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Buchenwald concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager or 'KZ' Buchenwald) was a Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg (Etter Mountain) near Weimarmarker, Thuringiamarker, Germanymarker (at the time, Germanymarker), in July 1937, and one of the largest and first camps on German soil.

Camp prisoners worked primarily as forced labour in local armament factories. Inmates were Jews, Poles, political prisoners, Roma and Sinti, Jehovah's Witnesses, religious prisoners, criminals, homosexuals, and prisoners of war . Up to 1942 the majority of the political prisoners consisted of communists and Anarchists; later the proportion of other political prisoners increased considerably. Among the prisoners were also writers, doctors, artists, former nobility, and princesses. They came from countries as varied as Russiamarker, Polandmarker, Francemarker, Germanymarker, Austriamarker, Czechoslovakiamarker, the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Norwaymarker, Denmarkmarker, Latviamarker, Italymarker, Romaniamarker and Spainmarker (some Second Spanish Republic exiles). Most of the political prisoners from the occupied countries were members of the resistance.

From 1945 to 1950, the camp was used by the Soviet occupation authorities as the NKVD special camp number 2.

History



In 1937, the Nazis constructed Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimarmarker, Germany. Placed over the camp's main entrance gate, was the slogan Jedem das Seine (literally "to each his own", but figuratively "everyone gets what he deserves"). The Nazis used Buchenwald until the camp's liberation in 1945. From 1945 to 1950, the Soviet Unionmarker used the occupied camp as an NKVD special camp for Nazis and other Germans. On 6 January 1950, the Sovietsmarker handed over Buchenwald to the East Germanmarker Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Buchenwald (German for beech forest) was chosen as the name for the camp because of the close ties of the location to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was being idealized as “the embodiment of the German Spirit” (Verkörperung des deutschen Geistes). The Goethe Eiche (Goethe's Oak) stood inside the camp's perimeter,As Vladimir Nabokov in Pnin (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004) puts it, "in the beautifully wooded Grosser Ettersburg, as the region is resoundingly called. It is an hour's stroll from Weimar, where walked Goethe, Herder, Friedrich Schiller, Christoph Martin Wieland, the inimitable Kotzebue and others. 'Aber warum – but why –' Dr. Hagen, the gentlest of souls alive, would wail, 'why had one to put that horrid camp so near!' for indeed, it was near – only five miles from the cultural heart of Germany – 'that nation of universities' [...]" (p. 100). and the stump of the tree is preserved as part of the memorial at KZ Buchenwald.

Between April 1938 and April 1945, some 238,380 people were incarcerated in Buchenwald by the Nazi regime, including 350 Western Allied POWs. One estimate places the number of deaths in Buchenwald at 56,000 (discussed further below).

During an American bombing raid on August 24, 1944 that was directed at a nearby armament factory, several bombs, including incendiaries, also fell on the camp, resulting in heavy casualties amongst the prisoners.

Death toll at Buchenwald

Causes of death

Bodies of the Buchenwald prisoners, April 1945.
Although Buchenwald technically was not an extermination camp, it was a site of an extraordinary number of deaths.

A primary cause of the deaths was illness due to harsh camp conditions, with starvation - and its consequent illnesses - prevalent. Malnourished and suffering from disease, many were literally "worked to death" under the Vernichtung durch Arbeit policy (extermination through labor), as inmates had only the choice between slave labour or inevitable execution. Many inmates died as a result of human experimentations or fell victim to arbitrary acts perpetrated by the SS guards. Other prisoners were simply murdered—the two primary methods of execution were shooting and hanging.

Summary executions of Soviet POWs were also carried out at Buchenwald. At least 1,000 Soviet POWs were selected in 1941–2 by a task force of three Dresdenmarker Gestapomarker officers and sent to the camp for immediate liquidation by a gunshot to the back of the neck, the infamous Genickschuss.

The camp was also a site of large-scale trials for vaccines against epidemic typhus in 1942 and 1943. In all 729 inmates were used as test subjects, with 280 of them dying as a result. Because of their long association in cramped quarters in Block 46, the typhus vaccine killed more people, with infections that lasted longer than would have been the case had healthy adults been infected with the disease.

Number of deaths



The SS left behind accounts of the number of prisoners and people coming to and leaving the camp, categorizing those leaving them by release, transfer, or death. These accounts are one of the sources of estimates for the number of deaths in Buchenwald. According to SS documents, 33,462 died in Buchenwald. These documents were not, however, necessarily accurate: Among those executed before 1944 many were listed as "transferred to the Gestapo". Furthermore, from 1941 forward Soviet POWs were executed in mass killings. Arriving prisoners selected for execution were not entered into the camp register and therefore were not among the 33,462 dead listed in SS documents.

One former Buchenwald prisoner, Armin Walter, calculated the number of executions by shooting in the back of the head. His job at Buchenwald was to set up and care for a radio installation at the facility where people were executed and counted the numbers, which arrived by telex, and hid the information. He says that 8,483 Soviet prisoners of war were shot in this manner.

According to the same source, the total number of deaths at Buchenwald is estimated at 56,545. This number is the sum of:
  • Deaths according to material left behind by SS: 33,462
  • Executions by shooting: 8,483
  • Executions by hanging (estimate): 1,100
  • Deaths during evacuation transports: 13,500


This total (56,545) corresponds to a death rate of 24 percent assuming that the number of persons passing through the camp according to documents left by the SS, 238,380 prisoners, is accurate.

Liberation

An emaciated Buchenwald survivor drinking from a bowl following liberation.


On April 4, 1945, the U.S. 89th Infantry Division overran Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the Buchenwald. It was the first Nazi camp liberated by U.S. troops.

Buchenwald was partially evacuated by the Germans on April 8, 1945. In the days before the arrival of the American army, thousands of the prisoners were forced to join the evacuation marches.

Thanks to efforts of Polish engineer Gwidon Damazyn (inmate from March 1941) had a secret radio transmitter and a small generator he had built. On April 9 at 1pm Damazyn sent the radio message prepared by leaders of prisoners' underground (Walter Bartel and Harry Kuhn):

The text was repeated four times, each time in English, German and Russian. After 15 minutes the headquarters of the US Third Army answered and promised help as quickly as they could send it.

After this news had been received, Communist inmates stormed the watchtowers and killed the remaining guards using arms they had been collecting since 1942 (one machine gun and 91 rifles).

A detachment of troops belonging to the US 9th Armored Infantry Battalion, U.S. 6th Armored Division, US Third Army arrived at Buchenwald on April 11, 1945 under the leadership of Captain Frederic Keffer. The soldiers were given a hero's welcome, with the emaciated survivors finding the strength to toss some liberators into the air in celebration.

Later in the day, elements of the U.S. 83rd Infantry Division overran Langenstein, one of a number of smaller camps comprising the Buchenwald complex. There the division liberated over 21,000 prisoners, ordered the mayor of Langenstein to send food and water to the camp, and sped medical supplies forward from the 20th Field Hospital.

Third Army Headquarters sent elements of the U.S. 80th Infantry Division to take control of the camp on the morning of Thursday, April 12, 1945. Several journalists arrived on the same day, perhaps with the 80th, including Edward R Murrow, whose radio report of his arrival and reception was broadcast on CBS and became one of his most famous:

Soviet Special Camp 2

After liberation, between 1945 and 10 February 1950, the camp was administered by the Soviet Unionmarker and served as a Special Camp No. 2 of the NKVD. It was part of a "special camps" network operating since 1945, formally integrated into the Gulag in 1948. Another infamous "special camp" in Soviet occupied Germany was the former Nazi concentration camp Sachsenhausen .

Between August 1945 and the dissolution on 1 March 1950, 28,455 prisoners, including 1,000 women, were held by the Soviet Union at Buchenwald. A total of 7,113 people died in Special Camp Number 2, according to the Soviet records. They were buried in mass graves in the woods surrounding the camp. Their relatives did not receive any notification of their deaths. Prisoners comprised alleged opponents of Stalinism, and alleged members of the Nazi party or Nazi organization, others were imprisoned due to identity confusion and arbitrary arrests. The NKVD would not allow any contacts of prisoners to the outside world and did not attempt to determine the guilt of any individual prisoner.

On 6 January 1950, Soviet Minister of Internal Affairs Kruglov ordered all special camps, including Buchenwald, to be handed over to the East German Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Demolition of the camp

Picture taken in winter of area where prisoner barracks once were; most of the camp was demolished in 1950.


In October 1950, it was decreed that the camp would be demolished. The main gate, the crematorium, the hospital block, and two guard towers escaped demolition. All prisoner barracks and other buildings were razed. Foundations of some still exist and many others have been rebuilt. According to the Buchenwald Memorial website, "the combination of obliteration and preservation was dictated by a specific concept for interpreting the history of Buchenwald Concentration Camp."

The first monument to victims was erected days after the initial liberation. Intended to be completely temporary, it was built by prisoners and was made of wood. A second monument to commemorate the dead was erected in 1958 by the GDR near the mass graves. Inside the camp, there is a living monument in the place of the first monument that is kept at skin temperature year round.

People

Camp commandants



Buchenwald’s second commandant was Karl Otto Koch, who ran the camp from 1937 to 1941. His second wife, Ilse Koch, became notorious as Die Hexe von Buchenwald ("the witch of Buchenwald") for her cruelty and brutality. Koch had a zoo built by the prisoners in the camp for the amusement of his children, with a bear pit (Bärenzwinger) facing the Appellplatz, the dreaded assembly square where prisoners were forced to stand motionless and silent for many hours (twice each day) while the meticulous "roll-calls" were conducted.

Koch was eventually himself imprisoned at Buchenwald by the Nazi authorities for corruption, embezzlement, black market dealings, and his exploitation of camp workers for personal gain. He was tried and executed by the Nazis at Buchenwald in April 1945, while Ilse was sentenced to four years after the war. Her sentence was reduced to two years and she was set free. Later, she was arrested again and sentenced to life imprisonment by the post-war German authorities; she committed suicide in a Bavarianmarker prison cell in September 1967.

The second and last commandant of the camp was Hermann Pister (1942-1945). He was tried in 1947 (Dachau Trials), sentenced to death and hanged in 1948.

Female prisoners and overseers

Dead German female guard from the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp.
She was either killed by the US troops or by the prisoners.


The number of women held in Buchenwald was somewhere between 500 and 1,000. The first female inmates were twenty political prisoners who were accompanied by a female SS guard ; these women were brought to Buchenwald from Ravensbrückmarker to serve in the camp’s brothel in 1941. Later the SS fired the SS woman on duty in the brothel for corruption, and her position was taken over by “brothel mothers” as ordered by SS chief Heinrich Himmler.

The majority of women prisoners, however, arrived in 1944 and 1945 from other camps, mainly Auschwitzmarker, Ravensbrückmarker, and Bergen Belsenmarker. Most of these women were Jewish , and only one barrack was set aside for them; this was overseen by the female Blockführerin, Franziska Hoengesberg, who came from Essen when it was evacuated. All the women prisoners were later shipped out to one of Buchenwald's many female satellite camps in Sömmerdamarker, Buttelstedtmarker, Mühlhausenmarker, Gothamarker, Gelsenkirchenmarker, Essenmarker, Lippstadtmarker, Weimarmarker, Magdeburgmarker, and Penigmarker, to name a few. No female guards were permanently stationed at Buchenwald.

When the Buchenwald camp was evacuated, the SS sent the male prisoners to other camps, and the five-hundred remaining women (including one of the secret annexe members who lived with Anne Frank, "Mrs. van Daan", real name Auguste van Pels) were taken by train and on foot to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and ghettomarker in Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Many, including van Pels, died sometime between April 1945 and May 1945. Because the female prisoner population at Buchenwald was comparatively small, the SS only trained female overseers at the camp and "assigned" them to one of the female subcamps. Twenty-two known female guards have personnel files at the camp, but it is unlikely that any of them stayed at Buchenwald for longer than a few days.

Ilse Koch served as head supervisor (Oberaufseherin) of 22 other female guards and hundreds of women prisoners in the main camp. Eventually, more than 530 women served as guards in the vast Buchenwald system of subcamps and external commands across Germany. Only 22 women served/trained in Buchenwald, compared to over 15,500 men.

Allied airmen

Although it was highly unusual for German authorities to send Western Allied prisoners of war (POWs) to concentration camps, Buchenwald held a group of 168 aviators for about six months. These POWs were from the United Statesmarker, United Kingdommarker, Canadamarker, Australia and New Zealandmarker. They all arrived at Buchenwald on April 20, 1944 (according to one source, on August 20, 1944).

All these airmen were in planes which had crashed in occupied France. Two explanations are given for them being sent to a concentration camp: first, that they had managed to make contact with the French Resistance, some were disguised as civilians, and they were carrying false papers when caught; they were therefore categorized by the Germans as spies, which meant their rights under the Geneva Convention were not respected. The second explanation is that they had been categorised as Terrorflieger ("terror aviators"). The aviators were initially held in Gestapo prisons and headquarters in France. In April or August 1944, they and other Gestapo prisoners were packed into covered goods wagons (US: boxcars) and sent to Buchenwald. The journey took five days, during which they received very little food or water. One aviator recalled their arrival at Buchenwald:

They were subjected to the same treatment and abuse as other Buchenwald prisoners until October 1944, when a change in policy saw the aviators dispatched to Stalag Luft IIImarker, a regular prisoner-of-war camp (POW) camp; nevertheless, two airmen died at Buchenwald. Those classed as terrorflieger had been scheduled for execution after October 24; their rescue was effected by Luftwaffe officers who visited Buchenwald and, on their return to Berlin, demanded the airmen's release.

Buchenwald was also the main imprisonment for a number of Norwegian university students from 1943 until the end of the war. The students, being Norwegian, got better treatment than most, but had to resist Nazi schooling for months. They became remembered for resisting forced labor in a minefield, as the Nazis wished to use them as cannon fodder. An incident connected to this is remembered as the Strike at Burkheim. The Norwegian students in Buchenwald lived in a warmer, stone-construction house and had their own clothes.

Specific people associated with Buchenwald

Well-known Nazi personnel

Commandants
Karl Otto Koch from 1937 to 1941
Hermann Pister from 1942 to 1945
Medical doctors
Gerhard Rose
Waldemar Hoven
Hans Conrad Julius Reiter
Nazi head of personnel
Hermann Hackmann


Well-known inmates

Buchenwald inmates.
Buchenwald memorial.
Watchtower at the Memorial estate Buchenwald, 1983


Photo gallery

Image:Buchenwaldgate.jpg|Camp gate.Image:Buchenwaldcamp.jpg|Main camp area.Image:Buchenwaldchimney.jpg|Crematorium.Image:Buchenwaldcrem.jpg|Inside the crematorium building.Image:Buchenwaldroom.jpg|The deathroom.Image:Buchenwaldrus.jpg|Russian graveyard.Image:Buchenwaldcells.jpg|Cells.Image:Buchenwaldmemorial.jpg|Memorial.

See also



Notes

  1. The History of Buchenwald Memorial.
  2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jabb/403670900/
  3. Bartel, Walter: Buchenwald—Mahnung und Verpflichtung: Dokumente und Berichte (Buchenwald: Warnings and our obligation [to future generations]—Documents and reports), Kongress-Verlag, 1960. p. 64, lines 12–23. .
  4. Bartel, Walter: Buchenwald—Mahnung und Verpflichtung: Dokumente und Berichte (Buchenwald: Warnings and our obligation [to future generation—Documents and reports), Kongress-Verlag, 1960. p. 203, lines 18–38.
  5. Podcast with one of 2000 Danish policemen in Buchenwald. Episode 6 is about statistics for the number of deaths at Buchenwald.
  6. Includes male deaths in satellite camps.
  7. Bartel (p. 87, line 17–18) reports that somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 prisoners died on evacuation transports in March and April 1945.
  8. Bartel, Walter: Buchenwald—Mahnung und Verpflichtung: Dokumente und Berichte (Buchenwald: Warnings and our obligation [to future generations]—Documents and reports), Kongress-Verlag, 1960. p. 87, line 8.
  9. The 89th Infantry Division, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  10. Several eyewitness reports of Dutch and German inmates of Buchenwald at the Dutch Institute of War Documentation NIOD in Amsterdam.
  11. Buchenwald liberator, American hero dies at 83.
  12. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum article on the US 83rd Infantry Division.
  13. "WWII: Behind Closed Doors", Episode 6 of 6. BBC. Broadcast on BBC 2, on Monday 15 December 2008.
  14. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0CEFDA163EF934A25751C1A9679C8B63
  15. Kai Cornelius, Vom spurlosen Verschwindenlassen zur Benachrichtigungspflicht bei Festnahmen, BWV Verlag, 2004, p. 131, ISBN 3830511655.
  16. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE6D61131F937A1575AC0A964958260&sec=&spon=&scp=13&sq=Sachsenhausen&st=cse
  17. Petra Weber, Justiz und Diktatur: Justizverwaltung und politische Strafjustiz in Thüringen 1945-1961 : Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR -Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2000, p. 99, ISBN 3486564633.
  18. Kai Cornelius, Vom spurlosen Verschwindenlassen zur Benachrichtigungspflicht bei Festnahmen, BWV Verlag, 2004, p. 128, ISBN 3830511655.
  19. Kai Cornelius, Vom spurlosen Verschwindenlassen zur Benachrichtigungspflicht bei Festnahmen, BWV Verlag, 2004, pp. 126, 133-134, ISBN 3830511655.
  20. Petra Weber, Justiz und Diktatur: Justizverwaltung und politische Strafjustiz in Thüringen 1945-1961 : Veröffentlichungen zur SBZ-/DDR -Forschung im Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2000, p. 100, ISBN 3486564633 - of the Buchenwald inmates, none had faced a Soviet military tribunal, those were concentrated in Sachsenhausen and Bautzen.
  21. Young, James E.: At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000, p. 105.
  22. http://www.buchenwald.de/fotoarchiv/print.php?inventarnr=3796
  23. Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006: "Prisoners of War in the Second World War" Accessed 16 May 2007.
  24. National Museum of the USAF: "Allied Victims of the Holocaust" Accessed 16 May 2007.
  25. Eyewitness accounts of Art Kinnis, president of KLB (Konzentrationslager Buchenwald), and 2nd Lt. Joseph Moser, one of the surviving pilots, at http://buchenwaldflyboy.wordpress.com.
  26. National Museum of the USAF, Ibid.
  27. Redlich, Carl Aage: 19. September, 1945. p. 55.


References

  • Apitz, Bruno: Nackt unter Wölfen ("Naked among the wolves"), a fictional account of the last days of Buchenwald before the US-American liberation; based on a true story. Available as a book in German or as a film in German with English subtitles. Book ino: Aufbau Taschenbuchverlag, 1998, ISBN 3-7466-1420-1. Translations into English and other languages exist, but are out of print.
  • Bartel, Walter: Buchenwald—Mahnung und Verpflichtung: Dokumente und Berichte (Buchenwald: Warnings and our obligation [to future generations]—Documents and reports), Kongress-Verlag, 1960
  • von Flocken, Jan and Klonovsky, Michael: Stalins Lager in Deutschland 1945-1950. Dokumentation, Zeugenberichte, Berlin: Ullstein, 1991. ISBN 3-550-07488-3.
  • James, Brian: "The Dream that Wouldn't Die", an account of John H. Noble’s experiences in Buchenwald under Soviet Rule and the Soviet camp system in the 1950s, in You Magazine delivered with the (The Mail on Sunday/Daily Mail), August 1992. The article includes a reference to 3,000 Westerners as Soviet prisoners in 1954.
  • Knigge, Volkhard und Ritscher, Bodo: Totenbuch. Speziallager Buchenwald 1945-1950, Weimar: Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald und Mittelbau Dora, 2003.
  • Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: the German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them. New York: Farrar Strauss, 1950. Republished 2006.
  • Noble, John H.: I was a Slave in Russia: An American Tells his Story. See John H. Noble.
  • Ritscher, Bodo: Das sowjetische Speziallager Nr. 2 1945-1950. Katalog zur ständigen historischen Ausstellung, Göttingen: Wallstein, 1999.
  • Gunther Sturm Mark Von Santill; Life & Crime of the Beast Gozon ed. Frascati 2007.
  • Matthew Koch History of a Victim - Etta Sapon Bulceci ed. Rome 2007.
  • The History of Buchenwald Memorial.


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