Valentina Djelaj Journal Entry on Buchenwald 3 July 2010

7/3 Buchenwald

Buchenwald concentration camp is on top of Ettersberg Mountain.  This is right out of the city of Weimar.  From the camp you can see the city and vice-versa.  Buchenwald was built in 1937.  This camp is infamous for being a slave labor camp.  One of its ‘types’ of prisoners it was most known for was homosexuals.  They also deported men, teenagers, children, political prisoners, opponents of the Nazi party, asocials, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, Sinti and Roma, etc., to this camp.  They came from almost every different country in Europe to this camp.  From 1937-1945 more than 250, 000 prisoners were here.  This camp had 136 sub-camps as well as the main camp.  Around 56, 000 human died here because of illness, starvation, medical experiments, etc.  Also, 8, 000 Soviet POWs were murdered here by the SS.

In order to get to Buchenwald, almost every person needed to go through Weimar by train and hop onto another train to get to the top of the hill. There used to be no trees covering Buchenwald so all the people in Weimar used to be able to visibly see them from their city.  Buchenwald was approximately 6,000 acres (1/10th the size of Auschwitz).

The first monument we came across was a monument that led down staircases and sequentially had one every couple of stairs.  On this memorial there was a giant picture of slave laborers.  There is a man who seems to be an SS guard/ soldier standing tall in the middle of the picture.  He is watching over the other workers.  The workers are putting a gallows up (probably for themselves) and some of them are being tortured.  They are wearing big wooden clogs while the SS are wearing tall boots.  The rest of what the SS are wearing is uniforms and the prisoners are wearing their uniforms as well.  The stone is beige color and is one of many in a row.

The second memorial is a tall tower memorial.  It was dedicated in 1955 for the liberation of the camp.  It was both stone and granite as part of it with a lot of mortar.  It clearly seems as if the Soviets have made it (because of how large it is).  At the top are the Roman numerals of the date made and there is also a bell tower.  For such an important memorial, I agree with the Soviets in making this monument so large (larger than life… if you will).

The next memorial is in front of the tall tower.  This is a hollow bronze medal statue.  There are men (prisoners) being liberated in this monument, from the camp.  The prisoners (one of them) are holding a flag (symbolizing freedom and truce).  All of them are men (no women) except for one young boy.  They are wearing their ‘prisoner uniforms’ and are extremely skinny.  One prisoner looks to be wearing an SS guard’s long leather jacket.  Some of the people have different objects in their hands.  Three men have guns in their hands, the boy has a cup, and a couple men have their hands in the air in defeat over the Nazis.  One of the men is also wearing a hat that resembles a soldier’s (such as a British pilot or French beret).  This monument was most likely created to represent the uprising of the prisoners about a day before the American troops came to liberate them.

Upon arriving to the camp gates we ran into a very interesting picture that Elie Wiesel, himself, was in the background (very little).  Four hundred and fifty boys were protected by campmates and survived from Buchenwald. The barracks that surrounded the camps were for single SS soldiers to live in (now youth hostels).  If you were high enough ranked, you could have your own house around the camp with your family (as an SS officer).

As you walk up to the camp, you instantly feel your stomach turn into knots.  Seeing the bunker where the prisoners were tortured in, gave me a very uneasy feeling.  There were tiny memorials in almost each cell.  One was of a priest (rabbi?) and there were flowers by some of their pictures.  In the bunker were also different torturing devices.  When I looked up at the clock I instantly knew it had significance, but I had no idea what.  It read 3:15.  This is because on April 11th, 1945, at ~3:15, the people of Buchenwald were liberated.  On the gates of the door there were words of irony and disgust written.  They said Jedem das Seine, which translates to (roughly)…  “to each his own”—almost meaning ‘free will.’  Reading this showed the Nazis morbid sense of humor and put me into further disgust.

As I first walked in, I instantly noticed the roll call area.  The prisoners gathered here twice a day, no matter the weather.  If someone was missing, they were all forced to stand longer.  The rest of the camp seemed pretty empty.  The wooden buildings were all bug infested and destroyed long ago.  One of the buildings in the way back was used for medical experiments on the prisoners.  The prisoners built a wooden monument of their uprising but it was destroyed.  In its place (a memorial of a memorial) was a new metal plate (at 98.6 degrees).  On it was K.L.B., which in English translates to “Concentration Camp- Buchenwald.”  I found a lot of interesting facts about this camp while here, such as Buchenwald doing experiments on mostly homosexuals—to change their sexual orientation. They also didn’t tattoo people at this camp.  If prisoners were tattooed then they must have came from a different camp (Auschwitz) to work at this camp.  There weren’t many Jews here, but most of the ones who were here, died from typhus.  The railroads with the prisoners came in at the base of the camp.

One of the memorials we came across was for the Sinti and Roma.  This said, “In memory of the Sinti and Roma victims of Nazi Holocaust.”  There were separate memorials dedicated to certain groups of people.  This is mostly because they often put people of the same nationality/ ethnicity in the same barracks (the prisoners felt comfort out of this).  There is a fairly new memorial made by an American architect named Stephen B. Jacobs.  He was a prisoner here when he was younger.  This memorial was dedicated to the Jewish “Little Camp.”  A couple of years back, some Neo-Nazis vandalized this monument.  The Jewish memorial quote states, “So that the generation to come might know, the children yet to be born, that they too may rise and declare to their children.”  There was also a memorial for the homosexual men in the camp.  On the memorial was a pink triangle which was patched to their uniforms to humiliate them.  These patches were on all the prisoners to humiliate them further.  They were color-coded for different religion, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc.  There was also a memorial plaque for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Goethe had a little memorial at a stump at this camp.  It said, “Goethe’s oak stump still standing.”  There was a plaque for 27,000 of the women and children in any of Buchenwald’s sub-camps.  They did their best at this camp to include and recognize every type of prisoner/victim who was tortured/ killed at this camp and that is an amazing way to remember them.  On the way over to the crematorium, there were a couple of torture devices on display.  They would hang people on this large pole and elevate them off the ground with their hands behind their backs.  The other device was a huge barrel with stones in it.  Then they would tie it to prisoners to humiliate them and make them go up and down the hill as a torturing device.  As soon as we surrounded the crematorium, we instantly were even quieter than we originally started off.  Just thinking that Hitler and the Nazis caused the greatest mass genocide with the help of these crematoriums, made me feel uneasy.  Nothing could have prepared me for seeing this crematorium.  Even the testimonials and stories we saw in the movie (earlier that day) couldn’t have prepared me for this.  There were baths and hooks, medical rooms; actual ovens (crematoriums) torture rooms, etc.  Thinking that these exact rooms were actually used was mind-blowing.  The more my mind digested this the less I could contain my tears.  The lighting of the 26-hour Jewish candle with Michael was probably the most heart-wrenching part for me this entire trip.  It was imperative for us to all see this part of the camp to fully understand the meaning of World War II and our studies here in the Europe, but it was very tough nonetheless.  After the crematorium, we saw an actual (decaying) original guard tower next to the replica.  I believe it is important to have both the old and the new in order for people to completely get the full experience of the camp.  On our way out we saw the bear zoo.  I kept trying to get inside the SS heads to understand why they would create this ‘zoo’ right here.  Perhaps they considered the prisoners apart of this so-called ‘zoo’ and it made sense for them to place this zoo next to the ‘caged’ prisoners as well.  Or, maybe this didn’t cross their minds and they just saw no harm in letting locals see the bear zoo even though it was surrounded by a genocide/ slave labor camp.  Either way, the Nazi psyche is an entire study in itself.  Buchenwald was a life-changing site visit to me.  I recommend every person go to a concentration camp to fully understand what mankind can be capable of.

 

 

 

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