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Archbishop speaks of ‘deep wound’ of Dresden

16 February 2015


Hand-in-hand: dignitaries and residents of Dresden form a human chain, after a ceremony in the Frauenkirche, on Friday evening 

Hand-in-hand: dignitaries and residents of Dresden form a human chain, after a ceremony in the Frauenkirche, on Friday evening 

ANY suggestion that the Archbishop of Canterbury apologised for the bombing of Dresden was "manifestly false", a statement from Lambeth Palace said on Friday.

The rebuttal followed a report in the Daily Mail under the headline "Archbishop says sorry for bombing the Nazis". The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, has accused the newspaper of "lies, misrepresentation, slander, and brain-dead ideological nonsense".

"The Archbishop's comments were a reflection in a solemn ceremony on the tragedy of war," a Lambeth Palace spokesman said on Friday. "They very carefully avoided apologising, and those present, including the President of Germany, recognised the difference. In his speech, the President also recognised the fact that there is no equivalence with Nazi war crimes, and that the war started with Nazi aggression. Any suggestion that the Archbishop was apologising is manifestly false."

The Archbishop was among a delegation from the UK who attended a service commemorating the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden last week (News, 13 February). In a speech at the Frauenkirche, he said that even being invited, as a British church leader, was "nothing short of miraculous".

He described how Allied bombers had "brought death and destruction on a scale and with a ferocity it is impossible to imagine. In the rage of war our hearts inevitably harden, and increasingly brutal and devastating force is unleashed. . .

"Much debate surrounds this most controversial raid of the Allied bombing campaign. Whatever the arguments, events here 70 years ago left a deep wound and diminished all our humanity. So, as a follower of Jesus, I stand here among you with a profound feeling of regret and deep sorrow."

He concluded: "We should never underestimate the miracle which peace in Europe represents - arguably the most significant political process of reconciliation in history."

In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live after the service, the Archbishop was asked whether Britain and the United States should apologise for what happened in Dresden.

He replied: "That's a very complicated question, because when you listen to people who were in Bomber Command and you hear of their suffering. . . I lived in Coventry, and you see the suffering there; in London, we know of the Blitz, and in many other cities right across the United Kingdom and round the world I think it's more complicated than 'Should we apologise?' I think there is a deep need for profound sorrow at the events and the causes of such dreadful times as Europe lived through."

The Archbishop was co-director of the reconciliation ministry at Coventry Cathedral from 2002 to 2005.

In a blog written on Saturday, he expressed his "sadness" on seeing the Daily Mail headline: "No honest reading of what I said in the church, and on the BBC afterwards, could come anywhere near such an idea."

He referred to the death of his grandmother's brother on his first mission, in a Wellington bomber.

"I want to get back to the moving and tragic recognition in Dresden that the great evil of the Nazis created a great war, and during it terrible things were done, by necessity, by the nature of war," he wrote. "Churchill said 'Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.' So let us mourn and learn, honour the heroism of those who defeated Hitler and his regime, celebrate our freedoms, and, in the strength of Jesus Christ, struggle for peace and reconciliation, of which he is the source."

The Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, was scathing in his response to the Daily Mail.

"It is shameful that a so-called free press, so often 'defended' by the so-called 'popular' press, sees fit to celebrate the freedoms gained by the sacrifice of so many 70 years ago by stooping to lies, misrepresentation, slander, and brain-dead ideological nonsense," he wrote on his blog on Sunday. "Is the Daily Mail going to have the courage and integrity - values demonstrated by those who sacrificed so much during World War Two - to apologise for the scandalous headline and story published a couple of days ago?"                       

The Bishop of Coventry, the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth, has suggested that the 70th anniversary might be "an appropriate occasion for our Government to acknowledge the suffering of the city then, and to express sympathy with those who still bear its scars now. . . A word of kindness to the city of Dresden in this century would display to the world both that friendship is better than enmity and that healing the past requires generous gestures in the present."

In a lecture that he delivered at the Frauenkirche last year, he said that the bombing of both Dresden and Coventry "testifies to the barbarism into which Europe descended in the 1940s".


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