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More than 3,900 tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices were dropped on Dresden.royaloperahouse/Flickr
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More than 75,000 homes were destroyed, along with pieces of historical architecture. Wikimedia Commons
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A woman walks through the unfathomable destruction.Wikimedia Commons
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A casualty found inside a bomb shelter. Wikimedia Commons
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Bodies of dead civilians piled in the streets of Dresden in high stacks. Wikimedia Commons
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A woman's body as found in an air-raid shelter. Wikimedia Commons
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The remains of the Stallhof, a courthouse of the big Royal Palace complex. Wikimedia Commons
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This before-and-after composite photo shows the ruins of the Frauenkirche church in 1946, and the church as it stood in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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A composite of the Zwinger art museum in 1946, and in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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From left, propaganda director Heinz Grunewald, Dresden mayor Walter Weidauer, and town architect Dr. C. Herbert in 1946 outside City Hall, and City Hall as it stands in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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A statue on the tower of City Hall looking down at the ruins of the city center in 1945, and the same view in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Women in 1946 forming a human chain to pass bricks for the reconstruction of Martin Luther church, and the church in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Removing debris at the ruins of Theaterplatz square in 1946, and the same spot in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Neumarkt square, with a crumbled fountain and statue in 1946, and people taking photos at the square in 2015.Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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Prager Strasse, now a major shopping street, following the firebombing in 1945, and in 2015. Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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A 1957 view of sheep grazing in front of the still-ruined Frauenkirche. AFP/Getty Images
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The infamous slaughterhouse in which prisoner of war Kurt Vonnegut took refuge during the bombing. Wikimedia Commons
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Outside the "Semperoper" (Semper Opera House) on Febuary 13, 2005 in a memorial to commemorate the victims.Carsten Koall/Getty Images
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A human chain surrounds the City Centre in remembrance of the Dresden bombing upon its the 66th anniversary in 2011.ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images
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Neo-Nazis and their sympathizers march to commemorate the anniversary of the Dresden bombing in 2012.
Protesters attempted unsuccessfully to surround the expected 1,500 neo-Nazis with a human chain in order to prevent them from marching through the city in the annual event.Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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A visitor stands in front of a 360-degree panorama display by artist Yadegar Asisi that depicts the city of Dresden in the aftermath of the 1945 attack.Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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The panorama "Dresden 1945 - Tragedy and Hope of a European City" by Berlin-based artist Yadegar Asisi is more than 30 meters high and has a 100-meter circumference. It shows the city from a 15-meter-high viewing platform, so viewers get a sense of the totality of the destruction.ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images
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White roses left by visitors and survivors lie next to the former railway tracks. This train station is where Nazis shipped the Dresden Jews off to concentration camps.Sean Gallup/Getty Images
By February 13, 1945, Germany had all but lost the war. Hitler was in hiding, yet British and American troops burned the militarily insignificant civilian town of Dresden to the ground — and claimed the lives of approximately 25,000 innocent people with it.
In four separate bomb raids over three days, the Allied attempt to demoralize the Germans certainly succeeded. But was it justifiable so late in the war?
Winston Churchill categorized the killing of innocent people in Dresden “terror bombing,” – and terrifying it was. Flames engulfed the entire city. The unimaginable heat completely vaporized small children. Civilians who took shelter underground melted into liquid and bones.
In the words of survivor Kurt Vonnegut, "Dresden was like the moon ... nothing but minerals."
Others, including Dresden bombing survivor Lothar Metzger, recalled the event this way:
“We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from. I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.”
Metzger was just ten years old at the time.
These people in Dresden weren’t active Nazis. There was no military base in this city of historic, Baroque architecture. Afterward, even Churchill questioned the Dresden bombing, saying “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing.”
As people continue to mourn civilian deaths as a cost of war, the moral implications of the Dresden bombing still hang in the air. The photos above serve as a poignant reminder of what's really at stake when war divides us.