Dresden WW II bombing toll revised downward

The aerial bombing of Dresden, Germany, in 1945 killed as many 25,000 people, significantly fewer than has been estimated in the 65 years since the bombing took place.
Two photos, dated 1945, left, and 2005, show August Schreitmueller's sandstone sculpture Guete overlooking the destroyed city Dresden and a similar vantage point from the city hall tower, right. ((Richard Peter, left, and Matthias Rietschel/Associated Press))

The aerial bombing of Dresden, Germany, during the Second World War killed as many 25,000 people, significantly fewer than has been estimated in the 65 years since the bombing took place, a new report has found.

Previous estimates have ranged generally from 20,000 to 500,000 fatalities and were mostly speculative, according to Dresden's Historical Commission, which released the report Wednesday.

The report's findings are significant because the number has "remained a topic of contentious discussion" and have helped to frame Germany's remembrance of the event, the commission said.

The commission's report will antagonize German neo-Nazis, who in recent years have blamed the bombings for as many as a million deaths. They have called the raids a Holocaust, comparing them to the killing of six million Jews during the Second World War.

Up to 7,000 members of Germany's far right rioted in Dresden last month when the city marked the 65th anniversary of the bombings.

'A torrent of destruction'

Allied troops, including Canadian bombers, conducted the air raids between Feb. 13 and Feb. 15, 1945.

Dresden, then with a population of 640,000, was an industrial and cultural centre that became a key railway point during the war. It also harboured chemical and munitions plants and an aviation oil refinery. It was a haven for refugees, too, who were fleeing the Russian invasion of troops in the east.

A CBC Radio report of Feb. 14, 1945, described the bombers as having "unleashed a torrent of destruction ... leaving endless fires and explosions in their wake" and parts of the city "saturated with fires."

Burial records analyzed

The Historical Commission, which received funding in January 2007, used burial records to "essentially reconstruct the processes of recovery, registration and burial after the bombing," according to the commission's website.

The commission also rejected assumptions that the number of dead was so high that it was impossible for authorities to document recovery or burial.

Their findings — that the bombings caused up to 25,000 deaths — corroborates figures released by Dresden authorities in 1945 and 1946.