Buchenwald Concentration Camp




Location: Weimar, Thuringia Map

Karl Otto Koch

Karl Otto Koch (1937-1942)

Hermann Pister

Hermann Pister (1942-1945)


The Buchenwald concentration camp, officially KL Buchenwald, was one of the largest concentration camps on German soil. It was operated between July 1937 and April 1945 on the Ettersberg near Weimar as a prison for forced labor. A total of around 266,000 people from all over Europe were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp during this period. The death toll is estimated at around 56,000, including 15,000 Soviet citizens, 7,000 Poles, 6,000 Hungarians and 3,000 French. When the 3rd US Army approached the camp on April 11, 1945, the prisoners took over the management of the camp from the withdrawing SS, arrested 125 of the guards, opened the gates and hoisted the white flag. Since April 8, many prisoners had prevented their evacuation, so-called by the National Socialists, through boycott and sabotage and called the US Army for help by radio. After the US troops withdrew, parts of the area were used by the Soviet occupying forces as special camp No. 2. It existed until 1950; 7000 of the 28,000 interned there died. The Buchenwald National Memorial was opened in 1958 on the site of the former camp. From 1991 the Buchenwald Memorial was redesigned. It contains many exhibitions on the history of the concentration camp.


In July 1937, prisoners from the Sachsenhausen concentration camps (arrival of the first prisoner transport on July 15), Sachsenburg and Lichtenburg began to build the Buchenwald concentration camp. Those in charge of the concentration camps around Inspector Theodor Eicke had a problem with the naming, as it was in the immediate vicinity of Ettersburg Castle and Park on the Ettersberg. The castle is associated with Goethe and thus the Weimar Classic. Goethe was politically instrumentalized by the National Socialists as an embodiment of the "German spirit". Therefore, the name "Ettersberg Concentration Camp" was not appropriate from the outset, especially since the National Socialist Cultural Society in Weimar had objected to this naming. An assignment to the neighboring Hottelstedt was ruled out because the SS camp crew, although located in the vicinity of Weimar, would have had to be satisfied with a lower salary than the local custom. Eicke's suggestion “K.L. Hochwald, Post Weimar ”, was published in“ K.L. Buchenwald, Post Weimar ”changed. Thus, on the one hand, the name was not officially associated with the place, on the other hand, the team got their salary according to the location of Weimar. Karl Otto Koch was appointed camp commandant. By the end of the year the camp was occupied with 2561 prisoners. As early as 1937, 48 people died in the camp.

Initially, the camp was intended for political opponents of the Nazi regime, previously convicted criminals and so-called anti-social as well as Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses and homosexuals. From the beginning of the Second World War, more and more people from other countries were interned. When it was liberated in April 1945, 95 percent of the prisoners were not Germans. Especially after 1943, concentration camp prisoners were ruthlessly exploited for the armaments industry in the Buchenwald concentration camp and its 136 external commandos. Therefore, Buchenwald was not an extermination camp with industrial destruction and recycling like the large concentration camps in Poland. Nevertheless, many prisoners were murdered by the SS or died from the inhumane working and living conditions. Some groups of prisoners were selected for immediate murder in the neck shot range, such as Soviet prisoners of war.

At the beginning of 1945 the camp became the terminus for death marches from Auschwitz and Groß-Rosen. Shortly before the liberation, the SS tried to evacuate the camp and sent 28,000 prisoners on death marches. Around 21,000 prisoners, including over 900 children and young people, remained in the camp. On April 11, 1945 units of the 3rd US Army reached the Ettersberg. The SS fled and prisoners from the secret resistance organization opened the camp from the inside.

After the liberation in 1947, 31 people had to answer for the crimes in Buchenwald before a US military tribunal in the main Buchenwald trial, including the widow of the former commandant, Ilse Koch. 22 death sentences and five life and four limited prison sentences were pronounced. Of the death sentences, nine had been carried out by 1951. The former camp commandant Hermann Pister died in custody. Ilse Koch stayed there until her suicide in 1967. All other convicts received amnesty until the mid-1950s.

Construction of the camp
The Buchenwald concentration camp was divided into three separate areas and until the end of the war also maintained more than a hundred permanent work details and sub-camps in central and western Germany.

"Protective Custody Camp"

The camp for the so-called protective custody was built in terraces on the northern slope of the Ettersberg to enable better surveillance. From the main gate there was a full view of the whole camp. It was surrounded by a 3 km long and 3 m high barbed wire fence, an electric fence with a voltage of 220/380 volts and 22 three-story watchtowers equipped with machine guns. The prisoners were housed in 34 wooden barracks and 16 two-story stone barracks. The prison camp last extended over an area of ​​40 hectares. The "protective custody camp" included a roll call area of ​​around 15,000 m² and several buildings and camps. The gate building with detention cells ("bunker") was a site of murder and torture in the camp. The commandant had prisoners (as well as SS members) arrested here in order to punish them or to extort information and confessions. The concentration camp regulations were applied. The camp gate bears the inscription “To each his own”, which can be read from the roll call square. This inscription, which at first glance seemed absurd, was deliberately chosen. It was supposed to remind detainees every day in a negative sense that they only got what they deserved. Buchenwald was the only concentration camp that bore this inscription. It was designed by the Bauhaus architect Franz Ehrlich, who was imprisoned in Buchenwald until 1943, on the orders of the National Socialists. Ehrlich chose a font from the Bauhaus that was classified as degenerate, but the camp management never noticed this.

The crematorium, completed in 1940, had a dissection room and a pathology for breaking out gold teeth in addition to the combustion room. The Erfurt company Topf & Sons supplied the first incineration ovens in December 1939. By spring 1941, the company delivered and installed additional ovens. Many prisoners were killed on hooks on the wall in the basement. Presumably, on the night of August 17-18, 1944, KPD chairman Ernst Thälmann, who had been in custody since 1933 and transported to Buchenwald, was shot at the entrance to the furnace room on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler.

The Jewish camp was a separate camp within the protective custody camp. It was built after the mass consignment in the course of the pogroms of the Reichspogromnacht. The living conditions here were particularly bad. Another “small camp” was set up in 1938 to be used if the camp was overcrowded; it consisted of windowless Wehrmacht horse stables. It was mainly used to house inmates unable to work and as a quarantine camp. From 1943 it was permanently occupied. Living conditions were catastrophic, and mortality was high. The former horse stables were designed for 50 horses and now up to 1,960 prisoners were housed there.

In the inmate infirmary, inmates were treated by fellow inmates. However, trained doctors were not allowed to practice. The infirmary was the central location of the murder using lethal injection by SS doctors. But it was also the place of internal camp resistance, which also included the labor statistics. This was part of the camp administration and was provided by the prisoners. Here it was possible for the resistance to change the lists for work assignments and transports to the extermination camps.

In the cinema barracks from 1941 to 1943 prisoners could watch expired UFA films against payment and hold smaller sporting or cultural events approved by the SS. However, the SS also used this building to punish and torture prisoners. From 1943, there was also a camp brothel for prisoners within the protective custody camp as a “means of driving higher performance”. For this purpose, 16 female prisoners from the Ravensbrück concentration camp were brought to Buchenwald in July 1943 and forced into prostitution. In addition, there were magazine barracks, a kitchen, a potato cellar, a laundry, an effects, clothing and equipment room, a gardening shop, a prisoners canteen and a library on the premises.


Buchenwald exercise camp
The Buchenwald SS training camp formed the actual SS area and was located south of the “protective custody camp”. Like the Dachau and Sachsenhausen training camps, it consisted of several sub-areas. The camp administration was located near the gate to the protective custody camp. The camp commandant's office with the commandant's office, the adjutant's office, the Gestapo as well as the facilities of the troop staff and the political department were located there.

The SS barracks with 16 buildings followed to the south. These were in a semicircle arranged hundreds of buildings of the SS-Totenkopfstandard "Thuringia" with casinos, armories, a military hospital, shooting and parade areas, large garages and two gas stations. There was capacity for more than one regiment. This was one of the great bases and training centers of the Waffen SS.

The Fichtenhain special camp was installed in the middle of the training camp. Outside the actual fenced camp, a group of isolating barracks for prominent inmates was built in 1942/43. Rudolf Breitscheid, Mafalda von Savoyen and Fritz Thyssen, among others, were imprisoned here. After the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, officers and politicians involved and their families were also imprisoned here. Another place where prominent prisoners were arrested was the SS falconer's house. The former Prime Minister of the French Popular Front government Léon Blum and other members of the government, including Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud, were housed here.

On the orders of the camp commandant Koch, a riding hall was built in 1940 to the northwest of the barracks. Koch and his wife Ilse had the sole right of use there. A 55 m long horse stable was built opposite the riding arena. After the arrival of the first Soviet prisoners in 1941, it was rebuilt and equipped with a gun in the neck on commissioner orders from the Wehrmacht High Command. Between 1941 and 1945, numerous prisoners and over 8,000 of the 8,483 murdered Soviet prisoners of war were executed here by the notorious Kommando 99 under the pretext of a medical examination.

To entertain the SS and their families, the SS Zoo was built not far from the fence of the protective custody camp. In 1940 a falcon yard and a game reserve were opened within the SS camp, which were also open to the population.

In 1944 the SS set up a brothel for "foreign" guards. The Ukrainian SS men deployed on guard duty in the Buchenwald concentration camp were forbidden from dealing with German women. The SS selected Polish women from the Ravensbrück concentration camp for this brothel and forced them into prostitution.

A housing estate with single-family houses for members of the SS was built three kilometers east of the KL (today's Ettersbergsiedlung).

Production area
A quarry was built to the west of the SS barracks. The work there was considered to be the toughest and was mostly carried out by penal companies. Prisoners were often "shot while trying to escape" here by the SS.

The armaments factory Gustloff-Werk II of the Weimar Fritz-Sauckel-Werk was opened in 1943 and was the place of work for around 4,500 prisoners. They were rented to the company by the SS camp administration. The factory was almost completely destroyed in the Allied bombing raid on August 24, 1944.

The German equipment works (DAW), an armaments company of the SS, founded a production facility for up to 1,400 prisoners within the protective custody camp in 1940. This was where the Waffen-SS produced for war needs and, before the stable was converted for this purpose, a large number of Soviet prisoners of war were executed.

Until the end of the war, the Buchenwald concentration camp had up to 136 satellite camps and external commandos. These were mainly used for arms production and other fabrications. They are therefore more of a labor camp than an extermination camp. The prisoners had to do forced labor at companies such as IG Farbenindustrie, Krupp AG, HASAG, Siebel Flugzeugwerke, Bochumer Verein, Dortmunder Union, Vereinigte Stahlwerke AG, Ford Cologne, Junkers Flugzeug- und Motorenwerke, Deutsche Reichsbahn (Schwerte repair shop) and Annener Gussstahlwerk. People were also executed or died in the subcamps as a result of the prevailing conditions. Some satellite camps were converted into concentration camps during the war, for example the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp near Nordhausen.

Concentration camp history

1938 to 1941
After the construction of the camp in July 1937, the "bunker" (cell structure of the gate building) was occupied from February 1938. It was the torture and murder site of the camp under SS guard Martin Sommer. In April there was a mass arrest and briefing of so-called “work shavers”. The first public hanging of a prisoner took place in June 1938. Also in June 1938 the zoo was set up for members of the SS.

In the summer of 1938, the expansion of the access road to the concentration camp began. The narrow Waldchaussee was expanded into an eight meter wide concrete road. 200 prisoners were directly involved in building the road. Hundreds of other inmates beat and transported the building material in and out of the surrounding quarries of the camp. The expansion ended in November 1939. The street was named Blutstraße, which it still leads today.

From September 1938 onwards, numerous prisoners from Austria came to the concentration camp. Austria was annexed to the Reich in March. After the Reichspogromnacht, tens of thousands of male, wealthy Jews (so-called action Jews) were imprisoned throughout the Reich, 9,845 of whom came to Buchenwald to force them to emigrate and to Aryanize their assets. By the end of the year the camp had 11,028 prisoners. 771 people have already died. In February 1939, typhus broke out in the camp due to the poor hygienic conditions. The camp was then placed under quarantine. In April the Special Registry Office Weimar II started its work in the camp. It almost exclusively had the task of registering the dead. On Hitler's 50th birthday, there were camp discharges through a "mercy action". In September 1939 the food rations for Jews were drastically reduced and a special camp was set up on roll call square.

After the beginning of the war, 8,500 men from Czechoslovakia, Poland and Austria were sent to the camp in October 1939. In November, the camp had to be quarantined again because the dysentery had broken out. At the end of the year, 11,807 people had been detained and another 1,235 detainees had died. At the beginning of 1940 the crematorium was built because the city crematorium could not cope with the large number of deaths. In February, the special camp on roll call square was disbanded, and almost half of the inmates died. At the end of the year the camp was occupied by 7,440 prisoners. 1,772 deaths were registered that year.

After the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, thousands of Soviet prisoners of war were admitted and targeted by shot in the neck in the following years. An estimated 8,000 inmates fell victim to this. At the end of 1941 the camp had 9,814 prisoners. 1,522 people died in the concentration camp in 1941. The camp commandant Koch was transferred to Lublin on charges of corruption. His successor was Hermann Pister in January 1942.

1942 to 1945
The first medical experiments were carried out on prisoners under the new camp commandant Pister. Most of them died in agony as a result, for example they were infected with typhus in order to test vaccines (salt water experiments). The same thing happened with TB pathogens. In addition, incendiary wounds were inflicted on inmates. As inmates lived together in a confined space, diseases spread quickly and epidemics developed, but were not treated. Most of the tests were carried out in blocks 46 and 8.

In February 1942 the first external command of the Buchenwald concentration camp was established in the Gustloff works in Weimar. In July, the construction of a rifle factory for the Wilhelm Gustloff Works next to the warehouse began. In addition, a disinfection building and the small camp that was used as a quarantine camp were built in 1942. At the end of 1942 Buchenwald was occupied with 9,517 prisoners. 2,898 deaths were recorded that year.

In March 1943 the Gustloff Plant II was completed. In addition, the construction of a railway line to Weimar began. The 14.5-kilometer “Buchenwaldbahn” was provisionally completed by the prisoners in just under three months without any heavy equipment. The route was only used to supply the armaments factories. From about the beginning of 1944, prisoners were also transported in and out of the building using these rails. Before it was completed, the prisoners had to march in and out of the camp via the so-called “Blood Road”.


In August 1943, the “Dora” sub-camp for rocket production was established near Nordhausen. 2,900 prisoners died there in the first six months. At the end of the year Buchenwald was completely overcrowded with 37,319 prisoners due to mass admissions from the areas occupied by the Wehrmacht. 3,516 deaths were registered that year.

In March 1944 the number of subcamps increased to 22. At this point, 81 percent of the prisoners in the main camp were malnourished, and one in ten suffered from tuberculosis. On August 24, 1944, Allied bombers attacked the armaments factories at the main camp and largely destroyed them. Inmates were also injured and killed. At the end of 1944, the camp and its satellite camps were occupied by 87,000 prisoners. This number was mainly achieved through the "evacuation" of the concentration camps in the east, which are now near the front. Thousands of prisoners came to Buchenwald on death marches. That year, 8,644 prisoners officially died. In January 1945, further death marches took place, mainly from the extermination camps in Poland. In February Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp still in existence. 112,000 prisoners were interned in the main and sub-camps.

Liberation 1945
Before the liberation on April 11, 1945, the Buchenwald concentration camp became bit by bit uncontrollable. The internal resistance movement, which had organized itself, tried to mislead the SS and create chaos. She hid persecuted inmates and defied orders. She called on the inmates to unite. During the bombing of the concentration camp in August 1944, the illegal camp committee had already managed to get weapons from one of the SS camps. These were hidden, buried or walled in in the blocks.

When the 3rd US Army approached the camp at the beginning of April 1945, the SS guards tried, on Himmler's instructions, to evacuate the camp. About 47,500 people were imprisoned in the concentration camp on April 6, 1945, 22,900 of them in the main camp and 18,000 in the stables of the small camp. 6,600 Jews had already been rounded up on April 5th on the premises of the German equipment works. On the evening of April 5, 1945, a list of 46 anti-fascists listed there was handed in to the camp's office, which came from the Gestapo in Weimar and was based on a denunciation by a Czech prisoner named Duda. The Buchenwald prisoners named on the list and destined for execution were supposed to arrive at the camp gate on the morning of April 6, 1945. With the exception of one French prisoner, those named did not follow this request and went underground in the camp. All of the prisoners on this list experienced the liberation. From April 7 to 10, 1945, 28,000 people from the main camp and at least 10,000 prisoners from the satellite camps left the Buchenwald concentration camp on around 60 routes in the direction of the Dachau, Flossenbürg and Theresienstadt concentration camps. Between 12,000 and 15,000 people died on these death marches and “evacuation trains”.

The resistance group tried to delay the evacuation so that as many prisoners as possible could be liberated by the Americans. The weapons stolen by the SS were in possession of them, but their use was only considered when the Americans approached, as they could not have done anything against the superior strength of the guards. On April 8, 1945, the illegal camp management sent a call for help to the approaching American troops via a secretly installed transmitter. The Americans advised calm until the liberation. On April 11, 1945, fighting broke out in the immediate vicinity of the camp.


At around 11 a.m., weapons began to be handed out to selected resistance members who prepared for an armed conflict. At 12 noon, the remaining guards began to leave the camp area and take up positions in the SS area or in the surrounding forest. At around 2:30 p.m., a group of the 6th Panzer Division of the 3rd US Army reached the SS area of ​​the concentration camp. The prisoners then began the fight at the gate building and the neighboring watchtowers, where they succeeded in disarming some of the SS guards who had not fled and opened the camp gate. At 4 p.m. the camp and with it around 21,000 prisoners were liberated. An American camp commandant was appointed on April 13th. The war diary of the headquarters of the 4th Armored Division, also known as the G-2 Journal, confirms the following dated April 13, 1945: “Before our arrival, the watchtowers had been captured and 125 SS men who were still in the custody of the camp had been captured . "

The prisoners' self-liberation, which could only take place before the US Army had safely arrived, was subsequently highlighted, for example in the novel Naked Among Wolves, the author of which Bruno Apitz himself had been imprisoned in Buchenwald for eight years. In addition to the everyday inhuman stay in the concentration camp, Apitz depicts the prisoners' rescue of the three-year-old child Stefan Jerzy Zweig (the well-known, real Buchenwald child - besides him, other children were saved) as a central figure. The book ends with a focus on self-liberation without being falsifying of history. It was also pointed out in the book that the number of weapons secretly in the camp, some of which were self-made, with around 70 captured weapons, was too low and that the physical condition of the prisoners was far too compromised for effective resistance to the full SS- Security guards would have been possible without the arrival of American troops. The resistance command acted on the responsibility of the remaining 21,000 prisoners in order not to be shot down by the SS at the last minute or drawn into war conflicts as a human shield. Bruno Apitz became world famous with this novel, which has been translated into 30 languages. In 1963 it was filmed by DEFA with leading actors such as Armin Mueller-Stahl, Erwin Geschonneck and Fred Delmare.

The idea of ​​a decisive independent liberation of the camp by the prisoners was promoted by the GDR government, as it fit well into the socialist-anti-fascist founding myth during the Cold War and support from the American class enemy was not considered opportune. For this reason, the honored resisters among the non-communist prisoners were initially often not mentioned, with exceptions such as Pastor Paul Schneider or the SPD politician Rudolf Breitscheid. That only changed in the 1980s, when persecuted Christians, such as Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, persecuted minorities or other members of other parties were publicly mentioned.

After the liberation, on April 16, the American troops confronted around 1,000 residents of Weimar with the mountains of corpses in the concentration camp. The majority of these citizens claimed that they did not know anything, or at least no further details, of what was going on in the camp.

1945 to 1950
After the US troops withdrew in July 1945, the Soviet military administration took over the camp and used it as an internment camp from August 1945 to February 1950 under the name “Special Camp No. 2”.

In the concentration camps, the SS delegated the internal organization to so-called prison functionaries. After the camp was established, these tasks were initially assigned to “criminal prisoners” (see Kapo). As early as 1939, the “political prisoners” gradually succeeded in ousting the “criminals” previously preferred by the SS from these positions. Until the liberation, political prisoners took on important posts among the prisoner functionaries. They were able to achieve a lot for individual inmates within the narrow limits of everyday camp life.


In the central labor statistics, the SS planned the labor deployment of the prisoners. There, prisoners then prepared lists on their behalf indicating which prisoners should go to which subcamp. For example, reliable resistance members could be smuggled into the most notorious sub-camp Dora-Mittelbau there. In the end, prisoners managed to set up a resistance organization there that targeted sabotage against the V2 rockets. About 19 percent of the completed missiles had defects in this regard.

In the inmate infirmary, inmates could be briefly hidden from the SS. The Buchenwald International Camp Committee was a conspiratorial organ of prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp. An International Military Organization (IMO) was also formed under their leadership. In the Buchenwald concentration camp, anti-fascists built a cross-party united front. In 1944 it was possible to create an illegal German Popular Front Committee. When it was liberated in 1945, the illegal KPD in the concentration camp had 629 members in 22 district associations. In addition, there were 111 candidates and 59 prisoners whose membership was not recognized due to non-compliance with party obligations.

After the liberation of the concentration camp on April 11, 1945, resolutions and declarations were drawn up by various groups of prisoners:

the Buchenwald Manifesto of German-speaking Social Democrats and Socialists
a resolution of the CP Buchenwald
the declaration of the internationalist communists Buchenwald of the Fourth International
a statement by the Popular Front Committee of Social Democrats, Communists and Christians
numerous declarations and manifestations by former prisoners who spoke another language
the Buchenwald oath of the International Camp Committee in many languages.

At the memorial rally of the International Camp Committee, 21,000 survivors took the Buchenwald oath for the dead of Buchenwald on April 19, 1945. In addition, plans for post-war Germany were made during the Nazi regime, including the drafting of immediate school policy measures.

Post-war processes
After the liberation of the camp, the camp's commandant staff was arrested. Among them were the commandant Pister, the camp doctor Hans Eisele and Ilse Koch. Functional prisoners such as Kapo Hans Wolf were also arrested. The US Army then heard about 450 witnesses about the events in the camp and those responsible. When the troops withdrew on July 1, 1945, about 3 tons of documents were taken with them. After viewing the camp documents, the Soviet Union received an offer that it should carry out further investigations and lead the Buchenwald trial. The Soviet Union did not take advantage of this offer because it feared that a lawsuit would be brought against it, as it continued to operate the camp as Special Camp No. 2 after the takeover.

The crimes committed in Buchenwald have now been prosecuted by a US military tribunal in the Buchenwald main trial and its subsidiary trials. The doctors involved in the medical experiments were charged in the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial (1946/1947). The accused included the head of the tropical medicine department at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, Gerhard Rose, for the typhus tests on Sinti and Roma in Buchenwald and SS-Hauptsturmführer Waldemar Hoven, site doctor of the Buchenwald concentration camp. The camp doctor Hans Eisele, who was convicted in the Dachau trials, also gained notoriety.

The experiments in Buchenwald are documented in the station diary of SS-Hauptsturmführer Erwin Ding-Schuler, in statements by European doctors who were imprisoned in the concentration camp, as well as in reports from former prisoners such as the Austrian sociologist and philosopher Eugen Kogon, who wrote in 1946 under the title Der SS state reported on life in Buchenwald.

The public prosecutor's office in Erfurt announced on January 31, 2018 that investigations had started against five former security guards from Buchenwald for aiding and abetting murder, who were between 92 and 96 years old at the time. They lived in Thuringia, Berlin, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and the Rhineland.


On January 26, 2019, the public prosecutor announced that of the original ten suspects in 2017, seven were still alive, but had not yet been heard; Another case in Thuringia against a former security guard at the Auschwitz extermination camp was reported by the Gera public prosecutor to the Bavarian judiciary. However, the man has now also died, according to the MDR, citing the public prosecutor in Munich.

On November 8, 2019, it became known that the Erfurt public prosecutor's office was still investigating six former security guards at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The charge is complicity in murder. According to the public prosecutor's office, one of the men lives in Erfurt, four in other federal states and one in the USA. In total, the central office for the investigation of Nazi crimes in Ludwigsburg recently handed over eleven cases to the Erfurt public prosecutor's office. Four of the accused had died in the meantime, and in one case the preliminary investigation was suspended due to inability to stand trial.

Even in the outstanding cases, it is very questionable whether it will come to trial. The investigations are difficult, so in one of the cases missing files had to be laboriously procured and evaluated, said a spokesman for the public prosecutor's office. The interrogations of the accused were "challenging and lengthy", none of them was under 95 years old. In four cases, the Erfurt public prosecutor's office is assuming that the proceedings will be discontinued in the near future because the evidence is insufficient for an indictment.

Memorials, memorials and exhibitions
In order to be able to erect a memorial, an existing historical monument - a Bismarck tower - was destroyed in an illegal operation well in advance of the concrete planning: On April 22, 1949, the Small Secretariat - the later secretariat of the Central Committee of the SED - decided under the leadership by Walter Ulbricht the demolition of the Bismarck Tower on the Ettersberg, which was perceived as a nuisance by the political officials for the planned Buchenwald concentration camp memorial. On May 11, 1949, the tower was blown up.

In July 1949, the information department of the Soviet military administration recommended the Association of Victims of the Nazi Regime (VVN) to set up a national museum in the Buchenwald camp.

The VVN designed a "large-scale resistance museum". The former barracks should be used by different nations for their own exhibitions. However, the draft failed because of the plans of the SED Politburo.

The plan provided for a Thälmann memorial. In addition, a resolution by the Central Committee of the SED on October 9, 1950 states that the entire camp with all its barracks should be demolished. Only the crematorium - as the place where Ernst Thälmann died -, the gate building and the west and east towers were to be preserved. It was later decided to reforest the area.

The planned demolition of the camp followed a certain concept of interpretation of the history of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Robert Siewert justified the demolition in 1952: “The essence of the Buchenwald concentration camp is not embodied in the barracks or the massive blocks [...] The essence was deep comradeship, mutual help, connected and hardened by the fight against fascist terror that organized Resistance and deep belief in the victory of our just cause! "

The final design of the preserved part of the prison camp grounds followed the motto “through dying and fighting to victory”. The afforestation decision was abandoned. More than half of the area was left to nature. Quarry stone fields were created at the locations of some of the former blocks to mark the outlines. The division of the area "should on the one hand create the impression of inhuman wasteland and inhospitableness, as on the other hand 'consciously smashing the fascist horror" under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann's followers ".

In the 1950s, many information boards were put up on the site. On these, the history of the Buchenwald concentration camp was reduced to the representation of communist resistance and international solidarity under the leadership of the KPD members.


After several years of planning, in which Ludwig Deiters, among others, contributed, and the construction, the Buchenwald National Memorial was inaugurated on September 14, 1958. This was intended to commemorate the self-liberation of the prisoners and the GDR as a liberated part of Germany. “The identification with the GDR and the Eastern Bloc should correspond to the rejection of West Germany and the Western alliance as potential successors to the SS state. Commemoration meant less confrontation with the National Socialist past than a commitment to the SED state. "

In the mid-1980s, it was found that the memorial was reaching fewer and fewer young people. As a result, a youth meeting place, a history workshop and a youth hostel were set up in one of the SS barracks. In preparation for a new version of the exhibition, new topics such as the fate of Jewish prisoners, homosexuals or Sinti and Roma were addressed. However, this re-evaluation only took place in technical discussions and was hardly implemented. The existence of the Soviet special camp No. 2 was also not discussed. The prisoners who died in the special camp and their graves in the immediate vicinity of the memorial were kept secret.

On the other hand, Christian and church groups began to use the memorial site for social and peace education work. The Thuringia working group of the Christian Peace Conference (CFK) invited since 1982, partly together with the Evangelical Martinigemeinde Erfurt, to a so-called "Way of the Cross for Peace", in which the participants remembered individual groups of victims of the camp and the memory of them in the In the context of the current search for peace and international understanding. The memorial stone to the “Action Jews” from 1938 was one of the stops along with other memorial sites for prisoners from different nations. The fate of Pastors Paul Schneider and Otto Neururer was remembered in the “bunker” and the inmates murdered there, including the KPD chairman Ernst Thälmann, at the crematorium. These crossroads sometimes took place several times a year for a decade and a half. The Evangelical Lutheran parish of Weimar and later the regional church also invited to memorial services for the Christian martyr Paul Schneider.

After German reunification, in September 1991 a historian commission set up by the Thuringian Ministry of Science presented guidelines for redesigning the memorial. The focus of the memory should be on the memory of the concentration camp, in addition to the Soviet special camp No. 2 should now also be remembered. Both memorial sites should be spatially separated. The permanent exhibition should be conceived and designed according to the latest research. In addition, the commission recommended that the history of the Buchenwald National Memorial and Memorial in the GDR be illustrated in a documentation and that the name be changed to Buchenwald Memorial. The Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation has been a member of the working group of independent cultural institutes since 2000. On June 5, 2009, Buchenwald was visited by US President Barack Obama together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Shoa survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

As part of the design of the Buchenwald Memorial, the permanent exhibition “Buchenwald Concentration Camp 1937–1945” was opened in 1995 in the largest building of the “Protective Custody Camp”, the effects chamber. The effects room was used to store all movable things and thus fulfilled the function of a magazine. This fact flowed into the design of the exhibition. Finds, pictures, documents and biographies of victims and perpetrators are displayed in steel cabinets and shelves.

A new building was erected across from the cemetery of the special camp. The exhibition “Soviet Special Camp No. 2 1945–1950” opened there in 1997 and shows photos, memories and finds on the subject. Right from the start, the exhibition concept had to deal with the problem that “there were numerous Nazi activists among the inmates of Special Camp No. 2”.


In 1998 the art exhibition "Survival - Testimony - Artwork - Image Memory" was opened in the former disinfection building. Here, artistic works are exhibited that were made by former prisoners until 1945 or by survivors.

The historical development of the memorial and the formation of memories after 1945 is the subject of the exhibition “History of the Buchenwald Memorial”, which opened in 1999, within a building near the memorial.

In addition to these permanent exhibitions, various traveling exhibitions are regularly shown.

In addition to the criticism of the exhibition on Special Camp No. 2, there are also critical considerations of prisoner brothels in the concentration camp. It is criticized that to this day no official references to camp plans or exhibitions for the existence of such brothels have been given.

Memorial and bell tower
The memorial was built between 1954 and 1958. The concept is based on the motto “By dying and fighting to victory”. The visitor should be shown away from death into life. The form of the entire monumental complex can be assigned to socialist realism. A staircase leads down from the entrance gate. The stairs are flanked by seven steles, which symbolize the seven years of existence of the concentration camp. The steles were designed and created by the sculptors René Graetz, Waldemar Grzimek and Hans Kies. On the back of the steles are texts by Johannes R. Becher. There are funeral funnels at the end of the stairs. Shortly before the concentration camp was liberated in 1945, the SS buried around 3,000 dead in these depressions. Three of the funeral funnels in the form of ring graves became part of the memorial.

The ring tombs are connected by The Road of Nations. The Road of Nations is flanked by brick pylons with the names of 18 nations whose relatives were imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. At the top, forged fire bowls form the end of the pylons. The symbolism takes up the obelisk erected on April 19, 1945 by survivors on the former roll call square with a wooden fire bowl and a scratched, warning engraving.

A wide paved staircase leads to the bell tower Tower of Freedom. Inside the tower there is a bronze plate under which the earth and ashes from other concentration camps lie. The beech forest bell in the tower was made by Franz Schilling, it was artistically designed by Waldemar Grzimek. The crowning of the tower is a work of blacksmithing and was designed by Fritz Kühn. In front of the bell tower stands a group of figures designed by Fritz Cremer in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht in honor of the resistance struggle in the camp. It was cast in bronze in the Lauchhammer art foundry from 1957 to 1958 and restored from 2002 to 2005. In its conception, the group of figures is based directly on "The Citizens of Calais" by Auguste Rodin (1884/85). It is the first German memorial for the victims of fascism.

Monuments and places of remembrance
In addition to the exhibitions and the memorial with bell tower, there are other monuments, memorial stones and memorial sites in the former concentration camp.

At the first memorial service on April 19, 1945, a few days after the liberation on April 11, 1945, some survivors erected a wooden obelisk with a symbolic wooden brazier on it on the roll call square. They carved the characters "K.L.B", the number 51,000 and a wreath into this memorial. The obelisk was intended to commemorate the events that happened to the prisoners. The obelisk no longer exists today. In 1995 the DENKMAL AN EINKMAL was created by the artists Horst Hoheisel and Andreas Knitz. It is a metal plate with the names of over 50 nations engraved in the middle part in alphabetical order. The entire plate is heated to 37 ° C all year round and radiates warmth in this place of human cold.

The “Jewish Memorial” was consecrated on November 9, 1993 where the Jewish Block 22 stood. It is built from stones from the Buchenwald quarry and bears Psalm 78.6 EU in German, English and Hebrew translation as an inscription.

"So that I can recognize the future generatins, the children who will be born, so that they can stand up and tell their children."


As part of the cultural program of Weimar as European Capital of Culture in 1999, a hunting star, laid out in 1734 and overgrown over time, was uncovered in cooperation with the Buchenwald memorial, which connected Ettersburg Castle and Park at the foot of the Ettersberg with the later concentration camp area on the northern slope. This connection path, known as the “time lane”, which has been accessible again since 1999, between the castle as a place of the humanistic mentality of the Weimar Classic and the concentration camp area was intended, according to the program concept (Walther Grunwald), to highlight “the uncanny proximity between modern barbarism and classical culture”.

Part of the old railway line has been visible again since 2007 thanks to the Buchenwaldbahn Memorial Trail. This begins shortly after “Blutstraße” and ends at the loading ramp of the concentration camp, next to the former Gustloff works. It has a length of 3.3 kilometers.

The resistance fighters Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Friedrich von Rabenau and Ludwig Gehre were imprisoned in an SS arrest cell near the quarry from the beginning of 1945 and then murdered in Flossenbürg. In 1999, therefore, the memorial for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Friedrich von Rabenau and Ludwig Gehre was built in the exposed cellar.

In the area of ​​the small camp, the “Small Camp” memorial was erected with donations from the USA and Germany. It was created between 2001 and 2002. The design goes back to the New York architect Stephen Jacobs, who was moved as a child with his father and brother at the beginning of 1945 from Auschwitz to Buchenwald to the small camp.

The memorial stone commemorates the Jewish special camp that was located on roll call square in 1938 and 1939. After the pogroms in November 1938, 10,000 Jews were brought to Buchenwald by the SS and housed in wooden barracks in the western part of the roll call area, where they were mistreated.

From November 1944 to March 1945, numerous convicted conscientious objectors and deserters of the Wehrmacht were transferred to the concentration camp. At the former Block 45, the memorial stone commemorates the conscientious objectors and deserters of the Wehrmacht of these people.

In 2002, the memorial stone in memory of the imprisoned Jehovah's Witnesses who were victims in the Buchenwald concentration camp was also erected on the former Block 45. Also on the former block 45, the memorial stone for the “Rosa-Winkel-prisoners” reminds of the 650 imprisoned “Rosa-Winkel-prisoners”, one in three of whom was killed.

The memorial stone in memory of women and girls on the former Block 5 is intended to commemorate the more than 26,000 women and girls who had to work for the German armaments industry in the satellite camps. The memorial stone was inaugurated in 2003 and contains a text by the Polish writer Danuta Brzosko-Mędryk. The Rudolf Breitscheid Memorial commemorates the SPD politician Rudolf Breitscheid. Breitscheid was interned in the Fichtenhain special camp and died in an Allied air raid in August 1944.

The plaque commemorating the murder of Ernst Thalmann is located on the former crematorium of the camp, attached to the outer wall that faces the building's courtyard. At this point Thälmann was shot by SS men. The plaque was placed in the camp area in 1953 as the first memorial plaque during the GDR era.

Buchenwald song
For the entertainment of the SS, it was customary in the concentration camps for prisoners to sing folk songs or marching songs. In Buchenwald, the SS liked the song “Steht a little village in the middle of the forest” based on the poem “He was like that” by Arno Holz and was part of the daily roll call.

At the end of 1938, the “protective custody camp” leader Arthur Rödl asked inmates to write a song for the Buchenwald camp. The Austrian prisoners Fritz Löhner-Beda and Hermann Leopoldi wrote and composed the Buchenwald song in a very short time. It consisted of three stanzas. Satisfied with the result, Rödl had the song practiced vigorously. It became the standard on roll calls and other occasions. It was also played as a marching song when the work columns moved in and out. Because the mass singing did not always work immediately, Rödl regularly had fits of anger and drilled mass or individual punishments. The inmates therefore organized it so that the blocks standing near Rödl sang with double strength and the more distant inmates only moved their lips.

Today the Buchenwald song is an integral part of commemorations for the liberation.


An estimated 250,000 prisoners were imprisoned in Buchenwald, including many publicly known persons such as politicians, writers and clergy. Furthermore, Allied soldiers were interned in the concentration camp after their capture. These included 26 Canadian Air Force soldiers and 142 British, American, Australian and New Zealand Air Force pilots who had been shot down on the front lines. They made contact with the French resistance and disguised themselves as civilians, but were betrayed from the ranks of the resistance fighters and transported to Buchenwald. By treating them as spies there, the Geneva Conventions could be circumvented.

Camp commanders
The first camp commandant was SS-Standartenführer Karl Otto Koch from July 1937 to November 1941. He was first transferred to Lublin for embezzlement on a large scale and black market trade, where he directed the establishment of the Majdanek concentration camp. However, he was then dropped by Heinrich Himmler and charged with the murder of three prisoners and corruption as an example for all other corrupt concentration camp commanders. He was sentenced to death and executed on April 5, 1945 in Buchenwald concentration camp. His wife Ilse Koch, later also referred to as the "witch of Buchenwald", was feared as a sadist by the prisoners. After the war she was indicted in the Buchenwald main trial and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Koch's successor was SS Oberführer Hermann Pister. He ran the camp from December 1941 to April 1945 and converted it into a functioning concentration camp business enterprise. Under his command, an arms factory of the Wilhelm Gustloff Foundation was set up at the concentration camp. After the war ended, he was arrested and sentenced to death by a US military tribunal in the main Buchenwald trial. He died at the end of September 1948 in the Landsberg am Lech correctional facility of cardiac muscle paralysis.

An estimated 56,000 people died in the Buchenwald concentration camp, including around 15,000 Soviet citizens, 7,000 Poles, 6,000 Hungarians, 3,000 French and a further 5,000 people from 26 nations. Among the fatalities were around 11,800 Jews as well as a large number of politically persecuted people (mainly communists and social democrats), religiously persecuted people such as Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as homosexuals and Roma. So far, a total of 36,000 of the victims could be assigned by name.

Around 27,000 women were imprisoned in 28 women's subcamps, 335 of whom were killed. Around 8,000 Soviet prisoners of war not registered in Buchenwald were shot there and 1,100 people were hanged in the crematorium. In addition, there are large numbers of deaths during the evacuation marches.

In the associated quarry, in which numerous prisoners died, limestone was mined, which soon turned out to be unsuitable for building purposes. According to a sketch, the origin of which is still unclear today (as of October 2019), eight galleries are said to have been created there. The US Army found two of them following information from prisoners, opened them and brought the valuables found there to the US headquarters in Frankfurt am Main. After Thuringia was handed over to the Red Army due to the stipulations on the division of Germany, the responsible US officer informed his contact on the Soviet side by letter about the findings about the quarry. Whether and to what extent the Soviet side used this information for their own explorations is still unclear (as of October 2019). At the beginning of October 2019, during extensive soil investigations in the quarry that was initiated on the basis of MDR research, a tunnel ten meters deep was found, but it was empty. The exploration work is to be continued.