Remembering the Hell that was Buchenwald | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.04.2002
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Remembering the Hell that was Buchenwald

A new memorial at the dreaded concentration camp of Buchenwald by US architect Stephen Jacobs remembers the thousands of inmates, who bore the brunt of the Nazi regime’s zealous “cleansing”.


Reduced to a number... the chilling reality of Buchenwald

It was a stirring moment.

At the very place where they had once been imprisoned, tortured and humiliated by the Nazis, several former inmates of the "small camp" at Buchenwald gathered on Sunday, April 14 to witness the unveiling of a new memorial in their commemoration.

Konzentrationslager Buchenwald Einweihung Denkmal

Bernhard Vogel, Governor of the Federal State of Thuringia, right, and an unidentified man lay down flowers during the dedication of the memorial in the Little Camp on the occasion of the 57th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald near Weimar, eastern Germany, Sunday, April 14, 2002. The Little Camp was a quarantine camp since 1942, separated from the main camp by a barbed wire, turned into a camp for sick and dying people after the mass evacuation from the camps in the east in 1944 and 1945. The erection of the memorial is a joint project of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad and the Buchenwald Memorial. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

The memorial was inaugurated on the ocassion of the 57th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp of Buchenwald.

Made of sandstone from the Ettersberg hill near Weimar, the memorial is inscribed in six languages – German, Hebrew, French, Polish, Russian and English. Names of cities, ghettos and other concentration camps from which the inmates came are etched on the edge.

Former inmate the architect

Who better to design a work of such immense emotional and sensitive scale than a former inmate who has experienced first-hand the horrors of a concentration camp.

US architect Stephen Jacobs first came to the "little camp" at Buchenwald as a young boy with his father from Ausschwitz.

Creating the memorial was "one of the most difficult responsibilities of his life" for Jacobs. He wants the place to be one of contemplation and remembrance.

The minister of the German state of Thüringia, Bernhard Vogel said on Sunday, "the memorial warns us to never again permit the machinery of evil to be set in motion".

The past, he said, is a "duty, to make clear that no one should be allowed to question the right to existence of Israel".

The hell that was Buchenwald

The "small camp" at Buchenwald was the epitome of the worst atrocities suffered by prisoners under the Nazis - "the hell that was Buchenwald".

Initially meant to house prisoners in quarantine, by 1945 the small camp had to absorb tens of thousands of evacuees from the concentration camps of Ausschwitz and Gross-Rosen.

It resulted in some 20,000 people being herded into cramped windowless horse stables and forced to live in unimaginably squalid conditions.

More than 5000 people lost their lives in the squashed quarters.

"Those four-storied bunks, where one couldn’t sit upright, where one had to sit with one’s legs drawn up in filth and forced to sleep among massive crowds" is how the President of the International Comittee of Buchenwald-Dora, Bertrand Herz remembered conditions in the small camp on Sunday.

The concentration camp of Buchenwald was established in July, 1937, five miles north of Weimar, the capital of the German state of Thüringia.

It was initially designated to house political opponents of the Nazi regime, social misfits, Jews, Jehovah’s witnesses and homosexuals. But after the Second World War, it increasingly housed prisoners from other countries.

By the time the camp was liberated by US forces in April, 1945, 95 percent of the inmates were non-German.

More than 250,000 people were held captive in the camp between 1937 and 1945, and more than 50,000 died during this time.

Collective responsibility for Germans

The memorial by Stephen Jacobs is a joint project between the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Memorial Foundation.

The Chairman of the US Commission, Warren Miller said, "Today, 57 years after the unthinkable happened, it’s not a question of collective guilt for the Germans, but rather the collective responsibility to look the truth in its face".

The memorial has been made possible through US funds amounting to 100,000 dollars and the same amount contributed by the state of Thüringia and the German government.

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