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Casualties of War: Coventry, Dresden Unite in Forgiveness of Bombings ---

September 4, 1989

COVENTRY, England (AP) _ Even today, nearly 50 years later, there is a stillness at the heart of Coventry.

Here stand the skeletal remains of its 700-year-old cathedral, destroyed with the rest of the city center on Nov. 14, 1940, in the longest, deadliest single bombing raid inflicted by Adolf Hitler on a British city during World War II.

There were armament plants in Coventry, but not in Cathedral Square - just buildings, shops and people, 568 of whom were killed.

If Coventry represented a new 20th-century strategy known as ″total war,″ the Allies showed in February 1945 how far total war could go when they bombed the equally unthreatening German city of Dresden, killing 135,000 people.

On Sunday, the 50th anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany, worshipers in Coventry and Dresden came together through a British Broadcasting Corp. radio linkup, and they forgave each other once again.

″The war which Germany started set the world alight and destroyed your city,″ Pastor Christof Ziemer of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden told the 500 Coventry worshipers over a loudspeaker in the new cathedral built next to the ruins of the old.

″We are not minded to shake off the burden of our guilt. But you have forgiven.″

Canon Michael Sadgrove replied from Coventry: ″We too need to be forgiven. We will not forget the firestorm that killed so many thousands of your people.″

″Father forgive,″ intoned the congregation in Coventry.

″Vater Vergib,″ came the answering murmur in German from Dresden.

Most of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral were long ago arranged in rows under the open sky: truncated pillars, a winding stairway that once led to a pulpit but now leads nowhere.

Only the 295-foot steeple survived intact, pointing skyward like a remonstrating finger for the tourists who wander about in awed silence.

Before the inscription ″Father forgive,″ stands the replica of a cross of two blackened wooden beams, lashed together in 1940 by a Roman Catholic caretaker who pulled them from the ruins in a spontaneous gesture of remembrance that became world famous.

Elsewhere in Britain, people quietly marked the anniversary of the war’s outbreak without large-scale remembrances. Independent Radio News broadcast war-era speeches of Adolf Hitler, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, and 13- year-old Princess Elizabeth, now the queen.

Coventry today is a city of 303,000 people, 90 miles west of London. It is best known for manufacturing the luxury Jaguar car.

Many residents found the strength to forgive through the words of Provost Dick Howard, who declared in a broadcast from the cathedral ruins on Christmas 1940: ″We are trying, hard as it may be, to banish all thoughts of revenge ... to make a kinder, simpler, more Christchild-like sort of world in the days beyond this strife.″

Preaching in Coventry Cathedral on Sunday, the Rev. Ulrike Birkner of Dresden said it was Christ’s example that gave men like Howard ″the courage to make themselves unpopular by offering to forgive.

″When enemies have become friends, when both sides have faced up to their own sins, they can accept forgiveness and lay aside the burden of guilt,″ she said.

Ms. Birkner, who was born in Dresden shortly after the war, recalled taking ″long tram rides with my parents through miles of ruins, with only the tower of St. Anne’s Church still standing, just like the tower of your cathedral here in Coventry.″

She remembered her uncle, a foreman on a Dresden reconstruction site, bringing home young volunteers to help rebuild Dresden.

They came from Coventry.

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