Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Buchenwald concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager (KZ) Buchenwald) was a German Nazi concentration camp established on the Ettersberg (Etter Mountain) near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937, one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps on German soil, following Dachau’s opening just over four years earlier. Prisoners from all over Europe and the Soviet Union—Jews, non-Jewish Poles and other Slavs, the mentally ill and physically-disabled from birth defects, religious and political prisoners, Roma and Sinti, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals, and prisoners of war — worked primarily as forced labor in local armaments factories. From 1945 to 1950, the camp was used by the Soviet occupation authorities as an internment camp, known as NKVD special camp number 2. Today the remains of the camp serve as a memorial and permanent exhibition and museum administered by the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, which also oversees the camp’s memorial at Mittelbau-Dora. Camp commandants: SS-Standartenführer: Hermann Pister SS-Sturmbannführer: Jacob Weiseborn (1937-1939) SS-Obersturmbannführer: Karl Otto Koch (1939–1942) SS-Standartenführer: Hermann Pister (1942–1945) Buchenwald’s second commandant was Karl Otto Koch, who ran the camp from 1937 to 1941. His second wife, Ilse Koch, became notorious as Die Hexe von Buchenwald (“the witch of Buchenwald”) for her cruelty and brutality. Koch had a zoo built by the prisoners in the camp, with a bear pit (Bärenzwinger) facing the Appellplatz, the assembly square where prisoner “roll-calls” were conducted. Koch himself was eventually imprisoned at Buchenwald by the Nazi authorities for incitement to murder. The charges were lodged by Prince Waldeck and Dr. Morgen, to which were later added charges of corruption, embezzlement, black market dealings, and exploitation of the camp workers for personal gain. Other camp officials were charged, including Ilse Koch. The trial resulted in Karl Koch being sentenced to death for disgracing both himself and the SS; he was executed by firing squad on April 5, 1945, one week before American troops arrived. Ilse Koch was sentenced to a term of four years’ imprisonment after the war. Her sentence was reduced to two years and she was set free. She was subsequently arrested again and sentenced to life imprisonment by the post-war German authorities; she committed suicide in a Bavarian prison cell in September 1967. The third and last commandant of the camp was Hermann Pister (1942–1945). He was tried in 1947 (Dachau Trials) and sentenced to death, but died in September 1948 of a heart condition before the sentence could be carried out. Female prisoners and overseers The number of women held in Buchenwald was somewhere between 500 and 1,000. The first female inmates were twenty political prisoners who were accompanied by a female SS guard (Aufseherin); these women were brought to Buchenwald from Ravensbrück in 1941 and forced into prostitution at the camp’s brothel. The SS later fired the SS woman on duty in the brothel for corruption, her position was taken over by “brothel mothers” as ordered by SS chief Heinrich Himmler. The majority of women prisoners, however, arrived in 1944 and 1945 from other camps, mainly Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen Belsen. Only one barrack was set aside for them; this was overseen by the female block leader (Blockführerin) Franziska Hoengesberg, who came from Essen when it was evacuated. All the women prisoners were later shipped out to one of Buchenwald’s many female satellite camps in Sömmerda, Buttelstedt, Mühlhausen, Gotha, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Lippstadt, Weimar, Magdeburg, and Penig, to name a few. No female guards were permanently stationed at Buchenwald. When the Buchenwald camp was evacuated, the SS sent the male prisoners to other camps, and the five-hundred remaining women (including one of the secret annexe members who lived with Anne Frank, “Mrs. van Daan”, real name Auguste van Pels), were taken by train and on foot to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and ghetto in the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Many, including van Pels, died sometime between April and May 1945. Because the female prisoner population at Buchenwald was comparatively small, the SS only trained female overseers at the camp and “assigned” them to one of the female subcamps. Twenty-two known female guards had personnel files at the camp, but it is unlikely that any of them stayed at Buchenwald for longer than a few days.

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