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A sad day in the history of Würzburg!

It was supposedly a beautiful, mild and warm day, 16 March 1945, already somehow spring-like. It was so warm that you could already wear dresses and shorts - just like today. No one could really have imagined that total destruction would strike Würzburg that evening. But why should they?

Würzburg was a large city with more than 100,000 inhabitants, rich in cultural heritage and buildings, one of the most beautiful German cities of the Baroque period. Würzburg had no significant industry, certainly no war industry - on the contrary: Würzburg had important hospitals, and by taking in the sick, wounded and traumatised victims, Würzburg was also a hospital city.

Würzburg was able to trust the protective regulations of the Hague Land Warfare Regulations, along with the Geneva Conventions an essential part of international law, for its civilian population! In the event of war, the Hague Land Warfare Regulations also contain mutually binding restrictions on the sparing of buildings and facilities of social and societal importance - and of course of the people who sacrificially perform this act of humanity!

In short: Those who provide medical care for the sick and injured deserve special protection and will be spared - of course as an act of humanity !

Just like today.

18 minutes

The entire population of Würzburg had only 18 minutes on that evening of 16.03.1945 - only 3 weeks until the capitulation to the Americans.

At around 19:00, a public air warning had already been issued, and at around 20:00 a full alert was sounded for the city. At 21:07, the population of Würzburg was urged to exercise extreme caution based on a message from the radio service in Limburg.

With the first Royal Air Force marker bombs being dropped, led by Air Marshal Arthur Harris, the attack on the city began at 21:25.

"Bomber" Harris was responsible for the air war to demoralise the civilian population and had already been "successful" in his role a few weeks earlier, when Dresden was almost wiped out under his direction.

256 heavy demolition bombs weighing 395 tons (395,000 kg) alone covered the roofs of the city's houses that evening, shattering windows and doors in preparation for exactly 307,650 stick bombs that ignited a firestorm in the city.

Unimaginable suffering, more than 5,000 people were struck by debris, wept and wandered disoriented, fled, lost loved ones and children, suffocated, burned, burned up, died in agony.

All the houses in the city centre were destroyed, except for seven houses on Juliuspromenade. The flames developed a heat of up to 2,000 degrees Celsius in the narrow streets of what was then the most important baroque city and deprived people of the oxygen they needed to breathe.

This militarily ruthless action lasted only 20 long, agonising minutes........

In a firestorm, 90% of one of the most beautiful German baroque cities was destroyed. The sky turned red ! The glow of the fire could still be seen more than 200 km away, announcing the extent of the destruction.

After Dresden and Pforzheim, Würzburg is the most destroyed city in Germany.

Only three weeks later, the Second World War ended for Würzburg - on 6 April 1945, after a brief resistance by a last contingent (consisting of schoolboys and old men who were obliged to serve with weapons under threat of death and who had nothing to oppose the attacks by a group of armed special forces), Würzburg fell into American hands!

The US governor Murray von Wagoner, who visited the city shortly after the destruction, was more than speechless: the fascination of an end-time image gripped him so much that he believed he was looking at the modern Sodom and Gomorrah, the biblical Fall of Genesis. The religious governor even wanted to recognise the finger of God in the ruins of the 35 churches.

He began to develop a plan for Würzburg as an "open-air museum of war devastation" and to build a new Würzburg opposite nearby Randersacker - the centre, on the other hand, was to remain in ruins for all time as a memorial.

But this was met with vehement protest from the people of Würzburg - after the destruction, no more than 5,000 people lived in the city, many moved to the surrounding countryside and sought help there....but the people came back to their city !

In Würzburg, the arduous reconstruction began. Food stamps were only available against proof of work in clearing rubble, compulsory service was followed by honorary service, and 8 hours a month still had to be worked clearing rubble and debris - it was not until 1964 (19 years after the destruction) that the work of clearing rubble for the city was finally completed.

20 minutes of destruction -20 minutes of remembrance:

Every year on Remembrance Day, 16 March, the bells of all Würzburg churches ring for 20 minutes starting at 9:20 pm - in memory of the devastating attacks. Dominated by the sonorous ringing of the 9,080 kg Salvator bell of the Kiliandom, people still feel today how leadenly the minutes of destruction recall this time.

Even today, 78 years after this crime against humanity, people pause at this moment, gather for prayers, light candles, commemorate.

At the Grafeneckart, Würzburg's town hall, a huge banner with the names of all the more than 5,000 victims is unfurled every year with the declaration: Never again war ! An attitude, a promise!

Just like today.


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