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Dresden joins hands for peace, and against neo-Nazis

People form a human chain encircling Dresden, Germany. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

Dresden, GERMANY – Encircling the entire old town of Dresden, 13,000 people formed a human chain on Tuesday to mark the 79th anniversary of the bombing of Dresden and in response to Sunday’s neo-Nazi marches.

The human chain was held under the motto “Together Vigilant” and commemorated the victims of the World War II bombing raids in February 1945 as well as the millions of people who died during the Nazi tyranny and the suffering caused by today’s wars.

“I’m here today in memory of the bomb victims and with thoughts against the right,” said Thomas Schöner of Dresden, who took part in the human chain.

‘Grannies against the right’ stress the imporance of peace. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

Ursula Bergs, who witnessed the bombing of Dresden as a child on her birthday, shared her thoughts with the crowd on Tuesday.

“I hope that we keep our peace so that our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can also experience their birthdays in peace,” Bergs said.

After the human chain, people placed candles in front of the Frauenkirche in memory of the victims. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

The human chain was also created to emphasize the unity of the city community and to symbolically form a kind of protective wall around the old town and democratic values.

Ulrike May of Pirna, a town south of Dresden, said: “Me and my husband want to support Dresden today in setting an example against right-wing extremism.”

The human chain is a “guardian of democracy,” according to Professor Ursula Staudinger, the organizer of the annual event.

It is a “strong sign of the joint vigilance of Dresdeners and the courage that is needed every day to stand up for human rights and the dignity of every human being and thus for our free and democratic basic order,” Staudinger said.

The Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra invited people to sing together, and they did.

Together with hundreds of other citizens, the participants sang songs for peace and democracy, because “singing makes you strong,” said Thomas de Maiziére, president of the Dresden Philharmonic Society.

“Singing songs together for love, freedom, peace and God’s blessing creates unity far beyond this square,” de Maiziére emphasized.

(Video by Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

The human chain closed to the ringing of church bells for a full 10 minutes, symbolically encircling the entire historic city center.

(Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

Before the human chain closed, Dresden’s Lord Mayor Hilbert gave a speech in which he warned against the rise of right-wing extremism.

“We are standing here because there are more and more political extremists in our country who are questioning our democratic constitution,” he said.

The human chain also included the Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Jill Gallard, the British Honorary Consul Daniel Senf and a delegation from Dresden’s twin city of Coventry, England, which also was heavily bombed during WWII.

(Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

There is great disagreement in Dresden about how the annual commemoration each Feb. 13 should be handled.

While the commemoration was used as an anti-Western propaganda tool in the GDR era, major street battles between left-wing and right-wing forces took place in the years that followed.

The human chain successfully attempted to allow for a dignified, non-political commemoration and to send a signal against the rise of right-wing extremism by closing off the historic city center with a huge human chain.

For many, it was a successful sign against the right, but others – left-wing forces in particular – found the human chain lacking.

Antifa and the “Dresden Wiedersetzen” alliance held their own protest on Tuesday. (Lina Marie Schulenkorf/YJI)

According to the “Dresden Wiedersetzen” alliance, the human chain was briefly broken by activists to demonstrate their criticism.

The alliance, which is mainly supported by youth organizations such as the Jusos (Young Social Democrats), the Linksjugend (Left-wing youth) and Junge Grüne (Young Greens), criticizes the special role of Dresden, which was destroyed like thousands of other German cities. They describe it as a memorial circus and an attempt to hide Dresden’s guilt as an important city for the deportation of Jews and for the arms industry under the Nazi regime.

Dresden Wiedersetzen also organizes other demonstrations at the same time as the human chain and at times there are altercations between left-wing and right-wing demonstrators.

Lina Schulenkorf is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

More from this author about the February 11-13 events in Dresden:

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