The Buchenwald Memorial isn’t a place you can visit and say you had a great time, or even a good time. It is meant to be an educational reminder of what happened in the history of Germany. Why did we go there? We were in Germany and able to add it to our itinerary. My grandfather was part of the American forces that relieved the prisoners from the Nazis and I wanted to see it, after growing up hearing him talk about it.
Heinrich Heine said it best: Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen. (Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.)
This is particularly true with the Nazis.
Hitler soon had over 20,000 books burned in 1933 in Berlin. The students, along with storm troopers, pitched thousands of books into a bonfire while giving the Hitler arm-salute and singing Nazi anthems. Authors like Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Helen Keller, Karl Marx, and even H.G. Wells were considered “un-German”.
It wasn’t long before “un-German” people were herded together and sent to their deaths.
As a former concentration camp, Buchenwald is a place of mass suffering and death with over 55,000 souls (estimated) perishing there. It was not a death camp, but a work camp that started with political prisoners, homosexuals, and prisoners of war. There were issued different colored triangles to attach to their uniforms so it was easy to see at a glance which group they belonged to. Soon, the Jews were added. They were all forced to work and were often hired out through SS operated sub-camps or to work in the quarries. If they became too weak to work? Off to a death camp they went.
The Germans in charge of building the Buchenwald camp were brilliant. (I am not condoning what they did but was surprised at their ingenuity) They found a large section of forest and, using prisoner labor, carved out the center of it to build what they needed. The camp was literally hidden in plain sight. Soon it was full of buildings, dog kennels, a crematorium and warehouses. The dogs were valued at 2-3 times more in the budget than the inmates and treated much better between housing, food and care.
Across from the cafe at the site is a place to watch a 30 minute movie that really fills you in on the history of the location. You learn about the building, running and preservation of this camp. I suggest seeing it before you walk the grounds.
When you first go through the camp gate – you will notice the clock tower that doesn’t seem to work. The time is frozen to when the American forces relieved that camp. There is a debate over whether or not they camp was actually relieved or not as the prisoners overtook the remaining few German soldiers that hadn’t fled when the American forces were headed their way. Basically, the Americans came across 20,000 emaciated survivors and tried to sort everything out.
If you visit:
To preserve the character of the site as a memorial and as a place of burial, we ask that you observe a number of guidelines. Please be sure to wear appropriate attire. Wearing clothing and symbols that are generally recognized to be manufactured or marketed within the right-wing extremist milieu is prohibited. We were VERY tired the day our group was heading there and caught Miss Sarah’s shirt before we left. It was a Bethel Horizon’s shirt that read: Best. Camp. Ever. We had enough time for her to change her shirt or she would have turned it inside out to wear.