A taste of German blood  RKSK BOMBERS IN THE NIGHT  FLYVERE I NATTEN   Næsten klar/ready  Updated: 28 JUN 2015

From Weekendavisen on 6 March 2015 the article Tysk blod på tanden (pdf) translated by AS. (See photos in the original version in Danish - and here.)

A taste of German blood by Mogens Beiter.
Captions for the photos: Air war. "If you scratch just a little bit in the surface you discover that the good people have become evil by waging war and that the evil
people have become victims" says historian Christian Ringskou who is the one behind the new exhibition BOMBERS IN THE NIGHT.
In the small Ringkøbing Museum they view history through the eyes of German tourists. Latest with the air war as the pivotal point. (The plane - see more

When you are born in the area around the Ringkøbing Fjord, you are brought up with stories of the big British Lancaster bombers that came buzzing across the dark
night sky during bombing raids of the Second World War, so that windows jingled and houses shook. Once in a while the Germans succeeded in hitting one of them
and on impact the engines went on several metres down into the ground disturbing beets and potatoes while the charred remains of the crew were scattered into the

Or in luckier cases the young men landed safely by parachutes facing an uncertain destiny while the parachutes were given new lives as shirts or dresses at the next dance at the village hall.

Once a Lancaster with all of its crew went down into the shallow water of the fjord just off Ringkøbing and for some time its tail stuck up like a sea monster till it was
finally sawn off. The tragical accident was described by an eye witness, Georg Vejen Larsen, in Five long years, a book of local history. ”The sky was gashed, torn!
All guns were pointing at a target that we could not see, but we heard that it was in trouble. People yelled from the roof.

”Hurry, they hit one! It is lying low over the churchyard . . .”  A sea of flames came sailing towards us. The burning plane was trailing an enormous fire that lit
everything. We saw that the plane was doomed. To us it looked as if it was trying to turn to the south, but as it was lying right above us like a huge grey shadow surrounded by fire we saw it heading for the harbour nearly at rooftop level.

Burning parts fell from the plane, and we thought that it was the airmen who bailed out with their parachutes on fire. The engines of the big Lancaster aircraft were
roaring at full speed, and with undiminished power the Germans kept shooting at the doomed plane and its ill-fated crew that presumably by now knew their destiny.
We saw how the plane lost control crashed in direction of the harbour, and suddenly everything was silent. The anti-aircraft guns were silent. We were silent. The Germans were silent. We heard no cheers. Enmity ends at the grave, it is said. Then we are humans again.

I wonder if they thought of their own destiny when death was harvesting above their heads. In the morning hundreds of citizens of Ringkøbing went to the fjord to see
the tail section of the big plane reaching far out of the shallow water. Debris was scattered all along the beach.

I clearly remember that I was lucky to get a part of the fuselage with the legendary blue-red-white Royal Air Force roundel. To my surprise it was made of plywood,
and foam rubber was glued to the reverse side. I never found out where this part was placed. Unfortunately it has been lost now.”

Bones as souvenirs
In its own awkward way the scenario was well-known and deep-rooted among inhabitants of the area. Through generations they had got accustomed to wrecks along
the west coast of Jutland where inhabitants of the coast were often powerless witnesses when sailors lost their lives in a desperate struggle against the forces of
nature. However, now the ”wreck” did not happen horizontally but vertically, and not with the fury of the sea but with German fire power and the gravity of the earth as adversaries.

And again there were bodies and pieces of wreckage to salvage on the safe privileged coast. And it happened that a part of a skull or a shin-bone from an English
airman were placed on a mantelpiece as macabre souvenirs for a couple of decades until they were attached to a name and a face and were properly buried.

Today about 70 years after the message of the liberation faded out, nearly everything is forgotten, and very few people consider Germans their natural enemies.
Moreover, in West Jutland they are a substantiel source of income as tourists – and as visitors of museums taking an interest in history. The small museum in
Ringkøbing experienced that a couple of years ago with the exhibition WHAT THE BUNKER HID. In three years it was seen by 65,000 visitors, half of them German tourists.
For some time the museum was nearly run down by people who would like to hear the old German soldier Gerhard Saalfeld tell his self-effacing and undramatic story about being a young German soldier in a bunker on the west coast. A bunker in which he found his old shoe brush again more than 60 years later .

In advance this perspective – to see the war also through German eyes – had aroused criticism in the aged hinterland of people conscious of history. But soon this
was drowned in approving murmur from the public.

And the bunker exhibition was prolonged and prolonged and the cash register jingled until the exhibition was taken down last autumn, and instead Olav Martinsen, the creative soul of the museum, started building a part of a Lancaster in ribs, wood and plexiglas. Now the lifelike model in scale 1:1 together with parts of crashed Allied planes, a shirt of fabric from a parachute and other items can be seen in the exhibition BOMBERS IN THE NIGHT which opened on 8 February and is planned to last
at least three years. The perspective has not been changed since the latest exhibition.

Now the exhibition cases are just full of crashed aircraft engines, a shirt sewn of fabric from a parachute and other effects from the crashed Allied planes. And there
are photos of the result of Allied air raids on Danish civilian targets including Skjern Bacon Factory in April 1941. It cost the lives of two civilians in what has later
been explained as an erroneous air raid.

The museum now has a taste of German blood and has continued to aim at subjects which on Danish soil may be told with more shades than in both Great Britain
and and Germany.

For instance the story of the German fighter pilot Herbert Schmitt and wireless operator Paul Rosenberger is rendered on the west wall of the exhibition room. In May
1943 they flew a German night fighter, a Junkers JU88 across the North Sea to Aberdeen, but they made it look as if they had crashed in order not to arouse any
alarm at home.

In that way the Allied were given the opportunity to study the radar- and radio systems of the German plane at their leisure and take the lead in the technological race,
so that two months later the Allied could dispatch nearly 800 bombers to Hamburg in an air raid where 40,000 people died in the subsequent fire storm, most of them civilians, and 1,2 million people had to flee from the city. The story ends with the question, ”Were Herbert Schmitt and Paul Rosenberger heroes?”

Heroes and villains
The question was asked by the 37-year-old historian and curator of the museum Christian Ringskou who shows the exhibition a couple of days before the opening.
”It is a question that nobody can answer,” he states.

”It is said that the end justifies the means, and that is never ever more true than when you talk about World War II. Of course Nazi Germany has to be defeated. But
what if the means are wrong? The Englishmen not only hit factories, but also quite deliberately the civilian society of production behind the German war machine,
namely living-quarters and factory workers.

That was in spite of the fact that Englishmen ought to know that air raids of that kind do not work, because they did not work either when the Germans bombed
London in the autumn of 1940. But this is the democratic England that also wages ”the total war”. A provoking expression, isn’t it? It was Hitler’s minister of
propaganda Joseph Goebbels who stood on the platform asking the people of Germany, ”Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” (Do you want the total war?) and they answered ”Jaaa.”  (Yes.) It was the last perversion of the dictatorship. But the Englishmen also waged ”the total war.” And the Germans who come to this museum, from
Hamburg or from other German cities – their grandparents or great grandparents were bombed out of their homes, if they were not killed during these air raids. And
there has been a culture in Germany that ”we do not talk about it because we got what we deserved.” And that is not a lie, is it? But it does not change the fact that
the amount of suffering in Germany 1943-1945 is gigantic, also civilian sufferings, and it has been a German taboo for 50-70 years, but now it is thawing. During the
latest 5-7 years thick books based on German sources and written by prominent German authors have been published. They describe how insane it really was to be
a quiet ordinary philistine German family and be hit by a bomb.

”Would you have made the exhibition in a different way if it was not meant to be seen by so many Germans?” ”No, I don’t think so. But of course it sharpens the perspective. And here at this small museum we settle on a tendency now that World War II is fading out of living memory - - .” He takes a little break and then states, ”And maybe it is a bit early to say it now as there are still many people who were children during the occupation, and I have sensed that I have to be cautious - -.” 
”How?” ”Well, to go in and fiddle with the categories of heroes and villains. There are still people who remember that their neighbours helped an Englishman who was
shot down. A lot of personal values are invested in the memories and of course that has to be respected.

But such a long time has passed that we may try to see perspectives of the subjects. I think we can.”  ”But what can we use the perspectives for? What does it add
that now the Germans are involved as victims when they also are executioners? What can we use that for?”  ”I don’t know how to answer that. It is like asking, ”What
can we use history for?” History is interesting.

You do not finish things. Everything is smouldering. When you blow on it flames may erupt. It cuts both ways. It means something to many people.

World War II means something at all possible levels. Some people have a passion for weapons and details, but also ethical questions from World War II keep arising.

Not long ago we had a prime minister who told the most primitive story of the heroes of the resistance movement and used that to give legitimacy to quite another war which was much more difficult to characterize than World War II.”  ”You mean Anders Fogh Rasmussen and the Iraq War?” ”Yes, but I am not supposed to use this exhibition room to carry on a controversy against the former prime minister of this country.”

”Feel free to do it.” ”Well, this exhibition is meant for people at all levels, and it is also a controversy against a former prime minister.” ”About what? What is your point?”

”That even the war that you may use as a criterion for a division between the good and the bad people – even that war, if you scratch just a little bit in the surface, then you find that the good people have become evil by waging the war and the bad people have become victims. Or their wives at home. Or their cousins in another city.
Even in the war which is the criterion to legitimize waging wars.” ”Are you saying that war is useless?”

”I know the next question. When I have said yes to that, more or less, the next question is ”Should they then have refrained from waging a war against Nazi Germany?” But the point is exactly that there are no easy answers,” Christian Ringskou states.

Meeting in Frankfurt
We move along the exhibition cases with the many parts of planes that have served as trophies in West Jutland. In one case a complete engine of a plane was
recovered and later split with dynamite so that each man in a crowd of mechanics could have a Rolls Royce piston as an ashtray.

The exhibition does not tell much of the souvenir bone fragments which are now buried in Lemvig Cemetery. It is a chapter to be avoided.

A total of 65 Allied airmen lost their lives in crashes over the area that now comprises the Municipality of Ringkøbing-Skjern. A small part of the 1,160 Allied airmen
who crashed and died in Danish territory during World War II. Not all have been found. One of them is a crew member of the Lancaster that crashed into the Ringkøbing Fjord in April 1943.

By the way, later in life the eye witness Georg Vejen Larsen met one of the German soldiers who had taken part in shooting down the plane. In the early 1980s he attended a book fair in Frankfurt when one night at his hotel he met a German who related that during the war he was posted as a soldier in Ringkøbing.

”I celebrated my 18th birthday at the Railway Hotel. I took part in shooting down an English aircraft,” he stated. Then Georg Vejen Larsen responded, ”I am from Ringkøbing. I was a boy then, and I saw the plane that you took part in shooting down.”  Afterwards his son who was joining him on the tour expressed his
astonishment over the peaceful exchange of memories. The dad said, ”Yes, that’s life. Fortunately time erases many things. We have to move on.”  In that way
new wood is laid into the stove of history all of the time. And to judge from history till now we will very likely never become wiser.