Concentration Camp at Buchenwald, Germany

Written by
Cpl Norman W. Paschen

Some time ago I was asked if I had the chance to visit any of the concentration camps here in Germany-well I saw where several were and had the opportunity to visit one of the most famous ones which I will try to describe to you.

I don't think that I can describe it in a way that will make it seem real to you-I can however give you a few of the statistics and lurid details as they were given to me by one of the prisoners that acted as our guide during our trip through the camp. This prisoner was a young Polish fellow who offered to take us around the camp. We felt we needed a guide so a few cigarettes and sticks of chewing gum changed hands and we had our guide.

To get to this camp we traveled along a very modern road cut through the Buchenwald Forest by prison labor. The camp itself was set on top of a hill. Along this road from Weimar ran the railroad that brought the victims to their hell on earth. As we drove through Weimar we passed a hospital filled with German soldiers. I gazed at these men with pity; it seemed only natural to fell sorry for them. We soon reached the camp and our tour began.

We entered the camp through wire barricades that before our coming were charged with electricity. On either side of the entrance were pill boxes. Once through the gates we were in the part of the camp where the prisoners worked-the S.S. defence factories. These factories are now a mass of rubble bombed by the air force a few days before the coming of the American troops. Three hundred S.S. men were killed in the bombing and to show you how exact our fliers are, not one bomb fell in the part of the camp where the prisoners were kept. To get into the part of the camp where the prisoners were kept we had to pass through another guarded gate. Over the entrance of this gate were these words engraved in the cement. Recht Oder Unrecht-Mein Vaterland meaning Right or Wrong-My Country. Once through this gate we looked out on to a large square and in the background we could see the barracks where the groups of prisoners lived. It was this square that the prisoners were made to stand for hours in all kinds of weather while being counted and were made to sing songs for the S.S. men. If they did not sing they were beaten and in order to keep from being beaten they made motions with their mouths and this way bluffed the S.S. men. This camp was run solely by the S.S. men of Himmler and no other nazi officer or official was allowed to enter the camp. In this square they also had a large platform that was used for public hangings. If a prisoner attempted to escape he was shot and ten of his countrymen were hung before the entire camp as a warning to the rest. The guard that did the shooting was given a three week furlough and one hundred marks as his reward and many a new prisoner was tricked into stepping out of line so that an S.S. man could shoot him.

Our Polish guide told us that he had been in this camp about six months before the arrival of the Americans and previous to that he had been interned in a larger camp near the Polish border. He had been moved because of the advancing Russian Armies.

Our guide could speak a little English, but it was rather a painful task for him. Painful because he tried so hard to be eloquent in an unfamiliar language. To him his subject demanded eloquence and emotion and it hurt him deeply to see what little impression his description was leaving on our faces. If he had been able to see the impression on our hearts I am certain he would have felt much better.

The camp was divided into two parts and were known as the Big and Little camps. In the Big camp the barracks were made of both concrete and wood. It was in the little camp that we did most of our inspecting as it was in this camp that Nazi brutality was at its greatest. This camp should rival all the infamous pest holes of the world from "The Black Hole of Calcutta to Devils Island." Our guide took us to the billet in which he and his comrades had been forced to exist. These billets were not large, only about 150 ft by 20 ft. Fifthteen hundred men in one small cramped shanty which could not comfortably house fifty men. On each side of the barracks were shelves built four layers high, and about three to four feet apart. At first I thought they were rabbit hutches, but then decided were too dirty, small, and mean for rabbits and then the guide told me that nine to twelve men were crammed into these. These shelves were their bed. A chicken in a dingy chicken coop would have more room to sleep than these people. The remarkable thing about it is that there was room for them; after all a body that is wasted away by starvation doesn't require much space. I saw bodies on which the thighs were no bigger than the arm of a normal man and the arms just a bone covered with skin. The day was hot and the stench in this room was something to dread even though the army authorities had cleaned and disinfected the place. Nauseating stench of vomit, urine, and scabrous rotting bodies still remained. Just think fifthteen hundred men lived here. They didn't come out for days or sometimes months and when they did it was because they were dead. They had no bed coverings except a few who might have had one blanket; just bare boards to sleep on in the cold winter. There was no heat, light and very little food. The food rationing was barely enough to keep a person on their feet. A slice of bread each morning sometimes with a little jam, margarine or cheese. Nothing more was eaten until night, then a little soup which was mostly water. Men were given seven potatoes a week and a little beer twice a month. They sometimes hid the dead to get his food ration, keeping the body until it became unbearable. The weak were often murdered for their food. All were subjected to the abuse and cruelties of the guard. During the winter many came back to the camp after work with frozen feet as they all wore wooden shoes. As it was hard to walk in wooden shoes on the packed snow and ice many would slip and fall and would be beaten by the guard for lagging behind. In order to keep from falling and taking a beating they threw their shoes away and walked barefooted in the ice and snow, coming back at night with frozen feet. They suffered the pain without treatment as they had no hospitals, no medical care and when one of the inmates died he was taken to the crematory and was said to have died of heart failure.

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.

The crematory itself, which our guide told us was smaller than the usual crematories, contained six furnaces, each capable of burning three corpses at a time. This was an efficient little place, capable of handling from fifty to sixty bodies a day, some cremated dead and some alive. Small iron urns were used to contain the ashes of the cremated body then were stamped with the cause of death, invariably heart failure. The ashes were sold to the families of the deceased for five marks plus postage. There was ashes, bones, and blood left in some of the furnaces for us to see. I thought of those wounded German soldiers in the hospital at Weimar and I felt my pity for them beginning to die.

The prisoners of this camp were mainly all Jews and political prisoners. There was one man who at one time was the manager of the largest bank in Munich. In his family line they found Jewish blood and that coupled with the fact that he was engaged to a lady belonging to the Royal House of Barvaria was enough to send him off to a camp. He spent twelve years in various camps, the last three in Buchenwald. He told us some pretty horrible stories, about the mass murders, the cruelties and starvations. He said that this camp was rated as the finest of the Nazi system, so imagine if you can what the rest of the camps were like.

The highest amount of victims in this camp at any time was 51,000, all men and boys who were mostly Jewish. The guards to take care of these prisoners totaled 3,000 S.S. men and a large number of savage dogs. These dogs were beastly and were trained to bite their victims at the wrist, neck, and legs, or they would attack any part of the body pointed out by the guard. If the guard said Jew the dog would go after his victim and bite him until death unless the guard commanded him to release his victim. These dogs were responsible for hundreds of mens lives.

This camp was run mainly for men and the guards were cruel and heartless, but there was one person that led all the rest and this was the wife of the camp commandant. Her pleasure was making lamp shades and binding books with human skin. Unfortunate were the men that came into this camp with a tattoo that she admired for she either had it taken off him alive or he was murdered for it. The members of the British Parliament that visited the camp removed a lot of these hideous articles as proof of the atrocities that she had committed. It was in this camp that the eighteen Canadian aviators were murdered and where Leon Blum and other famous European prisoners were kept.

I think I have given you a few of the inhumane sights I have seen and hope that you will be able to visualize just what went on in one of these camps. I could write more, perhaps a whole book on the crimes that were committed here and I still would not have covered everything thoroughly. There are probably many crimes we do not know about and never will know, but our victory has brought this sort of thing to justice for these people are no longer held down by the Nazi, but are free to live again like human people.

All the way back to our camp and comfortable quarters I thought of the inhumane concentration camps of the Nazi. I thought of the Germans in the hospital at Weimar. Pity was dead.