It started with the deep, bass tones of the cathedral bells and then slowly the other bells chimed in. At 9:28pm all the church bells in the city were rung to commemorate the destruction of Magdeburg in the bombing of January 16, 1945.
I normally love to hear the church bells ring. I live near a lot of churches and I hear them throughout the day striking the hour and calling worshipers to morning mass and when 6:00pm rolls around I hear them ring the Angelus. Most people ignore them but I like to pay attention when I hear them.
Tonight, though, they made me sad. As I stood on my balcony I could only think of each peal of each bell being a bomb that fell on the city that killed thousands, destroyed about 60% of the entire city and 90% of the old town area where I now live. I felt sad for the people who lost their lives and those who lost loved ones and those who were left homeless. I felt sad for the millions elsewhere who had lost everything because of one man and his war.
I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be in your home or in a movie theater or in a pub and suddenly have everything around you explode. I can't imagine the fright and confusion - the sheer terror of it all. B's father was a little boy of 8 when Magdeburg was bombed. There had been other bombings that he survived but this was the worst. Until he died he never got over it. He still had nightmares and a sudden, loud noise startled him no end.
My MIL grew up in a village about 15 miles from Magdeburg so she was spared the bombing but she vividly remembers hearing the planes fly over and she could see the sky glow with the flames of the city burning. She had relatives living in Magdeburg and she remembers riding her bicycle with her father to Magdeburg the day after the bombing to help him locate them and she said she saw things that were burned into her brain but she doesn't like to talk about. Luckily none of the relatives died that night although their homes were damaged but the bombs did eventually claim one. My MIL's uncle was a type of postman - he delivered telegrams and he was also responsible for delivering to homes the pay envelopes of workers. After the bombing of January 16th he simply had no more customers - they were all killed. He couldn't bear the sadness of losing every single person he delivered to each week so he went home and hanged himself.
The bells tonight rang for the same amount of time that the bombs fell - about ten minutes. The weather tonight is warmer than what is usual here for January but still I grew cold standing on my balcony in my shirt sleeves. If I thought it was a long time to stand there, how much longer did the time seem when instead of hearing bells one only heard airplanes flying over, explosions, screams, alarms - pure chaos. If I was cold how cold were the ones who managed to escape death but only had to their name the clothes on their backs?
I don't know if I believe in ghosts but if such things exist, I would imagine that where I live now would be filled with them. Hundreds and hundreds died in just the area where I can see simply standing on my balcony. And if they could talk to us now, what would they say? Do they now know more than they did back then? Do they know more than we do now? I think perhaps if they could talk to us then maybe they'd warn us all to end the hate everywhere before we end up suffering their same fate. As safe as I feel now in my home is maybe just as safe as they once felt in their own homes until they had to pay the price for hate.