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Buchenwald liberation anniversary event marked quietly

Darko Janjevic
April 11, 2020

Only employees of Buchenwald's memorial site attended the anniversary event due to Germany's coronavirus lockdown measures. Authorities called out increasing right-wing extremism in a "Thuringian declaration."

Crematorium at the Nazi death camp Buchenwald in Thuringia, Germany
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Schoening

With the coronavirus lockdown still in force across Germany, authorities in the state of Thuringia were forced to cancel multiple commemoration events dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Instead of survivors meeting at the site, only employees of the camp's present-day museum marked the occasion by laying wreaths at the memorial on Saturday.

Around 56,000 people were killed at Buchenwald and the nearby satellite installation Dora before it was freed by US soldiers in April 1945.

Leaders, survivors unite against far right

On Saturday, authorities published the "Thuringian Declaration," describing it as a centerpiece of this year's memorial events and urging members of the public to sign it. The document was initially signed by top officials including Thuringian State Premier Bodo Ramelow and the Buchenwald memorial site head Volkhard Knigge, as well Buchenwald survivors Ivan Ivanji, Eva Fahidi-Pusztei and Naftali Fürst.

"We know and seriously appreciate that Germany did not free itself from National Socialism by dint of its own efforts; that a large number of crimes went unpunished; and that too many perpetrators and criminals could continue their lives after 1945 as though nothing had happened," the declaration states.

Wreaths lain at Buchenwald on the 75th anniversary of its liberation
Individual visitors have come to the gates of Buchenwald to pay their respects, but the camp remains closed as part of Germany's COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measuresImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Gentzel

Yesterday's 'poisons' touted as 'universal remedy'

The signatories warn that today "right-wing radicalism and authoritarianism are on the rise, as are a form of populism emboldened by a racially motivated superiority complex, nationalism."

"Racism and anti-Semitism are openly propagated and have led to acts of violence in Germany that would have been inconceivable even several years ago," the document reads, adding that "yesterday's destructive poisons are once again being touted as a universal remedy for society's ills."

Germany has seen several deadly right-wing attacks in recent years, including the racist killing spree in February in Hanau, in which a far-right gunman killed nine people in two shisha bars, and an attempted mass shooting at a synagogue in Halle last October on Judaism's holiest day. In January, it was reported that groups of neo-Nazis have been disrupting the tours in Buchenwald, and a package with explosive materials was found at the site.

Read more: Germany and the new dimension of right-wing terrorism

State premier targets far-right AfD party's rhetoric

In a separate video address, Thuringian State Premier Ramelow slammed those who seek to downplay the Nazi era with a direct reference to a statement made by Alexander Gauland from the right-wing populist AfD party. In 2018, Gauland characterized the Nazi era and the Holocaust as "only a bird shit on over 1,000 years of German history."

"The curse of Buchenwald still applies," Ramelow said, noting that "bird shit" was "not the right expression to explain the [Buchenwald] crimes."

Addressing the public, Ramelow urged people to fight against normalization of crimes such as the ones committed in Buchenwald. "The curse of Buchenwald is our daily work."

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