because there is now a huge awareness of the consequences of the trauma of warfare.

“At the same time this memory would not exist without the prominent role of the media who keep it alive by transmitting and recycling it.”

For her book she examined a wide range of media, from the time of the bombing of Dresden nearly 70 years ago, up to present day from photography, news articles, TV dramas and documentaries, fiction, diaries, archival documents, to poetry and fine art.

Kurt Vonnegurt’s seminal novel Slaughterhouse 5 and children’s book: An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo, examined in the book, exemplify the global reach of Dresden.


On the other hand, photographs of the destroyed city published as serialised photo books in the aftermath of the event helped the German people come to terms with the trauma of defeat by allowing them to quietly mourn their losses.

The book also suggests films and books touching on the subject were a way of passing on to the next generation the obligation to remember.

The final chapter examines how those who experienced the destruction of the city – both the elderly survivors and Allied pilots – still have irretrievably divided views but can now empathise with each other.