DRESDEN , Germany, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Commemorations began Friday in Dresden, Germany, noting the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the city in World War II.
Over 25,000 people died as British and American fighter planes bombed the city. Dresden was designated by the Allies as a strategic Nazi command center, but its strategic value at the time has since been disputed.
The 37-hour bombing, beginning Feb. 13, 1945, created a firestorm that destroyed 12 square miles of the oldest part of the city, including the Baroque-style Frauenkirche church, built in 1783, and many other buildings in what was considered by many Europe's premier city for historical architecture. The firebombing was a prominent part of Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel "Slaughterhouse Five."
German President Joachim Gauck, speaking Friday at a ceremony in Dresden's Church of Our Lady, which was ruined in the bombing but rebuilt by 2005, said the attack was "burned into the memory" of survivors, adding Germany needed to be reminded of lessons from its past.
"We know who started the murderous war. We know, and that is why we don't and we will never forget the victims of German warfare. We don't forget when, today, we remember the German victims."
A human chain was organized around the church to pay homage to the victims.
Dresden is currently the hub of Germany's anti-Islam movement, and while far-right supporters sought to take advantage of the anniversary to further their cause, attendance at protest rallies has dwindled.