The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)


"Any Jew who wants to hang himself...."

"Buchenwald, the first concentration camp to be breached by the western Allies, had been built high on the hills above Weimar, capital of the defunct democratic Republic and not far from an imperial Schloss known as Wilhelmshohe.

"Nearby still stood the `Goethe Oak,' a noble tree to which the eighteenth-century giant of German letters had often repaired to refresh his perspective.

"Approximately 238,000 prisoners, many of them Jews, but also non-Jewish Poles, Russians, and dissident Germans, had been incarcerated in Buchenwald since its dedication. Even before the war exploded in Europe, it was serving the coercive purposes of the Nazis.

"Captured Buchenwald files recorded that already in mid-November 1938, after a Nazi Embassy official had been assassinated by a distraught young Jew, more than 10,000 people had been sent to the camp, where they were compelled to pass their arrival night in the open winter air and then were beaten and tortured. A loudspeaker kept repeating the announcement that any Jew who wished to hang himself should put a paper with his number in his mouth so that his identity could be quickly established. <1>

"Throughout the war years the deportation trains and convoys moved in meticulously maintained schedules out of Buchenwald to the death camps further east. But even in this temporary detention camp, some 56,000 had died or been murdered.

"When the forward platoons of Americans arrived on the morning of April II, 1945 only about 20,000 prisoners remained. Hermann Pister, the last SS commandant, was working frenetically to ship out as many as he could process. In the previous week he had secretly selected forty-six of the last inmates for public execution on the home ground of Buchenwald itself. His intention was relayed to the prison underground that had been organized in the last weeks of the camp's existence. When the time came for the roll call, not one of the forty-six answered. Camp personnel, aware that the Americans were already on the outskirts of Weimar, and their thoughts now mainly on escape, made a halfhearted unsuccessful search for the inmates, then drifted away.

"Indeed, some panic-stricken guards who were left behind at this point begged prisoners for `good references.' Others were confiscating prisoners' garb in the hope they might escape recognition in the chaos soon to come. However, few cheated retribution. Survivors with barely enough strength to walk disarmed them at the gates; only days before, even to approach a Nazi guard was to be shot down summarily. As a sign of welcome to the liberators, prisoners began to hang out scraps of cloth that had once been white.

"Some of the first Americans to enter the camp vomited as their eyes beheld what their minds could not absorb -- bodies stacked in obscene anonymity, the barely living whimpering among the corpses, bunks full of shaven-headed, emaciated creatures who had wizened into skeletal apparitions. American soldiers put on film the scenes in rooms full of naked, unburied corpses, piled ten feet high.

"Soon after the takeover, General Dwight Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, arrived. "I have never felt able to describe my emotional reaction when I came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of human decency," he wrote. "Up to that moment I had only known about it generally, or through secondary sources. I am certain, however, that I have never at any time experienced an equal sense of shock."<2>"


1. Poliakov, Leon. "Harvest of Hate", (New York: Holocaust Library, 1954), p.17
2. Eisenhower, Dwight David. "Crusade in Europe" pp.408-409

Work Cited

Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983.

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