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Police President of Hamburg Report on Firestorm (August 1943)

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The fact that even now on some days up to a hundred or more corpses are being found and removed provides only a feeble impression of what happened. Overall, the destruction is so devastating that, in the case of many people, there is literally nothing left of them. On the basis of a layer of ashes in a large air raid shelter, doctors could only provide a rough estimate of the number of people who died there, a figure of 250–300. It will only be possible to produce an exact figure when all the people who were living in Hamburg at that time who are still alive have once more registered with the authorities.

The horrific scenes which occurred in the area of the firestorm are indescribable. Children were torn from the hands of their parents by the tornado and whirled into the flames. People who thought they had saved themselves collapsed in a few minutes in the overwhelmingly destructive force of the heat. People who were fleeing had to make their way through the dead and the dying. The sick and frail had to be left behind by the rescuers since they themselves were in danger of burning.

[ . . . ]

And each one of these nights of fire and flames was followed by a day which revealed the horror in the pale and unreal light of a smoke-covered sky. The heat of high summer, increased to an intolerable degree by the embers of the firestorm, the finest of dust particles from the churned-up earth and the ruins and rubble of the destroyed city which penetrated everywhere, soot and ashes raining down, and again heat and dust, and over everything a pestilential smell of decomposing bodies and smoldering fires bore down on the population.

And these days were followed by new nights with new horrors, even more smoke and soot, heat and dust, with still more death and destruction. People were given no time to rest or to plan the rescue of their belongings or to look for their relatives. The enemy drove on with ceaseless attacks until the work of destruction had been completed. His hatred reveled in the firestorms which mercilessly destroyed people and things with equal force.

The seemingly utopian [sic!] vision of a major city in rapid disintegration without gas, water, light and transport, with formerly flourishing residential districts turned into deserts of stone, had become reality.

The streets were covered with hundreds of corpses. Mothers with their children, men, old people, burnt, charred, unscathed and clothed, naked and pale like wax dummies in a shop window, they lay in every position, quiet and peaceful, or tense with their death throes written in the expressions on their faces. The situation in the air raid shelters was the same and made an even more gruesome impression because, in some cases, it showed the last desperate struggle which had taken place against a merciless fate. Whereas in one place the occupants were sitting quietly on their chairs, peaceful and unscathed as if they were sleeping and had unsuspectingly been killed by carbon monoxide gas, elsewhere the existence of the fragments of bones and skulls showed how the occupants had sought to flee and find refuge from their prison tomb.

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