|Death and Terror in Hamburg (click on images)
|"Of the children these dreadful nights, what can be said? Their fright became horror and then panic
when their tiny minds became capable of grasping the fact that their parents could no longer help
them in their distress. They lost their reason and an overwhelming terror took over. Their world had
become the shrieking centre of an erupting volcano from which there could be no physical escape.
Nothing that hell offered could be feared more. 'By the hand of man they became creatures, human
in form but not in mind. Strangled noises hissed from them as they staggered pitifully through the
streets in which tar and asphalt ran as streams. Some of these tiny creatures ran several hundred feet.
Others managed only twenty, maybe ten feet. Their shoes caught fire and then their feet. The lower
parts of their legs became flickering sticks of flame. Here were Joans of Arcs... thousands of them.
All who had perished unjustly on the fires of the Middle Ages were as nothing when compared with
what was happening that night. 'The sounds of many were unintelligible and undoubtedly many more
called for their parents from whom they were parted by death or by accident. They grasped their
tortured limbs, their tiny burning legs until they were no longer able to stand or run. And then they
would crash to the ground where they would writhe in the bubbling tar until death released them
from their physical misery." from "The Night Hamburg Died" by Martin Caidin
|Hamburg's population would be halved once again by World War Two, mostly in what was at the
time considered the heaviest assault in aerial warfare history. British officials later called it the
"Hiroshima of Germany". From the beginning of the war up to October 1,1943 alone, 1,200,086
German civilians were killed or reported missing and believed killed in air raids. The number of
people bombed out and evacuated for safety was already 6,953,000. Figures did not include refugees.
The situation would become far more grim over the next 2 1/2 years as the war proceeded.
It was a joint effort, the RAF, Canadians and the USA combined to create an "around the clock"
bombing mission spanning 8 days and 4 nights. On the night of July 27, 1943, starting shortly before
midnight, Hamburg was by attacked hundreds of aircraft in a massive, intentional effort to incinerate
the city and its civilian inhabitants. On that July night, as part of "Operation Gomorrah," utter hell
devoured the city. With this event, the world media, starting in London, somehow managed to turn
the mass murder of German civilian populations, especially those of the working class, into an
“acceptable” and “legitimate” method of war. The term "Hamburgerzation" was used by the RAF to
jokingly refer to future bombing missions.
On that hellish July night, Hamburg was engulfed in a chasm of flames five times the height of the
Empire State Building with winds exceeding 150 miles per hour. Everything and everyone in its path
was sucked up and swallowed alive. It fried people to the burning pavement and roasted people in
shelters as they hopelessly struggled for breath. "Operation Gomorrah", the hideously ten day long
firebombing of Hamburg by the British, left 60 percent of the city destroyed under the rain of 9,000
tons of bombs. It murdered 40,000 to 50,000 people in as an agonizing manner as could be devised
and left a million people suddenly homeless. The university library with its 800,000 volumes was
gone, the ancient city was wholly obliterated, yet Hamburg would be hit 69 times by war's end.
A Swiss eye-witness of the Hamburg raids, writing in the National-Zeitung, reported: "Whole streets,
squares, and even districts had been razed. Everywhere were charred corpses, and injured people
had been left unattended..Charred adult corpses had shrunk to the size of children. Women were
wandering about half-crazy. That night, the largest workers' district of the city was wiped out."
Neutral nations reporting bombing fatalities estimated much higher figures at the time than we hear
today. Swedish reporters described the phosphorus bombs: "They talked of the strange sensation of
seeing gardens on fire in a city ravaged by flames. Hundreds of people were found burned to death in
the streets and the clothing was scorched off many by the fires. About 47,000 dead bodies were
counted before search work began, and estimates of people killed vary from 65,000 to 200,000. In
Hamburg, 18,000 people alone were reported to have been drowned there when the Elbe Tunnel
received a direct hit."
|Der Krieg by Georg Heym 1887-1912
|Now he has arisen: he, who slept so long,
from the depth arisen, out of arches strong.
Huge he stands and unknown in the twilight land,
and the moon he crushes in his blackened hand.
Broad on city's evening, broad and angrily
shadow falls, and frost of strange obscurity
makes the market's bustle stop in icy scare.
Silence reigns. They turn - and no one is aware.
In the street it comes to touch her shoulders light:
Just a question. Answerless. A face goes white.
From afar sound whining abbey bells so thin
and the beards are quaking round the pointed chin.
High up, on the mountains, he begins to dance,
and he cries: You fighters, rise up and advance!
Echoes sound: around his shaking, blackened head
swings a chain of skulls he wrenched from thousand dead.
Tower-like he squashes embers' dying gleam
and, where day is fleeing, fills with blood the stream.
Countless are the corpses swept into the reeds,
covered by white feathers, where the vulture feeds.
He stands over ramparts blue of flames around,
over darkened streets with heavy weapons sound,
over broken gates where gatemen lie across,
over bridges bending under human dross.
Through the night he chases fire across the world:
red-fanged hound of hell with savage scream unfurled.
Out of darkness leaps dominion of night,
frightful at its border shine volcanoes bright.
And a thousand redcaps, pointed far and wide,
litter up the dark plain, flicker up astride.
Who below in alleys still runs to and fro
he sweeps in the fire, that it hotter grow.
And the flames are leaping, burning tree by tree.
Yellow bats of fire clawing endlessly.
And he thrusts his kiln-staff, dark and charcoal-bound
deep amongst the trees to stoke the flames around.
An important city, chocked in yellow glow,
jumped without a whisper to the depths below,
while he stands, a giant, over glowing urns,
wild, in bloody heavens, thrice his torch he turns
over stormstrung clouds reflecting fiery brands,
to the deadly dark of frigid desert sands,
down he pours the fires, withering the night,
phosphorus and brimstone on Gomorrha bright.
|Note that the poet died long before this war
|St. Nikolai in Hamburg, below, was the tallest building in the world from 1847-1876 and was once
the workplace of Karl Philpp Emanuel Bach. It was destroyed by bombing in Operation Gomorrha
along with the other four Hamburg churches he directed, pictured at left below.