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Film reveals human drama in English error that bombed school in WWII


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The history of the great war confrontations is also the history of the monstrous mistakes made by the belligerent groups. The Second World War accumulates good examples, such as the attempt by Benito Mussolini to invade Greece, in 1940, or the approximately 70 times that Switzerland was bombed by mistake – it was and remains neutral -, in incidents provoked by errors of navigation of pilots who claimed the lives of 84 innocent civilians.

For Netflix recently premiered “The Bombardment”, directed by Danish filmmaker Ole Bornedal, a dramatized version of one of the biggest mistakes made by the RAF, the British Air Force, already in the throes of conflict.

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On March 21, 1945, she unintentionally killed 19 adults and 96 children during a mission that was supposed to be limited to killing Nazis and collaborators at Gestapo headquarters in Copenhagen. One of the British pilots crashed into a French high school, run and operated by the religious of the Congregation of St. Joseph, instead of destroying Reich political police facilities.

The institution was important. It had a total of 482 children and 34 nuns taught there. The RAF fighters also hit the initially planned target. Throwing the bombs a little further to the side, they destroyed the Gestapo building, killed 55 German soldiers who were on its premises and 47 more Danes who collaborated with the occupying army.

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Finally, 18 local resistance activists also died. They were prisoners of the Third Reich, in cells on the top floor of the building. The fact that they occupied those premises was widely known and made them function as human shields: whoever hit the Nazis would also hit the resistance prisoners.

The episode has a somewhat ambiguous status in Danish culture. The country was invaded by the Germans in 1940. Local authorities looked for ways to socialize with the occupiers — and believed that this would better protect the population.

The fact is that the children who survived the tragedy were forced to live in mourning within four walls. They were not encouraged to comment on what had happened in public, and there were no ceremonies honoring the memory of the nuns and dead children. This silence was broken by one of the former students of the Jeanne D’Arc Institute (that was the name of the school). Elisabeth Lyneborg, who was in preschool at the time, published as an adult the book “I Was There”, which broke the taboo.

Another initiative in a similar direction was taken by the Danish authorities, with the construction of a monument to honor a nun who came to rescue children buried in the rubble, but who in the end also died – her name is associated with a collective effort to save lives. .

The film could present a historical foundation of the tragedy caused by the British military planes. In similar circumstances, in commissions of inquiry, senior officials produced documents with high-level arguments about the incidents.

But everything indicates that, even smothered between other information in the script, the Danish production of the film has discovered the correct thread of the plot that led to the incident. The RAF squadron that took part in the mission took off from English soil, flew at low altitude and split into three groups already in the vicinity of Copenhagen.

Each consisted of six single-engine DH Mosquito fighter-bombers. One of the first group’s planes accidentally collided with a power transmission tower, which led to the crash in the vicinity of the Catholic school, producing a lot of smoke. The following planes interpreted the smoke as evidence of the destruction of the Gestapo building, the mission’s military target. They then flew in the same direction and emptied the compartments in which they carried the explosives over the unfortunate nun’s college.

“The Bombardment” is not a film about the attack by mistake, even though the episode is present in its entirety. It’s a film about human dramas that the screenwriter was kind enough to weave, so that we wouldn’t have before our eyes a kind of cold documentary of the last World War.

The children, even if created by the imagination of cinema, are of impeccable dramatic performance – an aspect that is underlined by a direction of photography that tends to ignore color and adopt black and white, with a visual language in which shadows are as eloquent as in the classics of German expressionism of the last century.

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I have worked as a journalist for over 8 years. I have written for many different news outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and CNN. I have also published my own book on the history of the world. I am currently a freelance writer and editor, and I am always looking for new opportunities to write and edit interesting content.

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