In This Review

The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945
The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945
By Sinclair McKay
St. Martin’s Press, 2020, 400 pp

On February 13, 1945, two days of air raids on the German city of Dresden began with 796 British bombers dropping blockbuster bombs and incendiaries, setting off a firestorm that left the city gutted and at least 25,000 dead. With Germany on the edge of defeat and Soviet troops closing in, there was little strategic need for this exercise in destruction. But years of war had blunted moral sensibilities. The Royal Air Force embraced the doctrine of city bombing with the conviction that killing huge numbers of civilians was worthwhile if it brought the war to a speedier end. Dresden had a rich artistic and cosmopolitan heritage, but it had already lost its Jews to the Holocaust, and its dogmatic Nazi leadership was still committed to the war effort. In this evocative and poignant account, McKay describes the bombing and its aftermath through the experiences of many of those involved, including the writers Victor Klemperer and Kurt Vonnegut, who had recently been taken prisoner by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. McKay ends on a positive note, describing the reconstruction of the city and its more recent role in efforts at reconciliation.