April 11th In German History: The Liberation of Buchenwald

Four survivors pose with an American soldier following the liberation of Buchenwald.

The original caption reads "The expression on the prisoners' faces show their lack of emotion and interest in life."
American Soldiers Take a Photo with inmates liberated from Buchenwald.

The Holocaust was the worst single act perpetrated by the German Nation. The German government, with the active participation of much of the population and the compliance of the rest, perpetrated the mass murder of millions of Jews, Roma, and other politically and racially undesirable groups. On April 10th, 1945, a major part of this campaign was ended when the U.S Army liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. The Buchenwald concentration camp was second only to Auschwitz in its size and the breadth and severity of its horrors. The camp was established in 1937 and during the course of the war over 50,000 inmates died; some by outright execution but most as a result of poor conditions, hard labor, and lack of food. Many prisoners also died as a result of medical experiments, most having to do with vaccination and viral tests, performed on prisoners. Unlike Auschwitz, the camp lacked gas chambers. However, Isle Koch, wife of the commandant Karl-Otto Koch, almost made up for this with her particular savagery. She had furniture made out of the tattooed skin of inmates. Isle and her husband were both, however, arrested in 1943 for embezzlement and Karl-Otto was executed while Isle spent the rest of the war living with her family. She was arrested by the allies at the end of the war and after several trials would be sentenced to life in prison. As the Allied forces neared the camp, the guards and administrators fled, taking some of the prisoners with them on a death march through the snow. One of these was Elke Weisel, who would go on to write about his experiences. After their flight, the Gestapo in Weimar informed the camp that explosives would be sent to destroy evidence of it. Unbeknownst to them, however, the resistance in the camp had already killed the few guards who remained after most were evacuated, and one of the inmates responded that the camp had already been destroyed. When the American forces overran the main camp on the 11th of April they ordered the mayor of a nearby German town to send food and used army medical supplies and staff to care for the prisoners. When General Patton toured the camp he ordered the mayor of Weimar to have 1,000 men visit Buchenwald so they could observe the atrocities that had occurred there. This action was one of the first steps taken to ensure that the Holocaust would be remembered. The  particular atrocities which humans can visit on each other reminds us to be ever vigilant against attempts to cover up or minimize past atrocities lest governments and individuals attempt similar actions again.

One thought on “April 11th In German History: The Liberation of Buchenwald

  1. James, your remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust. I agree that it is important to remember so that similar atrocities are never repeated again.

    Like

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