Buchenwald's main gate, with the slogan Jedem das Seine (literally, "to each his own", but figuratively "everyone gets what he deserves")

Buchenwald concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager (KZ) Buchenwald, IPA: [ˈbuːxənvalt]) was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg (Etter Mountain) near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil.

Camp prisoners from all over Europe and Russia—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and Slovenes, religious and political prisoners, Roma and Sinti, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals, and prisoners of war— worked primarily as forced labor in local armament factories. From 1945 to 1950, the camp was used by the Soviet occupation authorities as an internment camp, known as NKVD special camp number 2…

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.

Watchtower at the Memorial estate Buchenwald, 1983

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.

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 the efforts of Polish engineer Gwidon Damazyn, an inmate since March 1941, a secret radio transmitter and small generator were built. On April 9 at 1pm Damazyn sent the radio message prepared by leaders of prisoners’ underground (Walter Bartel and Harry Kuhn):

    To Allies. To General Patton’s Army. This is concentration camp Buchenwald. SOS. We need help. They’re trying to evacuate us. The SS try to exterminate us.

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…. MORE HERE

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