Buchenwald Concentration Camp


Sign on gate at Buchenwald reads: Jedem das Seine

The photo above was taken from inside the gatehouse at the Buchenwald concentration camp, looking out at the administration building outside the camp; the sign on the gate can only be read from the inside. In English, it means "To Each his Own," or "Everyone gets what he deserves."

This photo and all the others on this page, were contributed by Bob Landino, the son of the late Louis J. Landino, who was an American soldier with the 57th Signal Service Company; he was in Europe from March 31, 1946 through August 30, 1948 during the American Occupation of Germany. These photos were included in a photo album which he brought home and gave to his family.

The Buchenwald gate with its famous sign "Jedem das Seine" was designed by Franz Ehrich, a prisoner who studied with Moholy-Nagy, Klee, Kandinsky and Josef Albers at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Ehrlich was arrested as a Communist resistance fighter in 1935 and sent to Buchenwld two years later. In 1937, the Buchenwald camp was stll new and had few buildings. Ehrlich, who had worked with architect Walter Gropius in his Bauhaus Berlin office, volunteered to work in the joinery workshop at Buchenwald; he was assigned to design and build the entrance gate. The sans-serif lettering of the words "Jedem das Seine" show Ehrlich's training under Bauhaus typographer Joost Schmidt. After he was released from Buchenwald in 1939, Ehrlich stayed on and worked as a paid architect at the SS training camp and munitions factories at Buchenald. (The source of the information about Franz Ehrich is this web site.)

Buchenwald was a Class II camp for hard-core political prisoners, mainly Communists, who were considered to be harder to "rehabilitate." Consequently, conditions in the Buchenwald camp were more severe than at Dachau and Sachsenhausen, which were Class I camps where many prisoners were released after being brain-washed into accepting such Nazi principles as obedience and hard work. The sign over the iron gates at both Dachau and Sachsenhausen read "Arbeit Macht Frei" or Work Brings Freedom.

The photo below, taken from the tower on top of the gatehouse, shows the barracks buildings at Buchenwald. The camp was built on the slope of a hill, so that all the barracks were visible from the gatehouse. The camp was guarded by three machine guns on top of the gatehouse.

Barracks at Buchenwald concentration camp

All of the wood frame barracks buildings at Buchenwald have long since been torn down, but the brick building, shown on the far right in the background of the photo above, is still there. This was the administration building when the camp was in operation.

The Jews were isolated in a special section called the "Small Camp," which was located at the bottom of the slope, far from the gatehouse. This section was separated from the rest of the camp by a barbed wire fence, which is shown in the photo below. The "Small Camp" was built where the soccer field had previously been located. It was used as a Quarantine camp for Jewish prisoners who had been evacuated from Auschwitz and other camps and brought to Buchenwald in the last months of the war.

"Small Camp" at Buchenwald was for the Jews

The Communist political prisoners, who lived in the barracks near the gatehouse, discriminated against the Jewish prisoners and would not allow them into their nicer section unless they received a bribe. After the camp was liberated, the Jews were not even allowed to attend the celebration ceremony which was conducted by the Communist prisoners near the gatehouse.

Conditions inside the "Small Camp" were far worse than in the main part of the camp. The Jews were forced to live in crowded barracks and disease was rampant.

Buchenwald was primarily a camp for political prisoners and the Jews had only arrived there after the death camps, located in what is now Poland, had been closed because of the advance of the army of the Soviet Union. The Jews were immediately isolated because they had to be quarantined in order to ensure that they were not carrying any diseases. In spite of this, a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp; half of all the prisoners who died at Buchenwald died during the epidemic. By the time that the Buchenwald camp was liberated, the epidemic had almost been brought under control and the death rate after the liberation was not as high as in the other camps in Germany.

The photo below shows a barrack building that was apparently reserved for Jews. Note the Star of David inside a circle at the top of the building. When American soldiers arrived on April 11, 1945 to liberate the camp, they found dead bodies scattered around. The photo below shows bodies that are still clothed, which probably indicates that they had died only hours before, since it was the custom to remove the clothing from the corpses and give it to the living prisoners.

Bodies in front of Jewish barrack

The photo below shows the emaciated bodies of dead Buchenwald prisoners piled up in the morgue. The clothing taken from the corpses was disinfected and then used again.

Emaciated corpses found at Buchenwald

The photo below shows the interior of one of the barrack buildings at Buchenwald. The prisoners slept in bunk beds that were stacked in tiers of three. This photo was probably taken in the main part of the camp, since the faces of the prisoners do not look emaciated.

Bunk beds inside the barracks at Buchenwald

The Communist prisoners controlled the camp; they were the Kapos (Captains) who were in charge of work assignments and the distribution of the food, according to the Buchenwald Report. When the American soldiers arrived to liberate the camp, they found that the Communists had already taken over and they had everything under control. The prisoners were still inside, but all the guards had abandoned the camp, and the Communists were maintaining order and discipline.

There were partially burned bodies still in the ovens, as shown in the photo below.

Partially burned bodies in crematory oven at Buchenwald

The sight of the ovens and the dead bodies scattered around enraged the American soldiers. They did nothing to prevent the prisoners from hunting down the guards, who were still hiding in the woods outside the camp. Approximately 80 SS guards were brought back to the camp and killed by the prisoners, while some of the American soldiers joined in.

The photo below shows a wagon loaded with corpses. Note the figure of a man, wearing striped prison pants, who is standing up in the wagon on the right side of the picture. Apparently the prisoners were put to work gathering the bodies and loading them up in three wagons for transport to a burial site. Burial did not take place until several weeks after the camp was liberated; bodies were left out on wagons such as this so that American soldiers could be brought to the camp as witnesses to the Nazi crimes.

Corpse wagon at Buchenwald concentration camp

Survivors at Buchenwald

The photo above was taken by an American Army photographer shortly after the camp was liberated. In the center of the photo is a Jewish prisoner who had gone into hiding when the Germans started to evacuate the camp, according to his daughter. He first hid in the typhus ward and later dug a hole near the infirmary barrack. He was too weak to stand when this photo was taken.

His daughter wrote in an e-mail to me that her father told her about "the American soldier who asked him to pose for a picture, because he was particularly emaciated compared to the other - political - prisoners. The photographer asked them to assume a serious expression, because he wanted to communicate what happened in the camps during the war."

Note that the prisoner in the center of the photo is wearing thick socks. The concentration camp prisoners were not normally issued socks. These socks had formerly belonged to an SS guard in the camp.

The following is a quote from the e-mail letter sent to me by this prisoner's daughter:

When my father arrived in Buchenwald, he was slated to work in the quarry, in effect a protracted death sentence, when a Nazi Jeep drove by seeking building engineers. My father was a textile engineer, but decided to take the chance. He was lucky; his co-worker (they were building barracks) taught him on the job.

Towards the end of the war he would hide near the Germans' cabin and listen to the newscasts, which told of the approaching American army. This motivated him to find whatever means possible to hold out in the camp and avoid further deportation. I already wrote you how he hid: first by hiding in the typhus ward, then by digging a cave.

Buchenwald was the first major Nazi camp to be liberated by American soldiers. Prior to April 11, 1945, the day that American soldiers first discovered Buchenwald, the only camp that had been found so far in Germany was the Ohrdruf forced labor camp, which was a sub-camp of Buchenwald. The abandoned Ohrdruf camp was discovered on April 4, 1945; the guards were gone, but a few prisoners were still there. American soldiers had also found the abandoned Natzweiler camp in Alsace, which is now in France, although this French province had been incorporated into the Greater German Reich after France was defeated by the Germans in 1940.

The gas chambers in Auschwitz, where the Jews were being murdered as part of a systematic plan ordered by Adolf Hitler, were known to Americans as early as June 1942 when this news was broadcast over the BBC by the British. When the American liberators arrived at Buchenwald, they were expecting to find a gas chamber. Instead they found a morgue in the basement of the crematorium building, where there were a few hooks on the wall, according to the Buchenwald Report. Some of the prisoners told the Americans that it was customary to murder prisoners at Buchenwald by hanging them from these hooks until they choked to death. Other prisoners at Buchenwald told American soldiers that dead bodies were hung from the hooks until they could be cremated.

The photo below appears to have been taken in the morgue. Notice what looks like a hook on the wall above the head of the figure of a prisoner and slightly to the left. The figure in the photo appears to be a dummy dressed in a prisoner's uniform; probably this photo was taken to illustrate how the prisoners were hung from the hooks so that their feet were just off the floor. Allegedly, a blood-stained club was found in the morgue. In the corner of the room, in the photo below, is what appears to be a club. This information comes from the Buchenwald Report, which was written by the US Army after gathering testimony from the survivors.

Probably a photo taken in the morgue at Buchenwald

We are grateful to Bob Landino who sent us these photos which provide proof of the horrors found in the Buchenwald camp. Bob acquired these photos from his late father, Louis J. Landino, who said that he had "bought them from a German." We welcome contributions of photographs from our readers and we will post them if they are relevant.

The photo below, which was also included in the album of photos which Bob's father, Louis J. Landino, brought home, shows a group of Unteroffiziere (Corporals) in Luftwaffe uniforms, clicking their beer mugs together in a toast.

German Luftwaffe soldiers lift their beer glasses in a toast

According to one of our readers, H.H. Fehse, the insignia on the right hand side of their uniforms is the eagle perched on a swastika and all the uniforms have light coloured (yellow) collar patches containing the insert of one Seagull. (The SS troops had a skull over crossed bones.) It is possible, considering that they are all of the same rank, that they are celebrating their promotion after completion of a training course.

In an e-mail to me, Fehse wrote the following:

The Luftwaffe maintained a small airfield about south west (?) of Weimar. As far as I remember it was used as a communication and training base for auxiliary services (none flying). Latter could explain the similar forest, which straddled the airfield on one side, and was also part of the surrounding around the concentration camp. Additionally, it does explain the mood of the group just having received their promotion. Furthermore, and to explain for your benefit none of the guys shown in the photo has any additional badges i.e. reference to specific pilot or flying training or units.
Regards H.H.Fehse


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This page was last updated on January 15, 2010