|Halberstadt, a quiet hamlet dating from the 9th century, was another well-preserved medieval town in
Saxony with a Gothic cathedral dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, a Romanesque basilica from
the 12th and 13th centuries, an ancient town hall and a remarkable assortment of very old timber
framed dwellings which had survived famine, fire and plague through the centuries. An intelligent
town, its gymnasium contained a library of over 40,000 volumes.
It is located in a fertile country to the north of the Harz Mountains and was made an episcopal see in
the year 814. The town received a charter from Bishop Arnulf in 998. In 1113, it was burnt by the
Emperor Heinrich V., and in 1179 by Heinrich the Lion. It was a popular trade point in the 13th-14th
centuries. Then, during the Thirty Years' War, it was occupied alternately by the Imperialists and the
Swedes, the latter of whom handed it over to Brandenburg. The Bishopric of Halberstadt was
secularized in 1648 according to the Peace of Westphalia and it became a Principality within
Brandenburg-Prussia upon the downfall of Napoleon.
It later became home to the businesses of sugar, cigars, paper, gloves, sausage, machinery and beer.
It survived the war until the end, when the Allies decided its number was up. On the late morning of
April 8, 1945, at the very tail end of the conflict, a single 16 minute attack by US bombers in an
action nicknamed "Operation Sardine" swooped down from the sky like birds of death and destroyed
nearly the entire historic town of Halberstadt in a massive, vengeful, unnecessarily violent bombing.
The Americans at this point in the war had begun following the British tradition of bombing civilians.
As per the British method of incinerating antique towns, the detonating bombs first tore off the roofs
and imploded the walls, which clogged the roads and destroyed the water lines so that the fires which
broke out when the incendiary bombs rained down could not be fought. The tremendous heat melted
the old church steeples and fried people to the roads. The city was 82% destroyed with its ancient
center getting the worst of it. Over 550 tons of bombs fell on Halberstadt and in less than a half hour
she lay in rubble and ashes, with 2,500 of its civilians dead. Only 1,350 of the bodies could they be
identified, as the others were torn, mutilated, burned or mangled so horribly that their identity could
no longer be established. Of the approximately 65,000 registered inhabitants of the city, 35,000 were
left suddenly homeless as half of all residential buildings of the city disappeared in those few minutes.
There were disasters in cellars, bunkers, the hospitals, on the street and in the homes as people
frantically fought for their lives. 900 commercial businesses no longer existed. In addition, all of the
cultural facilities such as cinemas and theaters were totally destroyed, as were half of all hospitals and
3 schools ( 7 others were unusable). Electricity, gas and water were all gone. The main roads were
impassable and the train station and trams were gone.
Three days after the destruction, the Americans moved into the city and they immediately freed
foreign prisoners in nearby work camps and let them to run amok through the town of unprotected
women and children and old folks, allowing them to rob, rape and loot everything they could get their
hands on. In this scene of pain, stench, fear and grief, one and a half million cubic meters of rubble
and debris covered the totally destroyed historic city center in an area of about 1.1 square kilometers,
creating a rubble pyramid 100 meters high. The town was then handed over to the Russians for
decades of decay and communist slavery.
After the collapse of the GDR, many of Halberstadt's younger inhabitants lost their jobs and moved
away and the town also has a severe declining birth rate. Population fell from over 48,000 in 1987 to
about 38,000 today because so many inhabitants left in search of better prospects elsewhere.
|When Day Turned to Night in Halberstadt