By Ray Furlong

A ceremony has been held in the central German town of Kassel, marking the 60th anniversary of an allied bombing raid that claimed more than 10,000 lives in a single night. The event, at which eye-witnesses will relive the horror of that night, comes just as a new book has been published with shocking photographs of German air raid victims which have never been seen before.

The pictures in Brandstaetten (Places of Fire), are truly gruesome. Heaps of twisted, charred bodies amid piles of rubble are a visual echo of Holocaust victims - and therefore also a hugely provocative image. "We've all seen the pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But these (new) images are not part of the iconography of the war," says historian Joerg Friedrich, who compiled the book.

"If you like looking at these photos you're crazy and you need a doctor. But this is a matter of truth." Mr Friedrich collected the photos from town archives across Germany while touring the country last year presenting a book about the Allied bombing. That book, The Fire, caused controversy both here and in Britain by suggesting the air campaign may have been a war crime. His new work has also sparked passionate debate. "Can you show the body parts of bomb victims collected in bathtubs? The charred corpses of women, who crouched to the floor in a desperate search for oxygen?" asked Die Welt newspaper.


Sueddeutsche Zeitung went even further - suggesting the reader consign the book to a dustbin, while a cultural magazine programme on ARD public television wrote it off as a "provocation" that sought to "compare the air war with the Holocaust". Mr Friedrich says the decision to publish the photos was not easy.

In the end, the former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl played a part in convincing him - with the proviso that British, Dutch, Polish and other civilian victims of air warfare also be portrayed. But he says the British Public Records Office would not release the kind of horrific images that he found of German victims.

"There were 15,000 deaths in southern British cities between September and December 1940. But you won't see any photos of them," he says. "The Germans admired the endurance of the Londoners in the Tube stations. But this is the heroic story. If you look at the image of the suffocated grandmother cradling her grandchild in a bunker, there is no heroism."

Keeping pictures like that, and the ones in the book, under wraps may be regarded as a sign of sensitivity - maintaining the dignity of the victims. But could it also produce a censored, sanitised version of history? "Goebbels forbade these photos of our victims from the German papers," says Mr Friedrich. "In a way, we've obeyed his orders until this day."

Source: BBC News