Memorials to the Dead at Buchenwald

Sculpture by Fritz Cremer shows Buchenwald resistance fighters

The photograph above shows the bell tower at the Buchenwald Monument with a sculpture in front of it, created by Fritz Cremer to honor the Anti-Fascist resistance fighters who were imprisoned in the Buchenwald concentration camp. The bell tower is located on top of the Ettersberg hill, about one kilometer from the Memorial Site at the former camp.

Throughout the Buchenwald Memorial site, there is heavy emphasis on the Communist and Social Democrat political prisoners with virtually no mention of the 4,000 Jews who were in the camp when it was liberated. One of the first monuments to be erected at a former concentration camp, the Buchenwald Monument is a political statement by the Communists, not a Holocaust memorial. The Buchenwald concentration camp was primarily a camp for political prisoners who opposed the Nazis, not a death camp for the genocide of the Jews. Most of the Jews in the camp had only recently arrived, after being transferred to Buchenwald when the death camps in the East were abandoned as the army of the Soviet Union advanced across German-occupied Poland.

The Buchenwald Monument is a huge affair on the southern slope of Ettersberg hill overlooking the city of Weimar, as the aerial photo below shows. The construction of this elaborate monument required four years; it was finally dedicated on September 14, 1958. Inside the tower is a bronze plaque under which dirt from many other Nazi concentration camps was placed. A bronze bell in the tower rings every hour on the hour.

Aerial photo of the Buchenwald Monument

The camp is on the northern slope of the hill, but not visible in the photo above. The white building north of the tower, shown in the photo above, is the Ettersburg castle. The three circles in the foreground (one is partially hidden by trees) are the walls built around natural depressions in the ground called "Devils's Holes."

Rings where ashes were dumped on the Ettersberg

View of ring tomb from top of bell tower

From the end of 1944 until the end of March 1945, the SS used these craters to dump the ashes of the dead after the bodies were cremated. According to the camp guidebook, these "ring tombs" are the graveyard for more than 3,000 inmates of the Buchenwald camp.

The entrance to the monument starts with a path to the right of the parking lot in the former concentration camp. This path follows the road for about one kilometer. After you enter, you walk on a path called the Street of Nations, shown in the picture below.

Street of Nations honors victims from 18 different countries

Each stelae records a different period or episode of suffering and resistance in the Buchenwald camp and has a poem engraved on the other side. The Street of Nations connects the three ring tombs, as shown in the foreground of the aerial photo above. The 18 stone pillars represent the nations from which the camp prisoners came. Some of these nations are no longer in existence.

At the third ring tomb, you turn and climb the steps, which are not very steep, to the top where the bell tower stands. The bell tower is shown in the photograph below. At this point you will be a few feet from the main road and the Glockenturm bus stop, where you can catch the bus back to Weimar. The whole tour of the monument, starting from the camp, will take at least an hour.

Bell Tower and sculpture is located one kilometer from camp

The Bell Tower stands at an overlook with a magnificent view of the city of Weimar. This is the spot where an important German historical landmark, the Bismarck Tower, once stood. The SS guards from the Buchenwald camp used to unwind by having drinking parties at this place.

The inmates who had died in the camp after the liberation were also buried in mass graves near the Bismarck Tower, as shown in the old photo below.

Mass graves for Buchenwald prisoners who died after the liberation

The Bismarck Tower was named after Otto von Bismarck, who was a great hero to the German people. He was the equivalent of George Washington for Americans, since he was recognized as the father of his country. Bismarck, who had been appointed the Chancellor of Prussia by the King of Prussia in 1862, was credited with uniting all the German states into one country in 1871, under Kaiser Wilhelm I, who also retained his original title of King of Prussia.

The Social Democrat Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) split off from the Communist Party in Germany in 1875 and formed a new political party. Bismarck suppressed the Social Democrats with the Anti-Socialist Laws of 1878. He was Germany's greatest hero, but he was also the greatest enemy of the Social Democrats and the Communists. So it was inevitable that, in 1949, the Soviets would blow up the tower named after him, and replace it with their own memorial tower dedicated to the Communist and Social Democrats resistance fighters.

In 1949, Germany was split into two countries because of political differences between the Soviet Union and the other three Allied countries. On Oct. 7, 1949 the Soviet-occupied zone in East Germany became the German Democratic Republic, also known as "East Germany." The Social Democrats and Communists combined into one political party called the SED or Socialist Unity Party (Sozialistische Einbeitspartei Deutschlands).

When the Bismarck tower was demolished by the Soviet Union in 1949, there were 1286 small urns containing ashes of Buchenwald inmates found in the basement. They were buried in the "row of tombs" to the left of the tower. During the 40 years of the Communist German Democratic Republic, the grounds around the tower were used for mass meetings, flag-hoisting and military swearing-in ceremonies.

First Monument erected at Buchenwald by the survivors in 1945

Stone marks the spot where first monument was erected at Buchenwald

The first monument at Buchenwald, shown in the black and white photo above, was erected in April 1945, only 8 days after the camp was liberated. The letters K.L.B. stand for Konzentratzionslager Buchenwald, which was the German name for the Buchenwald Concentration camp.

The political prisoners held a mourning ceremony near the gate house where they had constructed an obelisk in honor of the resistance fighters; the Jewish prisoners, who were a minority in the camp, were not invited. At the ceremony, the political prisoners estimated the number of dead prisoners at Buchenwald at 51,000. The final US Army Report for Buchenwald listed 34,375 deaths during the 8 years that the Buchenwald camp was in operation.

The obelisk was relocated in 1961 to the intersection in the road where the access road to the camp branches off the main road. A plaque was placed on the ground in the camp where the monument had once stood. The writing on the stone lists the 18 countries of the victims.

The photograph below shows a Memorial Stone dedicated to the Jewish men who were brought to Buchenwald in November 1938 after the pogrom called Kristallnacht.

Memorial to Jews sent to Buchenwald in 1938

The following quote is from the Buchenwald camp guidebook:

The Gestapo offices of central Germany sent almost 10,000 Jewish men to Buchenwald after the anti-Jewish pogroms organized throughout Germany on the 9th and 10th of November 1938. They were put in provisional accommodation facilities consisting of six large barracks located in a special camp and resembling barns. Terrorism of an extent unknown so far, looting and the lack of water, food, medicine and of the most simple sanitary facilities cost the lives of more than 200 people mainly during the first weeks. Thousands of arrested Jews only managed to escape from the camp by giving up everything and leaving Germany. Traumatic memories haunted many of them throughout their lives. 1,637 Jews still remained in the fenced camp adjacent to the mustering ground on 31st December 1938. The special camp was closed and demolished after the breakout of a typhoid epidemic on 15th February 1939. Workshop barracks and the prisoners' canteen were built on this site later on.

The Jewish prisoners were subjected to special harassment and to very harsh forms of forced labor. At the beginning, the transport squad at the quarry almost exclusively consisted of Jews. It was also called the Singing Horses. Jews also made up the squads in charge of latrine cleaning and the stretcher-bearers who carried dead bodies. Well-known artists, politicians, physicians, teachers, scientists and lawyers are among the victims claimed by anti-Jewish terrorism.

There is also a plaque, similar to the one shown in the photo above, placed flat on the ground, in memory of 17 English army officers who were hanged in Buchenwald in 1944.

In memory of the Jews who were forced to work at hard labor in the quarry, a memorial was created with stones brought from the quarry, as shown in the picture below.

 

Stones brought from quarry form this Jewish Memorial

In April 1997, a Memorial to the Romany and Sinti victims of the Nazis was dedicated on the spot where the Block 47 barracks once stood. The memorial is shown in the photograph below. This was the first memorial in recognition of the suffering of the Romany and Sinti under the Nazi regime.

First ever memorial for the Roma and Sinti erected in April 1997

Each of the upright stones in the memorial shown in the photo above has the name of another Nazi concentration camp where the Roma were sent. In the background in the photo above is the gate house on the left and the camp canteen on the right. In the foreground of the photo is the inscription which begins "In memory of Sinti and Romany.."

The following quote is from the camp guidebook:

The racist persecution of the Sinti in Germany had already started under the cover of the Aktion Abreitsscheu Reich (i.e. during an action against "work-shy" people in Germany) carried out in 1938. Approximately 700 people called Burgenland Gypsies were deported to Buchenwald by way of the Dachau camp about one year later, i.e. in September 1939. They were put in Blocks 14 and 15. Many of them were driven to death in the quarry and in the excavation and stone-carrier parties. Hundreds of people belonging to the Romany Gypsies were provisionally put in Block 47 as the SS deported the survivors of the mass extermination of this people from the dissolved Auschwitz Gypsy Camp to the camps in Germany. Two hundred young Sinti and Romany Gypsies who were unfit for work were still sent back from Buchenwald into the gas chambers of Auschwitz in September 1944. Only a few survived among those who had to crush stones and dig tunnels in external working parties.

In the 1938 action against the work-shy, there were 4,500 vagrants and urban campers rounded up and sent to the concentration camps where they were forced to work against their will. There is no memorial in any of the camps for the work-shy, other than the one in Buchenwald for the Gypsies who were arrested because they were unemployed and did not have a permanent address.

The Auschwitz Gypsy Camp referred to above was created in 1942 when all Roma and Sinti, with the exception of those belonging to two tribes considered to be "pure Gypsies" of the original Indo-Germanic people, were rounded up and transported to a "family camp" in Birkenau, the Auschwitz II camp. The pure Gypsies were settled in the district of Ödenburg on Lake Neusiedler.

According to Lucie Adelsberger in her book, Auschwitz: A Factual Report, there was a total of 20,943 Gypsies registered in Auschwitz in 1943 and 7,000 had died by September 1943.

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2009