Buchenwald Death Statistics

Obelisk in honor of prisoners who died at Buchenwald 

On April 19, 1945, only 8 days after the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated by the US Army, the political prisoners held a mourning ceremony near the gate house where they had constructed an obelisk in honor of the victims. The Jews who were held in the "Small Camp" in the quarantine barracks at the bottom of the slope, which were the farthest away from the gate house, were not invited to attend the ceremony held by the Communist political prisoners. At this ceremony, the number of prisoners who died in the camp was estimated by the survivors to be 51,000.

The Memorial Site at Buchenwald now estimates that 56,000 prisoners were killed at Buchenwald.

On June 5, 2009, President Barack Obama placed a single white rose on a plaque at the spot where this obelisk once stood. "The White Rose" was a student resistance group at the Univeristy of Munich which opposed Hitler's government during World War II.

The obelisk was relocated in 1961 to the intersection in the road where the access road to the camp branches off the main road. The writing on the plaque lists the 18 countries of the victims.

According to a booklet that I obtained from the Buchenwald Memorial Site, which was written by Sabine and Harry Stein, "A total of 11,000 Jews lost their lives in Buchenwald. Out of the 13,969 inmates who died in 1945, there were 7,000 Jews."

The booklet written by Sabine and Harry Stein, which was available from the Memorial Site in 1999, states that, in addition to the number of recorded deaths at Buchenwald, "More than 8,000 Soviet prisoners of war were shot in the stable. An estimated number of 1,100 people were executed in the crematorium and an estimated number of between 12,000 and 15,000 people were dead upon arrival from the camps in the east or fell victim to the evacuation marches. This gives a total number of approximately 56,000 persons killed."

The first U.S. Army Intelligence report, dated April 24, 1945, put the Buchenwald death toll at 32,705.

According to a U.S. Army report dated May 25, 1945, there was a total of 238,980 prisoners sent to Buchenwald during its 8-year history from July 1937 to April 11, 1945, and 34,375 of them died in the camp. This report was based on records confiscated from the camp by the US military, after the camp was liberated.

A later U.S. Government report in June, 1945 put the total deaths at 33,462 with 20,000 of the deaths in the final months of the war.

In the first news reel film about what the victorious American troops discovered in Germany near the end of the war, the narrator says that "20,000 out of the 80,000 prisoners at Buchenwald were found alive." This would mean that 60,000 prisoners died at Buchenwald, which contradicts the Army reports.

The International Tracing Service of Arolsen, an affiliate of the Red Cross, released a report in 1984 which said that the number of documented deaths in Buchenwald was 20,671 plus an additional 7,463 at the notorious satellite camp called Dora, where prisoners were forced to work underground in the manufacturing of V-2 rockets for the German military. (In October 1944, Dora became an independent camp named Nordhausen.)

According to a guidebook which I purchased at Buchenwald in 1999, there were almost 10,000 Jews sent to Buchenwald on November 10, 1938, after the pogrom known as Kristallnacht, and more than 200 of them died after only a few weeks.

The Jews who died in 1945, in the last months of World War II, were prisoners who had been brought to Germany from the camps that were closed in the East as the Germans retreated from the advancing Soviet army. Under Article 7 of the 1929 Geneva Convention, Germany was obligated to move prisoners away from the combat zone.

According to an information booklet, which I obtained from the Buchenwald Memorial Site, records kept by the camp secretary show the number of deaths each year in Buchenwald, as follows:

1937 - 48

1938 - 771

1939 - 1235

1940 - 1772

1941 - 1522

1942 - 2898

1943 - 3516

1944 - 8644

January to March 1945 - 13,056

March to April 11, 1945 - 913

Total 34,375

The horrendous death toll during the first two months of 1945 was due to a typhus epidemic in the camp. During the same time period, there were also severe epidemics in all the other major concentration camps in Germany.

Typhus is spread by lice and prisoners coming into Germany from the death camps in what is now Poland were the carriers of the lice. The worst epidemic of all was at Bergen-Belsen where 35,000 prisoners died in March and the first two weeks of April 1945.

The death statistics for the first 11 days of April in Buchenwald indicate that the typhus epidemic was being brought under control there.

The Nazis did not use DDT, which was first used to stop epidemics in Europe in 1943. To kill the lice that spreads typhus, the Nazis used Zyklon-B, a poison gas which was also used to kill the Jews in the gas chambers in the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek camps.

The total number of prisoners at Buchenwald was only 5,382 at the start of the war on September 1, 1939, but by the end of September 1939, the camp population had increased to 8,634 after captured Polish soldiers were brought in. By December 1943, there were 37,319 prisoners in the camp, as Resistance fighters from Poland were brought in, along with many Soviet Prisoners of War that were sent to Buchenwald to be executed because they were Communist Commissars. The Soviet POWs were not registered as inmates.

There were 63,084 prisoners in the Buchenwald complex, including the sub-camps, in December 1944 according to the camp records. The population of the main camp and all the sub-camps reached 80,436 in late March 1945 after the death camps in what is now Poland were closed and the Jewish survivors were brought to various camps in Germany, including Buchenwald.

Many concentration camp inmates died on enforced marches, and thousands more died after they were evacuated out of Buchenwald by train in April 1945.

According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, "on April 6, 1945, the Germans began evacuating the Jewish prisoners. The following day, thousands of prisoners of various nationalities were evacuated from the main camps and the satellite camps. Of the 28,250 prisoners evacuated from the main camp, 7,000 to 8,000 either were killed or died by other means in the course of the evacuation. The total number of prisoners from the satellite camps and the main camp who fell victim during the evacuation of Buchenwald is estimated at 25,500...."

Among the prisoners, who died as a result of the evacuation from Buchenwald, were those on the "death train" that reached Dachau on April 28, 1945 after a three-week circuitous route through Czechoslovakia.

The total number of prisoners registered in the Buchenwald camp was around 238,000 according to a guidebook for the city of Weimar, which is about 5 miles from Buchenwald. This book puts the death total at 65,000. Various other sources put the total number of people sent to the camp between 239,000 and 250,000.

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This page was last updated on August 24, 2009