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Germany

Germans Mark Liberation of Death Camp

Chancellor Schröder attended a ceremony Sunday in the eastern city of Weimar to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the largest on German territory.

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Buchenwald is a synonym for the horrors of the Nazi era

Speaking at a special ceremony in the German National Theater in Weimar on Sunday, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder underlined the significance of memorials such as the one in Weimar near the Buchenwald concentration camp. "They warn us not to cave in to the temptation of forgetting and suppressing (the past)," Schröder said.

Die Ehrengäste zur zentralen Gedenkfeier der Befreiung des Konzentrationslagers in Buchenwald bei Weimar

Form left to right, Brandenburg premier Matthias Platzek, Spanish author and Buchenwald survior Jorge Semprun, Bundestag president Wolfgang Thierse and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder in Weimar during the memorial ceremony.

The chancellor assured that democratic Germany would not allow injustice and violence, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia another chance. He added that the memory of the Nazi era, war, genocide and crimes against humanity had become a part of German identity and remained a moral obligation. "These values must always be defended anew," the chancellor said.

"The death of millions, the suffering of the survivors, the torment of the victims -- this is the basis of our task to create a better future," he said. "We cannot change history, but this country can learn a lot from the deepest shame of our history."

"A miracle to be alive"

The memorial concert in Weimar was attended by leader of the conservative opposition, Angela Merkel as well as Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany and Nobel literature laureate Imre Kertesz of Hungary, who wrote a chilling novel about his time at Buchenwald.

Der 80-jaehrige Phil Elberg aus Bruessel, Belgien, Haeftling von 1944 bis 1945, nimmt an den Gedenkveranstaltungen teil im ehemaligen Konzentrationslager Buchenwald am Sonntag, 10. April 2005.

80-year-old Phil Elberg from Brussels, who was interned in Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945.

In addition, former inmates of the camp -- many now well into their 80s -- were also scheduled to speak of their experiences. On Saturday, several former inmates re-visited the camp to remember the events that happened there.

One of them was Pavel Kohn who arrived in the camp as a 15-year-old Jewish orphan and was among the lucky ones rescued by US troops who freed Buchenwald 60 years ago.

"It was close to a miracle that I was still alive," Kohn told news agency Associated Press. "Although I was just a bit older than 15, nothing could surprise me anymore in terms of cruelty."

More than 56,000 killed

The Buchenwald concentration camp was set up by the Nazis in 1937 for the internment of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and political opponents of Hitler's regime.

60 Jahre danach - KZ Buchenwald

This April 16, 1945 photo shows inmates of the German camp Buchenwald inside their barrack, a few days after U.S troops of the 80th Division liberated this concentration camp near Weimar.

Though there were no gas chambers at the camp, prisoners were subjected to extreme cold and starvation. "The camp was packed, there was hunger, and the living conditions and hygiene were unbelievable," Kohn told Associated Press.

Prisoners at the camp were forced to build roads and railways to assist the Nazi war machine. Scientists plundered some of the dead prisoners' bodies for research purposes.

More than 56,000 people were murdered there between 1937 and 1945. On April 11, 1945, US troops reached the camp and freed around 21,000 prisoners.

Around 500,000 people a year visit Buchenwald, of which at least a quarter are foreigners.

The Buchenwald anniversary came more than two months after an emotional ceremony for the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp where more than one million people died.

Germany is bracing for the opening on May 10 of a major memorial in central Berlin to Jews killed by the Nazis. New laws have been passed to prevent neo-Nazi protesters from being able to approach the site near the Brandenburg Gate on that day.

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