On the night of October 3, 1943, over 500 British Royal Airforce warplanes launched into German territory and conducted the deadliest raid Hannover would experience in World War II. That night, 1,245 people lost their lives and the Aegidien Church, one of the three great churches of Hanover, burned to the ground. Its blackened shell still stands today as a memorial to lives lost in war.
The church has a history back to the turn of the first millennium, with several versions of the church being built at the spot over the years. The Gothic-style rendition of the ruins was erected in 1347 and dedicated to Saint Giles, a French hermit.
Hanover was an obvious target for bombing raids; in addition to being a large city, it was an important railway junction in the heart of Germany, and also held military training facilities. It was one of the most active industrial cities during the war, pumping out war materials like guns, torpedoes, and tires. Before the end of the war, Hannover would suffer 88 bombing raids. The loss of life was tremendous and over 90 percent of the city was razed. In the fires of 1943, the Ebstorf Map, the largest medieval map in the world, was also lost.
The three great churches of Hanover, Aegidien Church, the Market Church, and St. Nichola’s Chapel, were all destroyed during the war. Only the Market Church, which dominates Hannover’s old city, was rebuilt. The other two were left in ruins as memorials to the horrors of wartime. In 1952, city officials officially decreed the Aegidien Church as a memorial. The ruins lie just to the south of Kröpck, the bustling city center. The roof is completely missing, and the outer walls are scarred black. Inside, visitors will find several pieces of anti-war art and a curious bell from Japan.
Sister cities since 1983, Hiroshima and Hanover have formed a unique bond over their experiences in the war. In 1985, Hiroshima gifted a bonsho peace bell to the city of Hanover, which hangs in the Aegidien Church. The bell is rung every year on August 6, Hiroshima Day.