Discover History: Turnstraße
5 March, 1945
The night of 5-6 March 1945 saw the largest Allied air raids to strike Chemnitz during the war. The war had long since returned to the country it had come from in September 1939. From 12 May 1944 to 11 April 1945, units of the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces flew a total of twelve air raids on the then industrial centre and its outlying suburbs. 2,880 four-engine bombers participated in the attacks, dropping over 7,700 tons of explosives.
At least 3,715 people lost their lives in the city and its environs, 2,105 of them on that night alone. As a result of the bombing offensive, almost a century’s worth of building projects in the city were obliterated. 3,326 buildings were completely destroyed or severely damaged. A mere 38,000 homes (out of 110,000) remained undamaged. Over 100,000 homeless citizens would leave the city, most of them heading for the nearby Erzgebirge.
The building at Turnstraße 39, which housed private flats and businesses, was also hit that night. Two residents in the nearby area lost their lives. One 14-year-old boy died in the Pfortensteg bunker, having sought shelter there.
A few days after the bombings, Max Küttler (†1950), a textile manufacturer from Turnstraße 39, remarked: “Chemnitz is a dead city. The night raid, which was horrific, from 9 to 11 in the evening, brought disaster. Our large building and our lovely apartment has been burned to the ground and utterly destroyed.” He wrote about how he and a few of his neighbours had attempted to put out the fire. “Taking a breather was out of the question – there were blazing pieces of timber falling into the cellar, into the protective crates that had been filled with sand and ashes and placed in front of the cellar windows. [...] The sparks were flying everywhere, and a dreadful storm blew burning chunks of wood from blinds, tar paper, etc. down onto the roofs below. […] The day began to dawn, but it didn’t get light. The smoke from the burning city was stopping the sun from getting through.”
The main building at the front was completely destroyed, but the outbuildings in the courtyard and the neighbouring buildings suffered less damage. The remains of the main building were eventually cleared away in 1953/54.
CHILDREN IN WARTIME CHEMNITZ
In Chemnitz alone, 675 children fell victim to the air raids. The first victim of the bombings was a baby belonging to a family in Rabenstein, who was killed on 12 May 1944. Particularly tragic were the deaths of 43 residents of the city children’s home at Bernsdorfer Straße 120. 41 children and adolescents lost their lives on 2 and 5 March 1945. Twelve children at the Gablenz School were also victims of the bombings.
The children who survived suffered trauma that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. Stephan Tanneberger was not quite 10 when he survived the air raid at Turnstraße, and along with his mother and his 14-year old brother was one of the helpers who attempted to put out the fires: "The big cities in Saxony were bombed at the beginning of 1945. The bombing raids especially targeted railway stations and industrial plants. The alarm was sounded over the radio. Initially the siren went off twice a week, then three times a week, and finally every evening. Every time we hear the radio say ‘Enemy planes approaching’, we headed for the cellar. We had already packed our little suitcase, and we took it with us to the cellar. We sat there and waited. We heard the bombs hitting. They were usually a long way away. But on 5 March, that changed.
We had already noticed in the days before that the bombing was getting closer. First we heard a whistle, then the impact of the bomb, and finally a blast. There was tremendous panic in the cellar. ‘They’ve got us now,’ we thought. Our neighbour Max Küttler said: ‘They’re bombing the Südbahnhof station!’ Our house was right next to it. We lay on the floor as the bombs rained down. We all prayed. Then came the news: ‘The house has been hit.’ And it was on fire. At first we tried to put it out, but there was too little water. After an hour and a half, we gave up and tried to save more things from the house.
We went into the house, which was already ablaze. Of course, my mother was terribly afraid that something would happen to us children. But we wanted to play our part and help. I held my teddy bear tightly in my arms. My brother carried our lovely red sofa down from the second floor by himself. I wasn’t quite 10 years old, and I carried the chairs. My mother gathered the china and cooking pots. We were able to store the things for a while at our neighbour’s business premises. But then I had a terrible shock: I must have lost my teddy bear when I was clearing out the things from the house. I wept bitterly. The teddy bear meant everything to me. Luckily I found it again in the snow. In the end, the whole building burnt down. The wooden beams caved in and the building gradually collapsed.”