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  • Melanie Wilson

How My Son Recreated (in Part) an Iconic Family Photo and the Bombing of Dresden 75 Years Later

Updated: Feb 14

This is not really my story to tell, but I’m going to tell it anyway.


It is my mother-in-law’s (Eva) story, but she is not around any more to tell it.


It is my son’s story, but he probably won’t tell it.


So here we are.


It was 75 years ago today that British and American forces bombed Dresden during World War II. About 25,000 people were killed.


Eva was born in Dresden in 1933. She wrote in her memoir about her childhood in Dresden, “The place we liked best was the Zwinger, a famous and very beautiful landmark, built by Peoppelman in around 1710 for the Saxon nobility. It was a wonderful place with many fountains and statues and we liked to play princesses and princes.”


She took this photo at Zwinger Palace with her siblings, sometime before they moved out of the city in 1944, the year before the bombing. Eva is the second girl from the right.


This is from her memoir:


“The year 1945 came around quickly, and with it, the end of the Second World War. But before that happened, our wonderful city, Dresden, the so-called “Florence-on-the-Elbe” was totally destroyed in one night. That was the night from the 13th to the 14th of February--just three months before the end of the war. It was a good thing we had left earlier because we would not have survived. As it was, we watched all that night from the little village we lived in as the phosphorous bombs were dropped and lit up the sky. The British Air Force flew over Dresden with their deadly weapons before midnight. After midnight, the Americans attacked the city, especially the railroad stations where thousands of eastern refugees had come in that night, fleeing from the Russians.


A once very beautiful city, with all of its irreplaceable art treasures was turned into rubble and ashes. The fires burned for days; the streets were almost impassable, if not because of the rubble everywhere, but because of the extreme heat caused by the fires.


Thousands of people tried to make their way to the river to escape the burning streets only to be gunned down by low flying aircraft. Because the city was presumed to be the safest city in Germany, Dresden’s anti-aircraft-men and machinery- were removed some time prior to the attack. It took workers several weeks to collect all the bodies and load them onto wagons for burial in mass graves.


So, here we were, watching from the little farmhouse in Hellendorf as our city was being destroyed in just one night. Nothing was left of the street we had lived on or the surrounding area.”


Eva moved to New York in 1952, and lived in New York and New Jersey until her death in 2012, one of New Jersey’s 40 victims of Hurricane Sandy.


A few years ago, her sister Gabrielle went back to Zwinger Palace and sat in the same spot she did during this original photo. Aunt Gaby is the little girl on the left looking down.


Last semester, my son Matthew studied abroad in Barcelona, and took a trip to Dresden to recreate the photo again. He is sitting (almost) in the spot his grandmother sat.


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