German side of World War II revealed

David Charter — The Australian July 22, 2013

Hamburg, July 1943: after a devastating firestorm deliberately set by RAF Bomber Command, tens of thousands lie dead in the city streets - a small boy has sought shelter in a fireman's arms. Click to enlarge / Focal Point Publications

GERMANY is to open its first museum dedicated to bomber offensives of World War II that will lay bare how the Allies attacked civilian areas.

Only now, with survivors of the bombing raids well into old age, have the German authorities felt able to portray themselves as victims as well as aggressors in a war narrative dominated by Nazi atrocities such as the Holocaust.

The new museum in Hamburg will commemorate the anniversary of the huge British attack, codenamed Operation Gomorrah, on the port 70 years ago this week that created a devastating firestorm and killed 34,000 people. It will be based at the Church of St Nicholas.

Richard Overy, the British adviser on the project, said it would put the destruction of Hamburg into context with an even-handed story of air-raids during the war. The museum is another step on Germany’s long journey to come to terms with its fascist past and follows the creation of memorials in Berlin to the victims of German genocide.

“The myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse,” said Professor Overy, author of The Air War and Bomber Command.

“The Germans tried to bomb military targets and by mid-1941 the British had given up on that idea and wanted to flatten city centres,” he said. “More people were killed in Hamburg than Dresden but nobody wanted to know that the object of bombing Hamburg was to create a firestorm and to kill very large numbers of people. There was a reluctance to focus on what had happened to Germans after what they had done to everybody else.”

The museum would not be revisionist, he said, and would avoid the accusation of war crimes against Arthur “Bomber” Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command. It would also deal with German attacks on Allied cities. It will open on September 1, the date the Germans invaded Poland.

The RAF raid by 791 aircraft on the night of July 24-25, 1943, was followed by 787 aircraft on July 27-28. Hamburg was targeted for its shipyards, U-boat port and oil refinery.

The new museum will not lose sight of the Holocaust. “In Hamburg, they gave Jewish apartments to bombed-out families,” Professor Overy said.

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