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    Allied Air Raid on Dresden: Dresden Death Toll

    How many people were killed in the Dresden air raid?

    Holocaust deniers often use the Allied bombing of Dresden (February 13-14, 1945) as evidence of Allied war crimes. They do so to minimize the systematic murder committed by the Nazis. Holocaust deniers claim:

    The number of German civilians killed in the Allied air raid on Dresden was at least 135,000 and possibly as high as 250,000. For example, in 1991 Holocaust denier David Irving claimed that only 25,000 people were killed at Auschwitz, but that “. . . we killed five times that number in Dresden in one night.” If the Allies committed such a massive atrocity at Dresden, or so Irving’s argument goes, then the importance of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a symbol of Nazi war crimes overextended.

    The facts are:

    Official reports show that between 25,000 and 35,000 people were killed during the Dresden air raid. Despite these official reports, Irving inflates the death toll in order to, by comparison, diminish the role of Auschwitz-Birkenau in the Holocaust as well as the number of Jews murdered throughout the war.

    It should also be noted that David Irving, who the London High Court in 2000 declared to be a Holocaust denier, racist, and antisemite, has provided varying figures on the number of Germans killed in the Dresden air raid:

    • In 1992, Irving told the audience at a conference of the Institute of Historical Review: “a hundred thousand people were killed [in Dresden] in a period of twelve hours by the British and Americans.”[1]
    • In 1993, in a publicity video made for the Australian public, Irving stated: “over 130,000 people died in that particular air raid.”[2]
    • Much earlier, however, in the 1966 edition of The Destruction of Dresden, Irving asserted that the figure was “between a minimum of 100,000 and a maximum of 250,000.”[3]

    Again, Irving and other Holocaust deniers emphasize the Dresden air raid in order to make a comparison between the air raid and Auschwitz-Birkenau. The inflate the number killed during the air raid and deflate the number of Jews murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau. For instance, during a television interview in November 1991, Irving claimed that 25,000 people were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but that “. . . we killed five times that number in Dresden in one night.”[4]  Holocaust deniers ultimately contend—through their false figures for both—that the Allied air raid on Dresden was a far worse war crime.

    The facts about the number of people killed in the air raid.

    The correct death toll—which is terrible enough—is between 25,000 and 35,000. This number is based on the Germans’ own historical records regarding the number of bodies recovered and cremated or buried. For proof of his inflated figures, Irving uses a forged document, entitled “TB-47” (Tagesbefehl 47, or Order of the Day No. 47), which he unearthed in unusual circumstances in 1963. Irving ascribed the authorship of this document to one Dr. Funfack, whom Irving described as the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for Dresden. In fact, Dr. Funfack was an urologist and was only a bystander with no inside knowledge. Before publishing “TB-47,” Irving failed to contact Dr. Funfack and confirm Dr. Funfack’s alleged authorship of the document. Rather, Dr. Funfack repeatedly tried to convince Irving to retract his claim that Dr. Funfack authored “TB-47,” but to no avail.[5]

    In 1965, Irving’s “TB-47” was shown to be a clumsy forgery after the real “TB-47” turned up. Irving was informed about the existence of the real “TB-47” on April 5, 1966. After more than a decade, the authentic “TB-47” was finally published (1977), proving once and for all that Irving’s version was a mere forgery.[6] Irving has never repudiated the forged “TB-47” and has continued to publish it in the appendix of his book Apocalypse 1945.

    What does the forged “TB-47” say and how does it compare to the real “TB-47”? The forged “TB-47” states that 202,040 people were killed in the Dresden air raid, with a possible death toll of 250,000. It also states that 68,650 bodies were burned in the Altmarkt (city square). However, when the authentic “TB-47” turned up in 1965, it showed that only 20,204 people were killed with perhaps as many as 25,000. The number of bodies burned in the Altmarkt was listed as 6,865. Someone, possibly in the Ministry of Propaganda, clumsily added a zero to the figures, inflating them 10 times over (20,204 became 202,040; 25,000 became 250,000; 6,865 became 68,650). The intention was clearly to inflame the German public.[7]

    Irving immediately began to publicize the exaggerated numbers from the forged “TB-47.” The city of Coventry in England had been nearly destroyed in a German air raid on November 14, 1940 with a large loss of life and property. In a letter to the Provost of Coventry, Irving suggested that an exhibition of photographs taken after the raid be staged. He wrote that the forged TB-47 should be reproduced “in large type” to “drive home the impact of the exhibition” because “its nonchalance and the casualties it mentions have a shattering effect.”[8]

    In correspondence, Irving describes the forged “TB-47” as a “sensation” and stated that there was no doubt as to the “authenticity of the document.” In a letter to Stern, a German news magazine, Irving wrote that what we know of the death toll “constantly grows…Is that not very impressive?”[9]

    Contemporary scholarship contradicts Irving’s claims. Most responsible historians accept the death toll as somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000. For instance, historian Earl A. Beck, who extensively researched the air war in Germany, said “. . . the constant increase in estimates of the number killed in the raids does not comport with the facts. Official reports justify an estimate of between 25,000 and 35,000 killed. Figures that rose to 100,000 to 200,000 killed lost touch with reality.”[10]

    In 1994, Dresden-based historian Friedrich Reichert, citing previously unused sources in the city’s archives, published an authoritative account that convincingly reduced the figure to 25,000. He stated: “This figure can be regarded as close to definitive.”[11]

    Ruins in Dresden. By War Office official photographer, Taylor (Mr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
    Ruins in Dresden. By War Office official photographer, Taylor (Mr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

    Conclusion

    Irving knowingly promotes the forged “TB-47” so he can exaggerate the death toll in Dresden by a factor of 10. He wants to falsely compare the inflated death toll in Dresden to his own minimal assessment of the death toll at Auschwitz-Birkenau. As shown, legitimate historical research almost universally places the Dresden air raid death toll between 25,000 to 35,000.

    NOTES

    [1] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5)(5.2)(d)(i) at www.hdot.org. See also David Irving, “Life Under Fire” (“The Right to Be Wrong”) at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v13/v13n1p-8_Irving.html.

    [2] Videotape of speech, David Irving, The Search for Truth in History—Banned! 1993 in “David Irving: A Political Self-Portrait” “David Irving: A Political Self-Portrait: Electronic Edition.” (“1.2 Holocaust ‘myth’ as Jewish extortion, 1.2/L”).

    [3] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5)(5.2)(d)(i).

    [4] This Week, 28 November 1991 at Judge Charles Gray, Holocaust Denial on Trial, Trial Judgment (“XI. Justification: The bombing of Dresden, The Defendants’ criticisms of Irving’s account of the bombing, 11.7”) at www.hdot.org.

    [5] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5.2)(d)(iii)(A)(5-11).

    [6] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5.2)(d)(iv).

    [7] Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5.2)(d)(v)(2).

    [8] Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (Basic Books, 2002), p. 154.

    [9] Richard J. Evans, Lying About Hitler: History, Holocaust, and the David Irving Trial (Basic Books, 2002), p. 154.

    [10] Earl A. Beck, Under the Bombs: The German Home Front 1942-1945 (University of Kentucky Press, 1986), p. 179.

    [11] Friedrich Reichert, “Verbrannt bis zur Unkenntlichkeit,” in Dresden City Museum (ed). Verbrannt bis zur Unkenntlichkeit. Die Zerstörung Dresdens 1945 (Altenburg, 1994), pp. 40-62, 58 as cited in Richard J. Evans, David Irving, Hitler and Holocaust Denial, Section (5.2)(d)(i).