The other day, I listened to an interview, recorded very recently, with a British man, now over 100 years old – a prisoner of war I suspect – who was caught up in the bombing of the German city of Dresden by British and American air forces, 75 years ago. He came across as a very ordinary man, honest and straightforward, probably with little education beyond the elementary that would have been standard when he was school age.
Talking with the interviewer, he describes scenes so harrowing you just don’t want to hear of them – at least, in one sense you don’t. But in another, you do; we all do; scenes which we need to hear about in order to lead us to feel in our hearts what he did that night – a night when the ‘stupidity’ of war, as he put it, was so blatantly, cruelly exposed. And to realize what equally inhuman cruelty is being visited on other human beings, on a day-to-day basis even now, by governments in our name.
Describing those scenes, as he does, in his dry, undramatic – yet from time to time emotion-choked – words, brings home a truly terrifying reality. It would be a thick-skinned listener, man or woman, who did not have to wipe a tear from their eye. Towards the end of the recording, the interviewer asks him if there had been any one event that night which he would remember above all others.
Yes, he said. There was. It was after the bombardment had ended and he was working with a German fire crew. They discovered, in a corner of a cellar so choked with still burning hot rubble and fallen masonry that it took them an hour to get into it, four women with two small children, still miraculously alive. It took the men another hour to get them out. Having achieved that, in the midst of the still red hot chaos of the firestorm the British and American bombers had created, everybody in that fire crew – “ – don’t matter what nationality they were,” he says, ” we were holding each other and were so happy we’d found these people alive – we were united in the feeling that even in the midst of something as terrible as that, people are really all one.”
Those few words, spoken by a very ordinary man who, with his companions, had lived through a man-made hell, is a summation of all that is in the Bible, in Vedanta, Zen, The Tao etc. And he knew the truth of it, not simply because he had lived it, but because he was it. He knew that because he was that. As are we all.
For information – In four night raids, over 1200 British and American heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tonnes of bombs and incendiary devices, creating a firestorm which destroyed 6.5 square kilometres of the city and killed 25,000 people.