Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Buchenwald

When we visited Weimar we decided to go first to the concentration camp, Buchenwald which is just five miles north west of Weimar. As usual, I took a bunch of photos and wondered whether I should do a blog. After some thought, I have decided to go ahead. It's like the Grand Canyon in a certain way. Most of the blog readers will never go to the Grand Canyon or a Nazi concentration camp. I take the photos so that you can see what it is like.


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To be honest, I probably would not have gone there without Marianne saying she wanted to go. It's up to you if you wish to look at this blog. The blog starts off relatively innocuously but gets progressively worse. I have tried to put in some links about what really happened here. Even though I have some knowledge about what happened in the concentration camps, I certainly did not know much about this particular camp even though it is one of the more infamous camps.


The reception center. Entrance is free and they give you a map. There is plenty of parking.


Many of the buildings are modern or were constructed by the Soviets when they controlled the camp.



A path leads to the station where the victims arrived.



The train route to the camp from Weimer and as you can see, all trains to the camp had to pass through this city. If you look closely at the Google satellite map, you can still see where the train line went.



The rails and sleepers are in poor condition now.


The distance to Weimar in kilometers.





The Holocaust would not have been possible without trains for transport. The railways were paid to transport the victims who often had to pay for their one way ticket.



There is a path that more or less corresponds to the path the victims would have taken to the main compound. Sometimes the guards released dogs to encourage the prisoners to move faster. There are plaques at various stages that have photos and descriptions in several languages of what it looked like at the time.






Prisoners arriving in the snow.



Most of the buildings were destroyed, but several remain.


The entrance to the compound.


The fence has been restored so this is something like what it would have looked like.


The gate.


The handle feels surprisingly rough, not smooth as I would have thought. 


The sign reads 'Jedem das Seine'  (literally, "to each his own", but figuratively "everyone gets what he deserves")


The distant view from the entrance is magnificent. It reminded me of the view at Struthof in Alsace which was located on the side of a hill with a great view. Most of the camps in Poland were on flat ground.



A guard tower and what apparently was a place where prisoners could buy things,


The parade ground then.


The parade ground now. All of the barracks that housed the prisoners were destroyed in 1950 after the Russians had also used the camp to house and murder prisoners.



The canteen.


A guard tower.


A restored version of the fence.


The fence as it is today, almost 70 years later.



Guard towers were not just at the corner but stationed all along the perimeter of the fence.


If you were a guard, you walked along this bitumen path.


Air raid shelter for the guards beside the perimeter path.


This could well be the original barbed wire.


There are quite a few large monument plaques, usually placed near where the appropriate barrack used to stand. 


The sites of the barracks are marked by what appears to be black coal.



Each barrack was numbered. This was block 1.



The above barrack was for gypsies.


As it was.


As it is now.



Buchenwald was not technically an extermination camp though lots of people died there. It was a site for human experimentation however and this hut was where experiments with typhus were performed. It looks like they might be rebuilding the hut but I can't imagine why. 


From the bottom of the camp looking back up to the main gate.


The ground appeared to be quite hard and not suitable for tunneling. No 'Great Escape' here.






There were young children at the camp. They would play down here.



The main hospital block. One can only imagine what went on in there but the worst experiments were apparently in block 61. This story is interesting. If you read the link, you will see it is about a doctor from New Jersey who performed some of the experiments. I bet Harvard does not list him among their distinguished professors. 

Along with his 'treatment' of the prisoners, it's interesting to read about his hypnotic treatment of the guards. Imagine that it is your job to kill people or be killed yourself. How do you come to terms with it, or not.



The camp was sited where the famous German writer Goethe used to visit. He would sit under an oak tree and presumably look at the view. The oak was damaged by an air raid during the war and only the stump remains.






More memorials. Apparently it is common to lay a pebble on the memorial as a mark of remembrance.



Block 17 was where the Allied Airmen were housed as prisoners from May or August 1944 to October 1944 when they were transferred to a regular camp run by the Luftwaffe. The story of the Senior Allied Officer, Phil Lamason, is worth reading.



The crematorium behind a recreation of a stake and cart. 

In the film 'The Dirty Dozen' Lee Marvin gets to say the line 'Up until now, it has all been a game'. I was doing fine until it was time to enter this building which I was dreading. Despite the signs for 'the little camp' where the medical experiments took place, the watch towers and electrified fences, it was possible to just imagine what it was like because there was nothing really left except the sites of the barracks.

Now it was no longer a game, this was the real thing.

From now on the photos are disturbing.



As you enter the building, the first room contains the pathology dissecting table. Although people were executed here in the building, many more died as a result of the experimentation, starvation or just sheer exhaustion.


Some of the implements. Gold teeth would also be extracted prior to the body being cremated.


It's blurred but you can still read it if you click on the picture to enlarge it.



Jars for the ashes or remains of parts of bodies.


The ovens with a device on rails that moved the body into the oven.


Inside the ovens.


The back of the ovens where they loaded the fuel.



A sink and bathroom for the doctors / surgeons.




You then go down some steps to the cellar. There was a chute where bodies could be slid down for storage.


These meat hooks could be used to hang the dead bodies or they could be used to strangle.


The cellar is not very large. Most houses in the US would have a much larger basement. There were dozens of hooks. And it was the hooks that really disturbed me. Not the ovens, not the surgical tools nor the dissecting table. The hooks.


It's blurry, but this is the lift (elevator) they used to transport the corpses up to the dissecting table and the ovens.


It was wonderful to get out of that cellar into the open air.


The chimney from the ovens. Those who have passed through North East on a still morning know the smell of the dump from a few miles away. The stink from this chimney must have spread to Weimar on occasion.


This describes the next few photos.






The reconstruction of the execution chamber. The 'eye chart' with the numbers gave the victim the illusion that a medical exam was taking place. You were placed in this chamber to measure your height and you were shot in the back of the neck through the narrow slit.


The following was from the method used at Sachsenhausen outside Berlin.

Kaindl: Until mid of 1943, prisoners were killed by shooting or hanging. For the mass exterminations, we used a special room in the infirmary. There was a height gauge and a table with an eye scope. There were also some SS wearing doctor uniforms. There was a hole at the back of the height gauge. While a SS was measuring the height of a prisoner, another one placed his gun in the hole and killed him by shooting in his neck. Behind the height gauge there was another room where we played music in order to cover the noise of the shooting.



The remains of the fence.


And yet after all of the gruesome history, you look out and there is the beautiful Germany. How do you reconcile it all? If there is one thing I have learned in life, ill treatment of ones fellow man is not restricted to Germans. Over time, I've recognized that 10% of people are quite capable of ill treatment in one form or another towards their fellow man. A further 10% of that group are prepared to go much further and that group was what the Nazis relied on. There is always that 1% who don't give a damn about their fellow man  and it's not restricted to Germans.



After the crematorium, it's almost a relief to see the electrified fence.



It's estimated that over 56,000 people died here during the Nazi era. It's not a large number compared to the camps in Poland with the gas chambers but it was one of the most deadly camps on German soil. After liberation, this area came under Russian control. The Russians kept the camp in operation and they managed to kill off a further 7000 people.

For some reason or other, Marianne and I separated once we entered the camp. I was very glad that we did since this is an experience that you need to do unaccompanied. By yourself. Just you and your thoughts.

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