Buchenwald (German pronunciation: [ˈbuːxənvalt]; literally
beech forest) was a
Nazi concentration camp
Nazi concentration camp established on
Ettersberg [de] hill near Weimar, Germany, in July 1937.
It was one of the first and the largest of the concentration camps
within Germany's 1937 borders. Many actual or suspected communists
were among the first internees.
Prisoners from all over Europe and the Soviet Union—Jews,
other Slavs, the mentally ill and physically disabled, political
prisoners, Romani people, Freemasons, criminals, homosexuals, and
prisoners of war—worked primarily as forced labor in local armaments
factories. The insufficient food and poor conditions, as well as
deliberate executions, led to 56,000 deaths at Buchenwald of the
250,000 prisoners who passed through the camp. The camp gained
notoriety when it was liberated by the
United States Army
United States Army in 1945;
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower visited one of its subcamps.
From 1945 to 1950, the camp was used by the Soviet occupation
authorities as an internment camp,
NKVD special camp Nr. 2. Today the
remains of Buchenwald serve as a memorial and permanent exhibition and
2 Command structure
2.2 Female prisoners and overseers
3 Allied POWs
4 Death toll
4.1 Causes of death
4.2 Number of deaths
5.1 Civilian tour
6.1 Buchenwald Trial
6.2 The site
6.4 Visit from President Obama and Chancellor Merkel
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
Buchenwald gate with "Jedem das Seine"
Schutzstaffel (SS) established
Buchenwald concentration camp
Buchenwald concentration camp at
the beginning of July 1937. The camp was to be named
Ettersberg [de], after the hill in
Thuringia upon whose
north slope the camp was established. The
proposed name was deemed inappropriate, because it carried
associations with several important figures in German culture,
especially Enlightenment writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Instead
the camp was to be named Buchenwald, in reference to the beech forest
in the area. However, Holocaust researcher James E.
Young [de] wrote that SS leader chose the site of the
camp precisely to erase the cultural legacy of the area. After the
area of the camp was cleared of trees, only one large oak remained,
supposedly one of Goethe's Oaks. On the main
gate, the motto
Jedem das Seine
Jedem das Seine (English: "To each his own"), was
inscribed. The SS interpreted this to mean the "master race" had a
right to humiliate and destroy others.
The camp, designed to hold 8,000 prisoners, was intended to replace
several smaller concentration camps nearby, including Bad
Sulza [de], Sachsenburg, and Lichtenburg. Compared to
these camps, Buchenwald had a greater potential to profit the SS
because the nearby clay deposits could be made into bricks by the
forced labor of prisoners. The first prisoners arrived on 15 July
1937, and had to clear the area of trees and build the camp's
structures. By September, the population had risen to 2,400
following transfers from Bad Sulza, Sachsenburg, and
Buchenwald’s first commandant was SS-
Koch, who ran the camp from 1 August 1937 to July 1941. His second
wife, Ilse Koch, became notorious as Die Hexe von Buchenwald ("the
witch of Buchenwald") for her cruelty and brutality. In February 1940
Koch, to his and his wife's delight, had an indoor riding hall built
by the prisoners who died by the dozen due to the harsh conditions of
the construction site. The hall was built inside the camp, near the
canteen, so that oftentimes
Ilse Koch could be seen riding in the
morning to the beat of the prisoner orchestra. 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
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
Aichach (Bavaria) prison in September 1967. The
second commandant of the camp, between 1942 and 1945, was Hermann
Pister (1942–1945). He was tried in 1947 (Dachau Trials) and
sentenced to death, but 28 September 1948 he died in Landsberg Prison
of a heart attack before the sentence could be carried
Buchenwald camp money
Female prisoners and overseers
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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 sexual
slavery 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 barracks was set aside for them; this was overseen by the
female block leader (Blockführerin) Franziska Hoengesberg, who came
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.
Ilse Koch served as head supervisor (Oberaufseherin) of 22 other
female guards and hundreds of women prisoners in the main camp. More
than 530 women served as guards in the vast Buchenwald system of
subcamps and external commands across Germany. Only 22 women
served/trained in Buchenwald, compared to over 15,500 men.
Main article: List of subcamps of Buchenwald
The first subcamps of Buchenwald were established in 1941 so that the
prisoners could work in nearby SS industries. In 1942, the SS began to
use its forced labor supply for armaments production. Because it was
more economical to rent out prisoners to private firms, subcamps were
set up near factories which had a demand for prisoner labor. Private
firms paid the SS between 4 and 6 Reichsmarks per day per prisoner,
resulting in an estimated 95,758,843 Reichsmarks in revenue for the SS
between June 1943 and February 1945. There were more than
95 subcamps in all. Conditions were worse than at the main camp, with
prisoners provided insufficient food and inadequate
Main article: Allied airmen at Buchenwald concentration camp
Although it was highly unusual for German authorities to send Western
Allied POWs to concentration camps, Buchenwald held a group of 168
aviators for two months. These men were from the United
States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Jamaica.
They all arrived at Buchenwald on August 20,
All these airmen were in aircraft that had crashed in occupied France.
Two explanations are given for them being sent to a concentration
camp: first, that they had managed to make contact with the French
Resistance, some were disguised as civilians, and they were carrying
false papers when caught; they were therefore categorized by the
Germans as spies, which meant their rights under the Geneva Convention
were not respected. The second explanation is that they had been
categorised as Terrorflieger ("terror aviators"). The aviators were
initially held in
Gestapo prisons and headquarters in France. In April
or August 1944, they and other
Gestapo prisoners were packed into
covered goods wagons (US: boxcars) and sent to Buchenwald. The journey
took five days, during which they received very little food or
Causes of death
Polish prisoners await execution
A primary cause of death was illness due to harsh camp conditions,
with starvation—and its consequent illnesses—prevalent.
Malnourished and suffering from disease, many were literally "worked
to death" under the Vernichtung durch Arbeit policy (extermination
through labor), as inmates only had the choice between slave labor or
inevitable execution. Many inmates died as a result of human
experimentation or fell victim to arbitrary acts perpetrated by the SS
guards. Other prisoners were simply murdered, primarily by shooting
Martin Sommer was an SS-Hauptscharführer who served as
a guard at the concentration camps of Dachau and Buchenwald. Known as
the "Hangman of Buchenwald", he was considered a depraved sadist who
reportedly ordered Otto Neururer and Mathias Spannlang, two Austrian
priests, to be crucified upside-down. Sommer was especially infamous
for hanging prisoners off of trees from their wrists, which had been
tied behind their backs (a torture technique known as strappado) in
the "singing forest", so named because of the screams which emanated
from this wooded area.
Summary executions of Soviet POWs were also carried out at Buchenwald.
At least 1,000 men were selected in 1941–42 by a task force of three
Gestapo officers and sent to the camp for immediate
liquidation by a gunshot to the back of the neck, the infamous
The camp was also a site of large-scale trials for vaccines against
epidemic typhus in 1942 and 1943. In all 729 inmates were used as test
subjects, of whom 154 died. Other "experimentation"
occurred at Buchenwald on a smaller scale. One such experiment aimed
at determining the precise fatal dose of a poison of the alkaloid
group; according to the testimony of one doctor, four Soviet POWs were
administered the poison, and when it proved not to be fatal they were
"strangled in the crematorium" and subsequently
"dissected". Among various other experiments was one
which, in order to test the effectiveness of a balm for wounds from
incendiary bombs, involved inflicting "very severe" white phosphorus
burns on inmates. When challenged at trial over the nature
of this testing, and particularly over the fact that the testing was
designed in some cases to cause death and only to measure the time
which elapsed until death was caused, one Nazi doctor's defence was
that, although a doctor, he was a "legally appointed
Number of deaths
Main article: Number of deaths in Buchenwald
Alben W. Barkley
Alben W. Barkley (D-Kentucky) looks on after
The SS left behind accounts of the number of prisoners and people
coming to and leaving the camp, categorizing those leaving them by
release, transfer, or death. These accounts are one of the sources of
estimates for the number of deaths in Buchenwald. According to SS
documents, 33,462 died. These documents were not, however, necessarily
accurate: Among those executed before 1944, many were listed as
"transferred to the Gestapo". Furthermore, from 1941, Soviet POWs were
executed in mass killings. Arriving prisoners selected for execution
were not entered into the camp register and therefore were not among
the 33,462 dead listed.
One former Buchenwald prisoner, Armin Walter, calculated the number of
executions by the number of shootings in the spine at the base of the
head. His job at Buchenwald was to set up and care for a radio
installation at the facility where people were executed; he counted
the numbers, which arrived by telex, and hid the information. He says
that 8,483 Soviet prisoners of war were shot in this
According to the same source, the total number of deaths at Buchenwald
is estimated at 56,545. This number is the sum of:
Deaths according to material left behind by the SS: 33,462
Executions by shooting: 8,483
Executions by hanging (estimate): 1,100
Deaths during evacuation transports (estimate): 13,500
This total (56,545) corresponds to a death rate of 24 percent,
assuming that the number of persons passing through the camp according
to documents left by the SS, 240,000 prisoners, is
Prisoner of KZBuchenwald with member of SS personnel after entry of
U.S. Army 1945.
On April 4, 1945, the U.S. 89th Infantry Division overran Ohrdruf, a
subcamp of Buchenwald.
Buchenwald was partially evacuated by the Germans from April 6, 1945,
until April 11, 1945. In the days before the arrival of the American
army, thousands of the prisoners were forced to join the evacuation
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Polish engineer (and short-wave
radio-amateur, his pre-war callsign was SP2BD) Gwidon Damazyn, an
inmate since March 1941, a secret short-wave transmitter and small
generator were built and hidden in the prisoners' movie room. On April
8 at noon, Damazyn and Russian prisoner Konstantin Ivanovich Leonov
Morse code message prepared by leaders of the prisoners'
underground resistance (supposedly
Walter Bartel and Harry
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the Allies. To the army of General Patton. This is the Buchenwald
concentration camp. SOS. We request help. They want to evacuate us.
The SS wants to destroy us.
The text was repeated several times in English, German, and Russian.
Damazyn sent the English and German transmissions, while Leonov sent
the Russian version. Three minutes after the last transmission sent by
Damazyn, the headquarters of the U.S. Third Army responded:
KZ Bu. Hold out. Rushing to your aid. Staff of Third Army.
The bodies of prisoners in the liberated Buchenwald, 16 April 1945
According to Teofil Witek, a fellow Polish prisoner who witnessed the
transmissions, Damazyn fainted after receiving the
After this news had been received, inmates stormed the watchtowers and
killed the remaining guards, using arms they had been collecting since
1942 (one machine gun and 91 rifles; see Buchenwald
A detachment of troops of the U.S. 9th Armored Infantry Battalion,
from the 6th Armored Division, part of the U.S. Third Army, and under
the command of Captain Frederic Keffer, arrived at Buchenwald on April
11, 1945 at 3:15 p.m. (now the permanent time of the clock at the
entrance gate). The soldiers were given a hero's welcome, with the
emaciated survivors finding the strength to toss some liberators into
the air in celebration.
Later in the day, elements of the U.S. 83rd Infantry Division overran
Langenstein, one of a number of smaller camps comprising the
Buchenwald complex. There, the division liberated over 21,000
prisoners, ordered the mayor of Langenstein to send food
and water to the camp, and hurried medical supplies forward from the
20th Field Hospital.
Third Army Headquarters sent elements of the 80th Infantry Division to
take control of the camp on the morning of Thursday, April 12, 1945.
Several journalists arrived on the same day, perhaps with the 80th,
including Edward R. Murrow, whose radio report of his arrival and
reception was broadcast on
CBS and became one of his most famous:I
asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by
Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to
their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of
bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There
were 1,200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all
They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only
names in the little black book, nothing more. Nothing about who these
men were, what they had done, or hoped. Behind the names of those who
had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242. 242 out
of 1,200, in one month.
As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they
must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it,
but will not describe it.— Extract from Edward R. Murrow's
Buchenwald Report – 15 April 1945.
After Patton toured the camp, he ordered the mayor of
Weimar to bring
1,000 citizens to Buchenwald; these were to be predominantly men of
military age from the middle and upper classes. The Germans had to
walk 25 kilometres (16 mi) roundtrip under armed American guard
and were shown the crematorium and other evidence of Nazi atrocities.
The Americans wanted to ensure that the German people would take
responsibility for Nazi crimes, instead of dismissing them as atrocity
Main article: Buchenwald Trial
Ilse Koch testifies
Thirty SS perpetrators at Buchenwald were tried before a US military
tribunal in 1947, including
Higher SS and Police Leader
Higher SS and Police Leader Josias
Erbprinz zu Waldeck und Pyrmont, who oversaw the SS district that
Buchenwald was located in, and many of the doctors responsible for
Nazi human experimentation. Almost all of the defendants were
convicted, and 22 were sentenced to death. However, only nine death
sentences were carried out, and by the mid-1950s, all perpetrators had
been freed except for Ilse Koch. Additional perpetrators were tried
before German courts during the 1960s.
Between August 1945 and February 1950, Buchenwald was the site of NKVD
special camp Nr. 2, where the Soviet secret police imprisoned former
Nazis and anti-communist dissidents. After the
closed, much of the camp was razed, while signs were erected to
provide a Soviet interpretation of the camp's legacy. The
first monument to victims was erected by Buchenwald inmates days after
the initial liberation. It was made of wood and only intended to be
temporary. A second monument to commemorate the dead was erected in
1958 by the GDR government near the mass graves. Inside the camp,
there is a stainless steel monument on the spot where first, temporary
monument stood. Its surface is maintained at 37 °C
(99 °F), the temperature of human skin, all year
round. Today the Buchenwald camp site serves
as a holocaust memorial. It has a museum with permanent exhibitions
about the history of the camp. It is managed by Buchenwald and
Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, which also looks after the camp
memorial at Mittelbau-Dora.
Survivors who have written about their camp experiences include Jorge
Semprún, who in Quel beau dimanche! describes conversations involving
Goethe and Léon Blum, and Ernst Wiechert, whose Der Totenwald was
written in 1939 but not published until 1945, and which likewise
involved Goethe. Scholars have investigated how camp inmates used art
to help deal with their circumstances, and according to Theodor
Ziolkowski writers often did so by turning to Goethe.
Léon Delarbre sketched, besides other scenes of camp life, the
Goethe Oak, under which he used to sit and write. One of
the few prisoners who escaped from the camp, the Belgian Edmond
Vandievoet, recounted his experiences in a book whose English title is
"I escaped from a Nazi Death Camp" [Editions Jourdan, 2015]. In his
Elie Wiesel talks about his stay in Buchenwald, including
his father's death.
Visit from President Obama and Chancellor Merkel
Play media Video of President Obama's visit
On June 5, 2009, U.S. President
Barack Obama and German Chancellor
Angela Merkel visited Buchenwald after a tour of
Dresden Castle and
Church of Our Lady. During the visit they were accompanied by Elie
Wiesel and Bertrand Herz [de], both survivors of the
camp. Volkhard Knigge [de], the director of
the Buchenwald and
Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation and honorary
professor of University of Jena, guided the four guests through the
remainder of the site of the camp. During the visit Elie
Wiesel, who together with Bertrand Herz were sent to the Little camp
as 16-year-old boys, said, "if these trees could talk." His statement
marked the irony about the beauty of the landscape and the horrors
that took place within the camp. President Obama mentioned
during his visit that he had heard stories as a child from his great
uncle, who was part of the 89th Infantry Division, the first Americans
to reach the camp at Ohrdruf, one of Buchenwald's
satellites. Obama was the first sitting US President to
visit the Buchenwald concentration camp.
List of subcamps of Buchenwald
Number of deaths in Buchenwald
Ohrdruf forced labor camp
The Boys of Buchenwald
List of prisoners of Buchenwald
^ a b c Zegenhagen 2009, p. 290.
^ Rapson 2015, p. 27.
^ Rapson 2015, pp. 25, 27.
^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 177–178.
^ Rapson 2015, p. 51.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 178.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 198.
^ Hackett 1997, p. 341.
^ Hackett 1997, p. 43 n.19
^ Hackett 1997, p. 59 n.29
^ Stein, Harry (2005). Gedenkstatte Buchenwald (ed.). Buchenwald
concentration camp 1937–1945 (A Guide to the Permanent Historical
Exhibition). Wallstein. ISBN 978-3-89244-695-8..mw-parser-output
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^ Zanden 2009, p. 297.
^ Zanden 2009, p. 298.
^ Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006: "Prisoners of War in the Second World
War" Accessed 16 May 2007.
^ National Museum of the USAF: "Allied Victims of the Holocaust"
Accessed 9 July 2017.
^ "Eyewitness accounts of Art Kinnis, president of KLB
(Konzentrationslager Buchenwald), and 2nd Lt. Joseph Moser, one of the
surviving pilots". www.buchenwaldflyboy.wordpress.com.
^ From The Lucky Ones: Allied Airmen and Buchenwald (1994 film,
directed by Michael Allder), cited by Veterans Affairs Canada, 2006:
"Prisoners of War in the Second World War" Accessed 16 May 2007.
^ The resistance in Austria, 1938–1945 By Radomír Luža Publisher:
University of Minnesota Press (April 9, 1984) ISBN 0-8166-1226-9
^ Stein 2005, p. 302.
^ Spitz, Vivien (2005). Doctors from Hell: The Horrific Account of
Nazi Experiments on Humans. Sentient Publications. p. 199.
^ Spitz 2005, pp. 209–10
^ Spitz 2005, pp. 213–4
^ Spitz 2005, p. 209
^ Bartel 1961, p. . 64, lines 12–23.
^ Bartel 1961, p. 203, lines 18–38.
^ Includes male deaths in satellite camps.
^ Bartel (1961, p. 87, line 17–18) reports that somewhere between
12,000 and 15,000 prisoners died on evacuation transports in March and
^ Bartel 1960, p. 87, line 8.
^ Stein 2005, p. 227 "Evacuation".
^ Langbein, Hermann; Zohn, Harry (translator) (1994). Against All
Hope: Resistance in the Nazi Concentration Camps, 1938–1945. New
York: Paragon House. p. 502. ISBN 1-55778-363-2.
^ Several eyewitness reports of Dutch and German inmates of Buchenwald
at the Dutch Institute for War Documentation NIOD in Amsterdam.
^ a b Wayne Drash (14 August 2008). "Buchenwald liberator, American
hero dies at 83". CNN.
Edward R. Murrow
Edward R. Murrow Reports From Buchenwald". www.otr.com.
^ Mauriello 2017, pp. 32–34.
^ Zegenhagen 2009, pp. 293–294.
^ Marcuse 2010, p. 190.
^ Marcuse 2010, p. 200.
^ Young, James E.: At Memory's Edge: After-Images of the Holocaust in
Contemporary Art and Architecture, New Haven: Yale University Press,
2000, p. 105.
^ a b "Obama Visits Buchenwald Concentration Camp".
^ "Buchenwald and
Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation – Purpose of
the Foundation". Buchenwald and
Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation.
Retrieved 18 August 2012.
^ Ziolkowski, Theodore (2001). "Das Treffen in Buchenwald oder Der
vergegenwärtigte Goethe". Modern Language Studies. 31 (1): 131–50.
doi:10.2307/3195281. JSTOR 3195281.
^ Jenkins, David Fraser (2000). John Piper: The Forties. New Age
International. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-85667-534-8.
^ Wiesel, Elie (2007). La Nuit (2nd ed.). Paris: Éditions de Minuit.
^ a b "Buchenwald – The WhiteHouseBlog". The White House. Archived
from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 18 August 2012.
^ a b Remarks By President Obama, German Chancellor Merkel, And Elie
Wiesel At Buchenwald Concentration Camp (Speech). Buchenwald memorial
event. Weimar, Germany: The White House – Office of the Press
Secretary. 5 June 2009. Archived from the original on 25 June 2016.
Retrieved 1 May 2016.
Bartel, Walter, ed. (1961). Buchenwald-Mahnung und Verpflichtung:
Dokumente und Berichte [Buchenwald-Warnings and obligation:
Documents and reports] (in German). Kongress-Verlag.
ASIN B0000BGX5M. Deutscher Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1983
Hackett, David A. (1997). The Buchenwald Reports. Westview Press.
ISBN 978-0-8133-3363-2. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
Marcuse, Harold (2010). "The afterlife of the camps". In Wachsmann,
Nikolaus; Caplan, Jane (eds.). Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany:
The New Histories. Routledge. pp. 186–211.
Mauriello, Christopher E. (2017). Forced Confrontation: The Politics
of Dead Bodies in Germany at the End of World War II. Lanham:
Lexington Books. ISBN 9781498548069.
Rapson, Jessica (2015). Topographies of Suffering: Buchenwald, Babi
Yar, Lidice. New York: Berghahn Books. ISBN 9781782387107.
Stone, Dan (2015). The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the
Holocaust and Its Aftermath. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Wachsmann, Nikolaus (2015). KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration
Camps. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4299-4372-7.
Zanden, Christine Schmidt van der (2009). "Buchenwald Subcamp System".
In Megargee, Geoffrey P. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos,
1933–1945. 1. Bloomington: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
pp. 567–569. ISBN 978-0-253-35328-3.
Zegenhagen, Evelyn (2009). "Buchenwald Main Camp". In Megargee,
Geoffrey P. (ed.). Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945. 1.
Translated by Pallavicini, Stephen. Bloomington: United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum. pp. 567–569.
Knigge, Volkhard und Ritscher, Bodo: Totenbuch. Speziallager
Buchenwald 1945–1950, Weimar: Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald und
Mittelbau Dora, 2003.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Buchenwald concentration camp.
Official Memorial Site, Buchenwald and
Hardy Graupner: Survivors, academics recall dark episode in Germany's
postwar history, Deutsche Welle, 16 February 2010.
Guide to the Concentration Camps Collection, Leo Baeck Institute, New
York City 2013. Includes extensive reports on Buchenwald collected by
the Allied forces shortly after liberating the camp in April 1945.
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