Execution Room at Buchenwald

Meat hooks on the walls of the execution room at Buchenwald

The photo above shows the morgue in the basement of the Buchenwald crematorium building. According to information given to visitors to the Buchenwald Memorial Site, this room was used to execute prisoners by hanging them by the neck from hooks near the ceiling until they were dead.

However, a different explanation for the hooks was given by one of the former Polish prisoners to Cpl. Norman W. Paschen when he toured the camp shortly after it was liberated by American troops.

The following quote is from a letter to his family, written by Cpl. Paschen:

We then went to the crematory, a cold, dismal building resembling a dungeon. A large chute similar to a coal chute had been used to convey the bodies to a cellar. On the walls of the cellar were many hooks which were used to hold the corpses until it came time for them to be elevated to the crematory upstairs. The hooks had been forced into the neck behind the ear. They were still blood-stained. In this room, also men were executed if they were deemed no longer useful to the Nazi. The methods of execution were varied. Sometimes a bullet was used, but our guide informed us that his captors had said many times that a bullet was too expensive a price to pay for the death of a slave. Poison gas or starvation was much cheaper.

Crematorium with elevator in right hand corner

The photograph above shows the ovens used at Buchenwald for cremation; a steel trolley cart was used to shove the bodies inside. The bodies had to be perfectly straight in order to fit inside the ovens. In the right hand corner of the room, you can see the hand operated elevator used to bring the corpses up from the execution room in the basement.

Instead of a gas chamber disguised as a shower room, the Buchenwald concentration camp had an "execution chamber" in the basement of the crematorium. In the execution chamber, the victims died a horrible death from suffocation after being hung from meat hooks near the ceiling, according to the camp guidebook. The execution room is shown in the photo at the top of this page.

Execution by suffocation was unique to the Buchenwald camp; in all the other concentration camps in the Greater German Reich, prisoners were executed by public hanging or shooting. The Nazis referred to the Buchenwald "execution chamber" as the Leichenkeller (corpse cellar) where bodies were supposed to be kept before they were burned, but according to the Buchenwald guidebook, the bodies were stored in a shed near the east gate into the camp, a long way from the cremation ovens.

As shown in the 1999 photograph at the top of this page, tourists today can see the reconstruction of the infamous meat hooks, which are about the size and shape of horseshoes, attached to the wall of the "execution room." There are now at least two dozen reconstructed hooks on the wall, some of which are in a section of the room that is not shown in the photograph.

The Buchenwald Report uses the phrase "meat hooks used for hanging bodies," which implies that the men who were hung in the execution room were already dead before their bodies were placed on the hooks.

The following quote is from the Buchenwald Report.

They removed the meat hooks used for hanging bodies, cemented in the holes, and covered up the blood-spattered walls with a fresh coat of white paint. In their haste, however, they did not completely finish the job of hiding the evidence: After liberation, an American medical officer reported seeing four hooks still in the wall and partially filled holes for forty-four more, as well as a bloodstained club.

Congressmen on a visit to Buchenwald, April 24, 1945

The photo above shows a group of US Congressmen on a visit to Buchenwald on April 24, 1945. They are being shown the "bloodstained club" that was found by the American liberators in a corner of the execution room. They were told that the "bloodstained club" was used to beat prisoners to death in the execution room, but if this room was a morgue, as the Nazis claimed, the club might have been used to break the bones of bodies in which rigor mortis had set in before the body could be hung up to keep it straight for the ovens.

On the right, in the photo above, is what appears to be a dummy hanging from a hook on the wall; this was part of the exhibit shown to visitors after the liberation.

At the Dachau Memorial Site, a sign above the cremation ovens informed visitors that prisoners were hung from the rafters in front of the ovens. This sign did not say whether prisoners were hung by the neck until dead in front of the hot ovens, or whether dead bodies were hung up to keep them straight until they could be lowered into the ovens. Then a new sign on the wall of the Dachau crematorium was added to make it clear that prisoners were hung by the neck from the rafters in front of each oven until they were strangled to death.

General George S. Patton, who toured Buchenwald on April 15, 1945, wrote the following in his autobiography regarding what he was told by the former prisoners:

If a sufficient number (of the Buchenwald prisoners) did not die of starvation or if, for other reasons, it was desirable to remove them without waiting for nature to take its course, they were dropped down a chute into a room which had a number of hooks like those on which one hangs meat in a butcher shop, about eight feet from the floor. From the execution room in the Buchenwald set-up there was an elevator, hand operated, which carried the corpses to an incinerator plant on the floor above.

The "chute" which Patton saw was originally built to drop dead bodies down into the morgue in the basement. According to the testimony of some of the Buchenwald prisoners, the basement room below the chute was an execution room, and there was apparently no morgue for storing the bodies of prisoners who died of disease.

According to the camp guidebook:

Approximately 1,100 people were strangled to death on wall hooks in the body storage cellar. Ivan Belevzev from Kharkov, 8 years old, was the youngest victim of the murderers.

Under German law in the Third Reich, no one under the age of 16 could be executed, but an exception was apparently made for the 8-year-old who was executed at Buchenwald.

According to the book entitled "IBM and the Holocaust," by Edwin Black, the Jewish prisoners at Buchenwald were assigned to "the Little Camp, where they were expected to lose 40 percent of their body weight and then move on to other barracks." The Little Camp was the quarantine camp where prisoners had to be confined for several weeks after they first entered the camp.

According to information that Black obtained from an Army report, the Jews were "arbitrarily condemned to death," one shelf at a time. A shelf was a three-tiered bunk bed where 16 prisoners slept together.

The following quote is from "IBM and the Holocaust" in which Edwin Black describes the corpse chute at Buchenwald.

Once the murder decision had been made, all sixteen Jews in the shelf were immediately marched to a small door adjacent to Buchenwald's incinerator building. The door opened inward, creating a short, three-foot-long corridor. Jews were pushed and herded until they reached the corridor end. There, a hole dropped thirteen feet down a concrete shaft and into the Strangling Room. A camp worker recalled, "As they hit the floor they were garroted ... by big SS guards and hung on hooks along the side wall, about 6 1/2 feet above the floor ... any that were still struggling were stunned with a wooden mallet ... An electric elevator ... ran [the corpses] up to the incinerator room.

Buchenwald gas chamber?

Medical Experiments

Execution of Soviet POWs

Buchenwald Atrocities

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This page was last updated on August 1, 2012