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Block 66 at Buchenwald: The Clandestine Barracks to Save Children

by Kenneth Waltzer

During the final months at Buchenwald, 15-year old Elie Wiesel was assigned to a special barracks that was created and maintained by the clandestine underground resistance in the camp as part of a strategy of saving youth. This block, block 66, was located in the deepest part of the disease-infested little camp, a separate space below the main camp at Buchenwald, that was beyond the normal Nazi SS gaze (the local SS officer actively cooperated and conducted appels inside the barrack).

The barracks was overseen by block elder Antonin Kalina, a Czech Communist from Prague, and his deputy, Gustav Schiller, a Polish Jewish Communist originally from Lvov Schiller, who was a rough father figure and mentor, especially for the Polish-Jewish boys and many Czech-Jewish boys; but he was less liked, and even feared, by Hungarian- and Rumanian-Jewish boys, especially religious boys.

After January 1945, the underground concentrated all children and youth that could be fit in this windowless barracks — more than 600 children and youth, mostly Jews — and sheltered and protected them. Younger children, like Israel Meir Lau (Lulek) from Piotrkow, later the Chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, not yet 8 years old, and several others were secreted in block 8 in the main camp and watched by prisoners there, still others, as young as 4 years old, including Josef Shleifstein of Sandomierz, and Stefan Jerzy Zweig (Juschu) ofCracow, were hidden elsewhere throughout the camp. When General George Patton’s Third Army arrived on April 11, 1945, more than 900 children and youth — mostly teenagers, but also younger boys — were discovered among the 21,000 emaciated prisoners. They were alive in part due to a remarkable effort by key elements in the Communist-led underground to assist them to survive until liberation.

In this barrack, young Jews were protected and sheltered from work, save for occasional forays to clean up after bombing raids in nearby Weimar, where they scavenged for food. Survivors recall extra food in Red Cross packages distributed to them from Danish and other political prisoners in the main camp. They recall efforts by their mentors to raise their horizons in the barracks, songs, stories, even history and math lessons, to convince them there was another world awaiting them. And they recall heroic intervention by Kalina or Schiller during the final days to protect them from being led out when the Nazis sought to clear Jews from the camp.

Many of the boys, despite all that was done for them, were nonetheless marched to the main gate on April 10 and lined up to be marched out. Wiesel says this in Night. “So we were massed in the huge assembly square in rows of five, waiting to see the gate open.”However, American airplanes flew overhead, sirens sounded, the guards ran to the shelters, and Kalina, who marched with them, ordered the boys back to the barracks. They were still there the next afternoon when advanced armored units of the American Third Army droveSS guards from the camp and broke through the barbed wire fences.

*Waltzer is Professor and Director, Jewish Studies, Michigan State University

Elie Wiesel

  (1928 - ) By Shira Schoenberg

Elie (Eliezer) Wiesel is a novelist, journalist and Nobel Prize winner. He was born an Orthodox Jew in Rumania, survived the concentration camps and wrote about his experiences. He became a spokesman for survivors and dedicated his life to recording the horrors of the Holocaust and helping victims of oppression and racism.

Wiesel was born in Sighet, a Rumanian shtetl, on September 30, 1928. His parents, Shlomo and Sarah, were Orthodox Jews who owned a grocery store. He had two older sisters, Hilda and Bea, and a younger sister, Tsiporah. When he was three years old, Wiesel began attending a Jewish school where he learned HebrewBible, and eventually Talmud. His thinking was influenced by his maternal grandfather who was a prominent Hasid. He also spent time talking with Moshe, a caretaker in his synagogue who told Wiesel about theMessiah and other mysteries of Judaism.

In 1940, the Nazis turned Sighet over to Hungary. In 1942, the Hungarian government ruled that all Jews who could not prove Hungarian citizenship would be transferred to Nazi-held Poland and murdered. The only person from Sighet who was sent to Poland and escaped was Moshe, who returned to Sighet to tell his story. He told of deportations and murder, but the people thought he was crazy and life went on as usual. In 1942, Wiesel celebrated his bar mitzvah. He continued studying the Bible and other Jewish books, and became particularly attracted to Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. To further this study, he learned about astrology, parapsychology, hypnotism and magic. He found a kabbalist in Sighet to teach him.

In March 1944, German soldiers occupied Sighet. They forced the Jews to wear yellow stars. The Nazis closed Jewish stores, raided their houses and created two ghettos. In May, deportations began. The Wiesel’s Christian maid, Maria, invited them to hide in her hut in the mountains, but they turned her down, preferring to stay with the Jewish community. In early June, the Wiesels were among the last Jews to be loaded into a cattle car, with eighty people in one car. Wiesel later wrote, "Life in the cattle cars was the death of my adolescence."1

After four days, the train stopped at Auschwitz. Wiesel, then 15, followed the instructions of a fellow prisoner and told the waiting SSofficer that he was eighteen, a farmer and in good health. He and his father were sent to be slave laborers. His mother and younger sister were taken to the gas chambers. Wiesel and his father survived first Auschwitz and then the Buna labor camp for eight months, enduring beatings, hunger, roll calls and other torture. Wiesel witnessed hangings and once, a "trial" by three religious rabbis against God. Yet he still prayed every day. Like other inmates, Wiesel was stripped of his identity and became identified only by his number: A-7713.


Wiesel is in the second row of
bunks, seventh from the left

 

In the winter of 1944-1945, Wiesel’s right knee swelled up. He went to a camp doctor who operated on him. Two days later, on January 19, the SS forced the inmates of Buna on a death march. For ten days, the prisoners were forced to run and, at the end, were crammed into freight cars and sent to Buchenwald. Of the 20,000 prisoners who left Buna, 6,000 reached Buchenwald. Upon arrival on June 29, Wiesel’s father, Shlomo, died of dysentery, starvation and exhaustion.

Wiesel was sent to join 600 children in Block 66 of Buchenwald. As the end of the war approached, on April 6, 1945, the guards told the prisoners they would no longer be fed, and began evacuating the camp, killing 10,000 prisoners a day. On the morning of April 11, an underground movement rose from within the camp and attacked the SS guards. In early evening, the first American military units arrived and liberated the camp.

After liberation, Wiesel became sick with intestinal problems and spent several days in a hospital. While hospitalized, he wrote the outline for a book describing his experiences during the Holocaust. He was not ready to publicize his experiences, however, and promised himself to wait 10 years before writing them down in detail.

When Wiesel was released from the hospital, he had no family to return to. He joined a group of 400 orphan children being taken to France. Upon arrival, he tried to immigrate to Palestine but was not allowed. From 1945 to 1947, he was in different homes in Francefound for him by a Jewish group called the Children’s Rescue Society. He remained an Orthodox Jew in practice, but began to have questions about God.

In 1947, he began to study French with a tutor. By chance, Wiesel’s sister, Hilda, saw his picture in a newspaper and got in touch with him. Months later, Wiesel was also reunited with his sister Bea in Antwerp.

In France, Wiesel met a Jewish scholar who gave his name simply as Shushani. Shushani was a brilliant yet mysterious man who enchanted his audience with his insights in all areas of Jewish and general knowledge, but did not reveal any information about his personal life. Wiesel became his student and was deeply influenced by him. Shushani taught Wiesel to question and made Wiesel realize how little he actually knew.

In 1948, Wiesel enrolled in the Sorbonne University where he studied literature, philosophy and psychology. He was extremely poor and at times became depressed to the point of considering suicide. In time, however, he became involved with the Irgun, a Jewish militant organization in Palestine, and translated materials from Hebrew to Yiddish for the Irgun’s newspaper. He began working as a reporter and in 1949, traveled to Israel as a correspondent for the French paper L’Arche. In Israel, he secured a job as Paris correspondent for the Israeli paper Yediot Achronot and in the 1950s he traveled around the world as a reporter. He also became involved in the controversy over whether Israel should accept reparation payments from West Germany.

A turning point in Wiesel’s life came in 1954 when Wiesel interviewed the Catholic writer Fancois Mauriac. During the interview, everything Mauriac said seemed to relate to Jesus. Finally, Wiesel burst out that while Christians love to talk about the suffering of Jesus, "…ten years ago, not very far from here, I knew Jewish children every one of whom suffered a thousand times more, six million times more, than Christ on the cross. And we don’t speak about them." Wiesel ran from the room, but Mauriac followed him, asked Wiesel about his experiences and advised him to write them down.

Wiesel then spent a year drawing on the outline he had written in the hospital to write an 862-page Yiddish manuscript he called And the World Was Silent. He gave it to a publisher in Argentina and it came back as a 245-page book called Night. The book, published in France in 1958 and in the U.S. in 1960, was autobiographical and told of his experiences from his youth in Sighet through his liberation from Buchenwald. It is also a personal account of his loss of religious faith.

In 1955, Wiesel moved to New York as foreign correspondent for Yediot Ahronot. It was around this time that he decided to stop attending synagogue, except on the High Holidays and to say yizkor, as a protest against what he concluded was divine injustice.

One night in July 1956, Wiesel was crossing a New York street when a taxi hit him. He underwent a 10-hour operation. Once he recovered, he began to concentrate more on his writing. He dedicated four hours every morning, from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 a.m. to writing. After Night was published, he wrote a second novel in 1961, Dawn, about a concentration camp survivor. In quick succession he wrote The Accident (1961), about a survivor hurt in a traffic accident, The Town Beyond the Wall (1962), The Gates of the Forest(1964), and Legends of Our Time (1966), all novels chronicling Jewish suffering during and after the Holocaust. In 1965, he visited the Soviet Union and wrote a book entitled The Jews of Silence (1966) about the plight of Soviet Jewry. After the 1967 war in Israel, he wrote A Begger in Jerusalem (1968) about Jews responding to the reunification of Jerusalem. This book earned him the Prix Medicis, one of France’s top literary rewards. In these books, he portrays characters in situations that are exclusively Jewish. He perceives reality through the lens of TalmudKabbalah, and Hasidism. His books “mingle tales and legends with testimony, recollection and lament.”

In 1969, Wiesel married Marion Erster Rose, a divorced woman from Austria. She translated all of Wiesel’s subsequent books. In 1972, they had a son who they named Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, after Wiesel’s father.

Wiesel continued writing through the 1970s and 1980s. His book The Trial of God (1977) depicts a trial in which a man accuses God of "hostility, cruelty and indifference."4 Wiesel, throughout his life, refused to completely abandon his belief in God as caretaker of His people, while at the same time he questioned God’s seeming indifference to Jewish suffering. His cantata Ani Maamin (1973) presents a dialogue between the Jewish forefathers AbrahamIsaac and Jacob, who have the responsibility of directing God’s attention to Israel’s suffering throughout the generations. Other books include One Generation After (1972), Four Hasidic Masters (1978), The Testament (1980) and two volumes of his memoirs (1995 and 1999).

Wiesel was outspoken about the suffering of all people, not only Jews. In the 1970s, he protested against South African apartheid. In 1980, he delivered food to starving Cambodians. In 1986, he received the Nobel Peace Prize as “a messenger to mankind,” and “a human being dedicated to humanity. He explained his actions by saying the whole world knew what was happening in the concentration camps, but did nothing. “That is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.”

From 1972 to 1978, Wiesel was a Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at the City University of New York. In 1978, he became a Professor of Humanities at Boston University. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter asked him to head the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which he did for six years. In 1985, Wiesel was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement. In 1988, he established his own humanitarian foundation, the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, to explore the problems of hatred and ethnic conflicts. In the early 1990s, he lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of victims of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Wiesel has received numerous awards and approximately 75 honorary doctorates.

In 1993, Wiesel spoke at the dedication of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. His words, which echo his life’s work, are carved in stone at the entrance to the museum: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau

(1937- )

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau was born in 1937 in Pyotrekov, Poland. A survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp, he lost both of his parents in the Holocaust. In 1946 he immigrated to Israel, where he lived with his uncle and studied at a state religious school in Kiryat Shmuel. He then studied at three yeshivas: Kol Torah in Jerusalem, Knesset Hizkiya in Zichron Ya'akov and Ponovitz in Bnei Brak.

1971 Ordained as a rabbi

 

1971 Headed Or Torah congregation in Tel Aviv

 

1971-79 Rabbi of North Tel Aviv

 

1979-88 Chief Rabbi of Netanya

 

1983 Elected a member of Chief Rabbinical Council, serving on committee for medical ethics

 

1988-93 Chief Rabbi and President of the Rabbinical Court of Tel Aviv-Yafo

 

1993 Elected Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel

Introduction

Buchenwald

Buchenwald was one of the largest concentration camps established by the Nazis. The camp was constructed in 1937 in a wooded area on the northern slopes of the Ettersberg, about five miles northwest of Weimar in east-central Germany. Before the Nazi takeover of power, Weimar was best known as the home of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who embodied the German enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and as the birthplace of German constitutional democracy in 1919, the Weimar Republic. During the Nazi regime, “Weimar” became associated with the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Buchenwald first opened for male prisoners in July 1937. Women were not part of the Buchenwald camp system until 1944. Prisoners were confined in the northern part of the camp in an area known as the main camp, while SS guard barracks and the camp administration compound were located in the southern part. The main camp was surrounded by an electrified barbed-wire fence, watchtowers, and a chain of sentries outfitted with automatically activated machine guns. The jail, also known as the Bunker, was located at the entrance to the main camp. The SS carried out shootings in the stables and hangings in the crematorium area.

Most of the early inmates at Buchenwald were political prisoners. However, in 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, German SS and police sent almost 10,000 Jews to Buchenwald where they were subjected to extraordinarily cruel treatment. 600 prisoners died between November 1938 and February 1939.

Beginning in 1941, a varied program of involuntary medical experiments on prisoners took place at Buchenwald in special barracks in the northern part of the main camp. Medical experiments involving viruses and contagious diseases such as typhus resulted in hundreds of deaths. In 1944, SS Dr. Carl Vaernet began a series of experiments that he claimed would “cure” homosexual inmates.

Also in 1944, a “special compound” for prominent German political prisoners was established near the camp administration building in Buchenwald. Ernst Thaelmann, chairman of the Communist Party of Germany before Hitler's rise to power in 1933, was murdered there in August 1944.

BUCHENWALD: FORCED LABOR AND SUBCAMPS

During World War II, the Buchenwald camp system became an important source of forced labor. The prisoner population expanded rapidly, reaching 110,000 by the end of 1945. Buchenwald prisoners were used in the German Equipment Works (DAW), an enterprise owned and operated by the SS; in camp workshops; and in the camp's stone quarry. In March 1943 the Gustloff firm opened a large munitions plant in the eastern part of the camp. A rail siding completed in 1943 connected the camp with the freight yards in Weimar, facilitating the shipment of war supplies.

Buchenwald administered at least 87 subcamps located across Germany, from Duesseldorf in the Rhineland to the border with the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in the east. Prisoners in the satellite camps were put to work mostly in armaments factories, in stone quarries, and on construction projects. Periodically, prisoners throughout the Buchenwald camp system underwent selection. The SS staff sent those too weak or disabled to continue working to the Bernburg or Sonnenstein euthanasia killing centers, where they were killed by gas. Other weakened prisoners were killed by phenol injections administered by the camp doctor.

THE LIBERATION OF BUCHENWALD

As Soviet forces swept through Poland, the Germans evacuated thousands of concentration camp prisoners from western Poland. After long, brutal marches, more than 10,000 weak and exhausted prisoners from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen, most of them Jews, arrived in Buchenwald in January 1945.

In early April 1945, as American forces approached the camp, the Germans began to evacuate some 28,000 prisoners from the main camp and an additional 10,000 prisoners from the subcamps of Buchenwald. About a third of these prisoners died from exhaustion en route or shortly after arrival, or were shot by the SS. Many lives were saved by the Buchenwald resistance, whose members held key administrative posts in the camp. They obstructed Nazi orders and delayed the evacuation.

On April 11, 1945, starved and emaciated prisoners stormed the watchtowers, seizing control of the camp. Later that afternoon,American forces entered Buchenwald. Soldiers from the Third U.S. Army division found more than 20,000 people in the camp, 4,000 of them Jews. Approximately 56,000 people were murdered in the Buchenwald camp system, the majority of them after 1942.

Edward R. Murrow's Report From Buchenwald

Legendary CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow described the scene at Buchenwald when he entered the camp after liberation:

 

There surged around me an evil-smelling stink, men and boys reached out to touch me. They were in rags and the remnants of uniforms. Death already had marked many of them, but they were smiling with their eyes. I looked out over the mass of men to the green fields beyond, where well-fed Germans were ploughing....

[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 1200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.

They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book — nothing more — nothing about who had been where, what he 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 1200, 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.

In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only 6 years old. One rolled up his sleeves, showed me his number. It was tattooed on his arm. B-6030, it was. The others showed me their numbers. They will carry them till they die. An elderly man standing beside me said: “The children — enemies of the state!” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts....

We went to the hospital. It was full. The doctor told me that 200 had died the day before. I asked the cause of death. He shrugged and said: “tuberculosis, starvation, fatigue and there are many who have no desire to live. It is very difficult.” He pulled back the blanket from a man's feet to show me how swollen they were. The man was dead. Most of the patients could not move.

I asked to see the kitchen. It was clean. The German in charge....showed me the daily ration. One piece of brown bread about as thick as your thumb, on top of it a piece of margarine as big as three sticks of chewing gum. That, and a little stew, was what they received every 24 hours. He had a chart on the wall. Very complicated it was. There were little red tabs scattered through it. He said that was to indicate each 10 men who died. He had to account for the rations and he added: “We're very efficient here.”

We proceeded to the small courtyard. The wall adjoined what had been a stable or garage. We entered. It was floored with concrete. There were two rows of bodies stacked up like cordwood. They were thin and very white. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised; though there seemed to be little flesh to bruise. Some had been shot through the head, but they bled but little.

I arrived at the conclusion that all that was mortal of more than 500 men and boys lay there in two neat piles. There was a German trailer, which must have contained another 50, but it wasn't possible to count them. The clothing was piled in a heap against the wall. It appeared that most of the men and boys had died of starvation; they had not been executed.

But the manner of death seemed unimportant. Murder had been done at Buchenwald. God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?

I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald. I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words.

If I have offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry....

“They Died 900 a Day in ‘the Best’ Nazi Death Camp,” PM, April 16, 1945.

Experiments with Poison

In or about December 1943, and in or about October 1944, experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald concentration camp to investigate the effect of various poisons upon human beings. The poisons were secretly administered to experimental subjects in their food. The victims died as a result of the poison or were killed immediately in order to permit autopsies. In or about September 1944 experimental subjects were shot with poison bullets and suffered torture and death. The defendants Genzken, Gebhardt, Mrugowsky, and Poppendick are charged with special responsibility for and participation in these crimes

Incendiary Bomb Experiments

From about November 1943 to about January 1944 experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald concentration camp to test the effect of various pharmaceutical preparations on phosphorous burns. These burns were inflicted on experimental subjects with phosphorous matter taken from incendiary bombs, and caused severe pain, suffering, and serious bodily injury. The defendants Genzken, Gebhardt, Mrugowsky, and Poppendick are charged with special responsibility for and participation in these crimes.

Photo of wounds left by a medical experiment. The victim had been burned with phosphorous so that medicaments could be tested. NARA

Karl Otto Koch

(1897-1945)

Karl Koch was born in Darmstadt, Germany in 1897. He was a bank clerk before joining the German Army during the First World War. He was captured by the British army and was held as a prisoner-of-war until October, 1919.

Koch joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1930. Later he became a member of the Schutz Staffeinel (SS). In 1934, Koch became a senior official in Lichtenburg Concentration Camp. Two years later he became the commandant ofSachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

In May 1937, Koch married Ilse Koch, one of the female guards at the camp. Later that year, Koch was appointed commandant ofBuchenwald, and his wife became a SS-Aufseherin (overseer) at the camp.

Karl Otto Koch, a colonel of German Schutzstaffel (SS), was the first commandant of Buchenwald (from 1937 to 1941). In 1942, Otto and his wife Ilse received a punative transfer to Majdanek. In August 1943, Karl Koch was arrested by the Gestapo at the request of SSjudge Josias Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Karl Otto was charged with the unauthorized murder of three prisoners, while Ilse was accused of the embezzlement of more than 700,000RM. Though Ilse was acquitted, Karl Otto was convicted and shot in April 1945.

Ilse Koch

Ilse Koch

(1906-1967)

Ilse Koch was born in Dresden, Germany in 1906. A secretary by profession, Koch joined the Nazi party in 1932. Four years later, she married Karl Otto Koch (1897-1945), head of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, who in 1937 was assigned to build a new concentration camp in Buchenwald. Ilsa went with him and became a SS-Aufseherin (overseer) at the camp.

While Karl Otto was known for his personal greed in the camps he worked in, Ilse was known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald” for her bestial cruelty and sadistic behavior. She was especially fond of riding her horse through the camp, whipping any prisoner who attracted her attention. Her hobby was collecting lampshades, book covers, and gloves made from the skins of specially murdered concentration camp inmates, and shrunken human skulls.

Prisoners' Tattooed Skin

Ilse Koch would specially select prisoners with distinctive tattoos on her rides around the camp. These prisoners would be killed and their skin tanned and stored for later use by the SS guards.

Her taste for collecting lampshades made from the tattooed skins was described by a witness at The Nuremberg Trials after the war:

"The finished products (i.e. tattooed skin detached from corpses) were turned over to Koch's wife, who had them fashioned into lampshades and other ornamental household articles .."

In the book Sidelights on the Koch Affair by Stefan Heymann, the author pointed out that the fact that the Kochs had lamps made of human skin did not distinguish them from the other SS officers. They had the same artworks made for their family homes:

"It is more interesting that Frau Koch had a lady's handbag made out of the same material. She was just as proud of it as a South Sea island woman would have been about her cannibal trophies .. "

Trials

In 1942, the Kochs received a punative transfer to Majdanek. In August 1943, Karl Koch was arrested by the Gestapo at the request of SS judge Josias Prince of Waldeck-Pyrmont. Karl Otto was charged with the unauthorized murder of three prisoners, while Ilse was accused of the embezzlement of more than 700,000RM. Though Ilse was acquitted, Karl Otto was convicted and shot in April 1945.

At the end of the war, Koch was arrested and charged with "participating in a common criminal plan for encouraging, aiding, abetting and participating in the atrocities at Buchenwald." In 1947, an American military tribunal found Koch found guilty and sentenced her to life-imprisonment.

 

Ilse Koch takes the stand for her final statement at the trial of 31 former camp personnel and prisoners from Buchenwald. (German National Archives and U.S. National Archives)

After serving only two years, General Lucius D. Clay, the military governor of the American zone in Germany, pardoned her. As a result of the international condemnation this decision received, Koch was re-arrested in 1949 and tried before a West German court for instigation to murder in 135 cases. She was sentenced to life-imprisonment on January 15, 1951.

She committed suicide in a Bavarian prison on September 1, 1967.

Frau Ilse Koch, General Lucius Clay, and Human-Skin Atrocities

By Jamie McCarthy

Ilse Koch (her first name has two syllables; her last name sounds like the Scottish "loch") is the most famous of all Germans accused of having committed atrocities during the war. She was the wife of the commandant of the Buchenwald camp. She was twice convicted in post-war trials, once by an international court and once by her own country. The chief charges against her were cruelty to inmates, including murder, but what she is best-known for is the making of human-skin ornaments, including the lampshades of which we've all heard.

It's exceedingly well-documented that such ornaments did exist; there's no question but that someone made them out of human skin. When one can see a book whose cover is tanned skin with a decorative tattoo on it, there's little question that the skin was that of a human being. If one has any doubt as to the origin of the substance, one should examine the forensic report conducted on some of the skin. It concludes, based on microscopic examination and the placement of the nipples and navel, that the skin was certainly human.

Various Holocaust-deniers, however, have attempted to cast doubt upon the existence of this skin, and upon the guilt of Ilse Koch in particular. Arthur Butz writes: 

The tattooed skin was undoubtedly due to the medical experiment role of Buchenwald. As remarked by [Christopher] Burney [a former inmate], when a Buchenwald inmate died the camp doctors looked his body over and if they found something interesting they saved it. It is fairly certain that the collection of medical specimens thus gathered was the source of the tattooed skin and the human head that turned up at the IMT as "exhibits" relating to people "murdered" at Buchenwald. 

...in 1948 the American military governor, General Lucius Clay, reviewed her case and determined that, despite testimony produced at her trial, Frau Koch could not be related to the lampshades and other articles which were "discovered" (i.e. planted) in the Buchenwald commandant's residence when the camp was captured in 1945. For one thing, she had not lived there since her husband's, and her own, arrest in 1943. Also her "family journal," said to be bound in human skin, and which was one of the major accusations against her, was never located, and obviously never existed.

Already we have two explanations of the human-skin ornaments. It is interesting to note that they are mutually exclusive. On the one hand, according to Butz, the ornaments unquestionably did exist, since tattooed skin was produced at the IMT, though it is "fairly certain" that the "medical specimens" were simply cut from the corpses of inmates who died naturally. On the other hand, the ornaments were "planted" by the Allies.

Butz can't have it both ways. He can claim that Ilse Koch is innocent because the ornaments came from inmates who died of natural causes and not murder; or, he can claim that the ornaments were forgeries, planted by the Allies to incriminate the Nazis. To claim both is ludicrous. Yet this is exactly what he does.

Butz's book was one of the earlier attempts at Holocaust denial, and later efforts would refine it to a great degree. Such refinement is clearly demonstrated by following deniers' claims about Ilse Koch.

In fact, in the same year that Butz's book was published, 1976, General Lucius Clay gave an interview at the little-known George C. Marshall Research Foundation, in which he indicated that he believed that the human-skin ornaments were not in fact made of humanskin, but rather of goat skin. Mark Weber, now the Editor of the Journal of Historical Review, became aware of this interview some years later, after Clay had died (in 1978). He obtained a transcript, with the aid of Robert Wolfe of the National Archives, now retired, who incidentally is strongly opposed to Holocaust-denial. In 1987, Weber published his findings in an article in the Journal of Historical Review

Armed with this "new" evidence, deniers began to play down Butz's claim that Koch should be considered innocent because the human-skin ornaments were merely "medical specimens." After all, this is the weaker argument; if one grants the courts' determinations that the human-skin ornaments existed, and further grants the courts' rulings that Koch was guilty of murder on separate counts, then it is an academic point whether the skin came from inmates who died naturally or violently.

It better rehabilitates the image of Nazism to say that the Allies framed Ilse Koch -- so this is the tack which deniers began to take. Theodore J. O'Keefe later published a pamphlet entitled "The 'Liberation of the Camps': Facts vs. Lies," which used the Clay quotation, and repeated Weber's claim that the human-skin ornaments never existed or were planted by the Allies. Bradley R. Smith's original campus advertisements, purchased in student newspapers in 1991, carried the Clay quotation and implied Weber's claim. Later, deniers began to quote from Jean Edward Smith's Lucius D. Clay: An American Life , in which Clay repeated the goat skin claim (but also contradicted himself, as we shall see).

In any case, the claim that "the collection of medical specimens thus gathered was the source of the tattooed skin" was quietly forgotten.

Furthermore, the unspoken implication in these articles is that one should not merely disbelieve that Ilse Koch specifically was involved in atrocities, but that one should disbelieve all Nazi atrocities. This is obviously an irrational leap of logic.

To obtain a clear picture, it is necessary to see why General Clay was incorrect in his assertion that the ornaments were not made of human skin. The explanation is fairly simple, but in the interest of providing a through refutation, we will examine the historical record with some thoroughness (and in roughly chronological order).

Leniency for Koch

General Clay did indeed feel, in 1948, that Ilse Koch had been unjustly sentenced to a life term the previous year by the international American military court. On September 16, he commuted that sentence to four years' time. As he explained on September 23rd: "There was no convincing evidence that she selected inmates for extermination in order to secure tattooed skin or that she possessed any articles made of human skin."

That was reported in the New York Times, Sept. 24, 1948, p. 3. On the next day, the paper quoted Secretary of the Army Kenneth C. Royall: "Mr. Royall's final word on the fate of the woman who was accused of atrocities, including the use of tattooed human skin to make household articles, was that such charges had not been proved." 

This sentence-reduction was rather unpopular, and it was questioned whether she could be retried or resentenced. The U.S. government gave up after a while, declaring that it would wash its hands of the matter. Eventually, she was tried by a German court on charges of her having abused and killed German inmates; her previous trial had included only inmates of other nationalities. In this second trial, she was convicted and sentenced to life, again. She spent the rest of her life in prison until she committed suicide in 1967.

It appears that the reason General Clay concluded that sufficient evidence had not been presented is that a crucial piece of evidence was missing. According to a witness, her family album was bound in skin from a man's chest with a prominent tattoo of a four-masted shipThe album, which Koch insisted was bound only in black cloth, was never found.

Additional atrocity charges might have been brought against her in the first trial, but for a technicality in the conduct of the prosecution. This conduct was, in fact, incorrect. A U.S. prosecutor explained, in the Times on October 15th: 

The making of lampshades and novelties from human skin and other mass atrocities committed by her could not be judicially established because the majority of Ilse Koch's crimes were committed during the period which the American Army, in violation of Law No. 10, refused to include in its trials. 

Law No. 10 indicated that the Allies would consider all crimes committed between1933 and 1945. The order was apparently given by Colonel C.E. Straight and Colonel A.H. Rosenfeld to ignore all Buchenwald crimes committed before Pearl Harbor, though the camp had existed for four years prior.

A week later, General Clay commented on this matter: "My examination of the record, based upon reports which I received from the lawyers, indicated that the most serious charges were based on hearsay and not on factual evidence. For that reason the sentence was commuted." He went on to say:

I hold no sympathy for Ilse Koch. She was a woman of depraved character and ill repute. She had done many things reprehensible and punishable, undoubtedly, under German law. We were not trying her for those things. We were trying her as a war criminal on specific charges.

Note that General Clay makes reference to the fact that he is relying upon the "reports which [he] received from the lawyers." This becomes important later.

In the last days of 1948, a Senate investigation into the Koch case, begun only four days after the commutation of her sentence in September, was completed. The excerpts from that report printed in the Times regarding human-skin atrocities are as follows: 

Tattooed skin was carefully cut from bodies of dead inmates, tanned and used for a variety of pseudo-scientific and decorative purposes.

As to the human-skin aspects of this case, there is no doubt that tattooed human skin was scraped, tanned, and dried by the pathological departments at Buchenwald. Numerous witnesses testified as to its existence, and three samples of it and a shrunken human head were placed in evidence. These same samples were made exhibits at the hearings before this subcommittee.

One defense witness (Wilhelm) testified that a lamp had been made of skin to his knowledge, and offered hearsay evidence to the fact that Ilse Koch had ordered and had been delivered a lampshade of this sort.

Prosecution witnesses (Titz and Froeboess) testified that they had seen the accused in possession of a skin lampshade, a skin-bound album, and a pair of gloves of human skin. Two defense witnesses (Wilhelm and Biermann) and one prosecution witness (Sitte) testified, from hearsay, that she had possession of articles made of human skin.

The chief witnesses [sic] for the accused was Ilse Koch herself, who specifically denied the charges brought against her and the testimony of the witnesses who had appeared against her.

Secretary Royall, whose previous comment on the subject had been that the tattoo charges "had not been proved," reversed his opinion in the testimony he gave to the committee:

Kenneth C. Royall, Secretary of the Army, said he found it difficult to "understand why they were for reduction in sentence." He admitted military authorities ""may have made a mistake."

The subcommittee also reviewed General Clay's decision to commute the sentence. This provides us with some of the most interesting material, a brief glimpse into why Clay made the decision he did. According to the Times:

In assailing reduction of the sentence originally given to Frau Koch, who was accused of having men killed so that their tattooed skin might be made into lampshades or other useful curios, the committee expressed the opinion that American military authorities "rendered in good faith" a decision that "no doubt appeared to them to be a proper decision."

But it expressed amazement that the "only written justification" in existence at the time the order was signed by Gen. Lucius D. Clay, the United States Military Commander in Germany, was an "incomplete recapitulation of the evidence" by two civilian attorneys who made a preliminary review.

This document stated that, while Frau Koch did encourage, aid and participate in the common Nazi design, the extent and nature of her participation did not warrant imprisonment for life.

General Clay never disputed any of the above, at least not publicly. Three months later, he announced that it had been decided that she could not be tried by American military courts, and that the trial by German authorities was under consideration.

A few years later, he commented tangentially on the Senate committee's conclusions in his book Decision in Germany: 

Among the 1672 trials was that of Ilse Koch, the branded "Bitch of Buchenwald," but as I examined the record I could not find her a major participant in the crimes of Buchenwald. A sordid, disreputable character, she had delighted in flaunting her sex, emphasized by tight sweaters and short skirts, before the long-confined male prisoners, and had developed their bitter hatred. Nevertheless these were not the offenses for which she was being tried and so I reduced her sentence, expecting the reaction which came. Perhaps I erred in judgment but no one can share the responsibility of a reviewing officer. Later the Senate committee which unanimously criticized this action heard witnesses who gave testimony not contained in the record before me. I could take action only on that record. [Emphasis added.]

Frau Koch was indeed later indicted and convicted by the German court. Clay would later state that the German court "had clear jurisdiction." 

She was sentenced to life for: "one count of incitement to murder, one of incitement to attempted murder, five of incitement to severe physical mistreatment of prisoners, and two of physical mistreatment."

"The court found no proof that anyone at Buchenwald had been murdered for his tattooed skin, but it expressed no doubt that skin lampshades had been made and that human heads had been shriveled and preserved at the camp."

Let's briefly recapitulate, at this point.

It has never been questioned, not even by Frau Koch or her lawyers, whether or not human-skin lampshades were made at Buchenwald. The only question has been whether Koch herself actually participated in their manufacture. This is an important point. Three samples of such artifacts were placed into evidence, and were also viewed by the Senate subcommittee.

Two witnesses testified that they themselves had seen Frau Koch in possession of human-skin artifacts. Clay may not have been aware of these witnesses, because he said that the testimony regarding the "most serious charges" was entirely hearsay. Whether that referred to the human-skin charges is unknown. It would seem likely that the charges for murder would be the "most serious charges."

In any case, the attorneys who reviewed the evidence for Clay produced, according to the Senate subcommittee, an "incomplete recapitulation of the evidence."

In other words, Clay was misinformed by his assistants, and Clay went on to write shortly thereafter that "he could take action only on that record" which he was presented with. This is a key point. It is also important to note that this fact is readily available to anyone who simply browses Koch-related stories in the newspapers of the era, or looks up Clay's Decision in Germany.

The German court failed to convict Koch on the charge that she had selected prisoners to be murdered for their skins, but that same court said that there was "no doubt that skin lampshades had been made."

History offers little more about Ilse Koch during her subsequent imprisonment over the next two decades. She committed suicide in 1967. But in 1976, General Clay was supposed to be a speaker at a conference at the George C. Marshall Research Foundation in Virginia. In poor health, he sent last-minute regrets. A month later, he and General Mark W. Clark gave videotaped interviews to a member of the Foundation.

According to Mark Weber, the transcripts of those interviews reveal that General Clay reaffirmed his position of twenty-eight years earlier:;

We tried Ilse Koch. ...She was sentenced to life imprisonment, and I commuted it to three years. And our press really didn't like that. She had been destroyed by the fact that an enterprising reporter who first went into her house had given her the beautiful name, the "Bitch of Buchenwald," and he had found some white lampshades in there which he wrote up as being made out of human flesh.

Well, it turned out actually that it was goat flesh. But at the trial it was still human flesh. It was almost impossible for her to have gotten a fair trial.

Similar words were said to Jean Edward Smith in the interview he took:

That was one of the reasons I revoked the death sentence of Ilse Koch. There was absolutely no evidence in the trial transcript, other than she was a rather loathsome creature, that would support the death sentence. I suppose I received more abuse for that than for anything else I did in Germany. Some reporter had callled her the "Bitch of Buchenwald," had written that she had lampshades made out of human skin in her house. And that was introduced in court, where it was absolutely proven that the lampshades were made out of goatskin.

It should be noted that Smith characterized Clay's memory as "extraordinary," saying he "could recall cables twenty-five years old, almost verbatim. No detail was too small to be filed away in his recollection." 

But notice the discrepancies: in the Foundation interview, Clay stated that the lampshades were still considered human at the trial. In the Smith interview, he stated that the trial proved " absolutely" that they were not (Presumably he was not aware of the forensic evidence proving that the skin was human.).

Also, in the Foundation interview, he could not even recall how many years he had reduced her sentence to (four).

It is important to realize that the Frau Koch affair, though big news in the media, was of very little concern to General Clay. His responsibility was to manage the rebuilding of the entire U.S.-occupied German nation between 1945 and his retirement in May 1949. With tens of millions of people to look after, he can be excused for overlooking the details about one war criminal. In Decision in Germany, he makes a point of mentioning that Koch's trial was only one of the 1,672 Dachau trials which he oversaw as reviewing officer. Her irrelevance to his life can be seen in John Backer's biography, Winds of History:  nowhere in this book's 300 pages is she even mentioned.

The actual transcripts of the trial are, of course, the only way to settle the question. Obtaining these transcripts is not an easy undertaking. Anyone who wishes to assist in this effort is invited to contact this author.

The important thing is not so much what Holocaust-deniers are saying about Ilse Koch and General Clay as what they are not saying. They went to the trouble of digging up an interview at an obscure research foundation from 1976, enlisting the assistance of a senior archivist at the National Archives to do so.

Yet they forgot to mention the important evidence, much more easily uncovered, which indicates that the statements made in this interview (and later in Smith's book) are incorrect or ill-informed.

They forgot to mention that the trial which Clay reviewed did not cover the full period during which Koch was at the camp.

They forgot to mention that Clay was incompletely informed by his assistants, and that he admitted as much in his 1950 book, saying: "I could take action only on that record."

They forgot to mention that a Senate investigatory committee saw, with their own eyes, the very same "three samples" of "tattooed human skin" that Clay says don't exist.

They forgot to mention the conclusion that the subcommittee reached: that "there is no doubt" that human skin was tanned at Buchenwald.

They forgot to mention that there is a forensic report which, based on microscopic analysis and the placement of nipples and navel, concludes that the skin is indeed human.

They forget to mention that the same German court that found her innocent of the charge of murdering anyone for tattooed skin, also declared it indisputable that human-skin artifacts were made.

And all that information is much more readily available than the transcripts of an obscure interview by an obscure organization conducted 28 years after the fact.

Since Holocaust-deniers have gone to so much trouble to find evidence which vaguely supports their thesis, and have not lifted a finger to reveal the evidence to the contrary, the logical conclusion is that they are dishonest.

Spotted Fever (Fleckfieber) Experiments

[It was definitely ascertained in the course of the proceedings, by both prosecution and defense, that the correct translation of "Fleckfieber" is typhus. A finding to this effect is contained in the judgment. A similar initial inadequate translation occurred in the case of "typhus" and "paratyphus" which should be rendered as typhoid and paratyphoid.] From about December 1941 to about February 1945 experiments were conducted at the Buchenwald and Natzweiler concentration camps, for the benefit of the German Armed Forces, to investigate the effectiveness of spotted fever and other vaccines.

At Buchenwald numerous healthy inmates were deliberately infected with spotted fever virus in order to keep the virus alive; over 90 percent of the victims died as a result. Other healthy inmates were used to determine the effectiveness of different spotted fever vaccines and of various chemical substances. In the course of these experiments 75 percent of the selected number of inmates were vaccinated with one of the vaccines or nourished with one of the chemical substances and, after a period of 3 to 4 weeks, were infected with spotted fever germs. The remaining 25 percent were infected without any previous protection in order to compare the effectiveness of the vaccines and the chemical substances. As a result, hundreds of the persons experimented upon died.

Experiments with yellow fever, smallpox, typhus, paratyphus [It was definitely ascertained in the course of the proceedings, by both prosecution and defense, that the correct translation of "Fleckfieber" is typhus. A finding to this effect is contained in the judgment. A similar initial inadequate translation occurred in the case of "typhus" and "paratyphus" which should be rendered as typhoid and paratyphoid] A and B, cholera, and diphtheria were also conducted. Similar experiments with like results were conducted at Natzweiler concentration camp. The defendants Karl Brandt, Handloser, Rostock, Schroeder, Genzken, Gebhardt, Rudolf Brandt, Mrugowsky, Poppendick, Sievers, Rose, Becker-Freyseng, and Hoven are charged with special responsibility for and participation in these crimes.

The Doctors Trial - Defendants

 

KARL BRANDT--Personal physician to AdoIf Hitler; Gruppenfuehrer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Major General) in the Waffen SS; Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation (Reichskommissar fuer Sanitaets- und Gesundheitswesen); and member of the Reich Research Council (Reichsforschungsrat)

Karl Brandt was born in Mühlhausen, Alsace (then in Germany). He became a medical doctor in 1928. He joined the NSDAP in January1932, and became a member of the SA in 1933. He became a member of the SS in July 1934 and was appointed Untersturmführer. From the summer of 1934 he was Hitler's personal physician. He received regular promotions from the SS and, by January 1943, Brandt was a major general.

In August 1944, Brandt was appointed Reich Commissioner for Sanitation and Health, ranked as the highest Reich authority. He was authorized to issue instructions to the medical organizations of the government, to the party, and the armed forces, in the field of health.

He participated in the euthanasia program beginning in 1939, which involved the systematic execution of the aged, insane, incurably ill, or deformed children by gas or lethal injections in nursing homes, hospitals and asylums. They were regarded as 'useless eaters' and a burden to the German war machine.

On April 16, 1945, he was arrested by the Gestapo, and was condemned to death by a court at Berlin. He was released from arrest by order of Karl Doenitz on May 2, 1945. On May 23, 1945, he was placed under arrest by the British.

Brandt was one of the 15 defendants found guilty of war crimes at the Doctors Trial. He was executed June 2, 1948 at Landsberg prison in Bavaria.

SIEGFRIED HANDLOSER--Generaloberstabsarzt (Lieutenant General, Medical Service); Medical Inspector of the Army (Heeres-sanitaetsinspekteur); and Chief of the Medical Services of the Armed Forces (Chef des Wehrmachtsanitaetswesens). PAUL ROSTOCK--Chief Surgeon of the Surgical Clinic in Berlin; Surgical Adviser to the Army; and Chief of the Office for Medical Science and Research (Amtschef der Dienststelle Medizinische Wissenschaft und Forschung) under the defendant Karl Brandt, Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation. OSKAR SCHROEDER--Generaloberstabsarzt (Lieutenant General Medical Service); Chief of Staff of the Inspectorate of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe (Chef des Stabes, Inspekteur des Luftwaffe-Sanitaetswesens); and Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe (Chef des Sanitaetswesens der Luftwaffe). KARL GENZKEN--Gruppenfuehrer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Major General) in the Waffen SS; and Chief of the Medical Department of the Waffen SS (Chef des Sanitaetsamts der Waffen SS). KARL GEBHARDT--Gruppenfuehrer in the SS and Generalleutnant (Major General) in the Waffen SS; personal physician to Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler; Chief Surgeon of the Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Oberster Kliniker, Reichsarzt SS und Polizei); and President of the German Red Cross. KURT BLOME--Deputy [of the] Reich Health Leader (Reichsgesundheitsfuehrer); and Plenipotentiary for Cancer Research in the Reich Research Council. RUDOLF BRANDT--Standartenfuehrer (Colonel); in the Allgemeine SS; Personal Administrative Officer to Reichsfuehrer SS Himmler (Persoenlicher Referent von Himmler); and Ministerial Counsellor and Chief of the Ministerial Office in the Reich Ministry of the Interior. JOACHIM MRUGOWSKY--Oberfuehrer (Senior Colonel) in the Waffen SS; Chief Hygienist of the Reich Physician SS and Police (0berster Hygieniker, Reichsarzt SS und Polizei); and Chief of the Hygenic Institute of the Waffen SS (Chef des Hygienischen Institutes der Waffen SS). HELMUT POPPENDICK--Oberfuehrer (Senior Colonel) in the SS; and Chief of the Personal Staff of the Reich Physician SS and Police (Chef des Persoenlichen Stabes des Reichsarztes SS und Polizei). WOLFRAM SIEVERS--Standartenfuehrer (Colonel) in the SS; Reich Manager of the "Ahnenerbe" Society and Director of its Institute for Military Scientific Research (Institut fuer Wehrwissenschaftliche Zweckforschung); and Deputy Chairman of the Managing Board of Directors of the Reich Research Council. GERHARD ROSE--Generalarzt of the Luftwaffe (Brigadier General, Medical Service of the Air Force); Vice President, Chief of the Department for Tropical Medicine, and Professor of the Robert Koch Institute; and Hygienic Adviser for Tropical Medicine to the Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe. SIEGFRIED RUFF--Director of the Department for Aviation Medicine at the German Experimental Institute for Aviation (Deutsche Versuchsanstalt fuer Luftfahrt). HANS WOLFGANG ROMBERG--Doctor on the Staff of the Department for Aviation Medicine at the German Experimental Institute for Aviation. VIKTOR BRACK--Oberfuehrer (Senior Colonel) in the SS and Sturmbannfuehrer (Major) in the Waffen SS; and Chief Administrative Officer in the Chancellery of the Fuehrer of the NSDAP (Oberdienstleiter, Kanzlei des Fuehrers der NSDAP). HERMANN BECKER-FREYSENG--Stabsarzt in the Luftwaffe (Captain, Medical Service of the Air Force); and Chief of the Department for Aviation Medicine of the Chief of the Medical Service of the Luftwaffe. GEORG AUGUST WELTZ--Oberfeldarzt in the Luftwaffe (Lieutenant Colonel, Medical Service of the Air Force); and Chief of the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Munich (Institut fuer Luftfahrtmedizin). KONRAD SCHAEFER--Doctor on the Staff of the Institute for Aviation Medicine in Berlin. WALDEMAR HOVEN--Hauptsturmfuehrer (Captain) in the Waffen SS; and Chief Doctor of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. WILHELM BEIGLBOECK--Consulting Physician to the Luftwaffe. ADOLF POKORNY--Physician, Specialist in Skin and Venereal Diseases.

HERTA OBERHEUSER--Physician at the Ravensbrueck Concentration Camp; and Assistant Physician to the defendant Gebhardt at the Hospital at Hohenlychen.

At Auschwitz extermination was conducted on an industrial scale with several million persons eventually killed through gassing, starvation, shooting, and burning.

Dr. Herta Oberheuser killed children with oil and evipan injections, then removed their limbs and vital organs. The time from the injection to death was between three and five minutes, with the person being fully conscious until the last moment.

She made some of the most gruesome and painful medical experiments during World War II, focused on deliberately inflicting wounds on the subjects. In order to simulate the combat wounds of German soldiers fighting in the war, Herta Oberheuser rubbed foreign objects, such as wood, rusty nails, slivers of glass, dirt or sawdust into the wounds.

After World War II, in October 1946, the Nuremberg Medical Trial began, lasting until August of 1947. Twenty-tree German physicians and scientists were accused of performing vile and potentially lethal medical experiments on concentration camp inmates and other living human subjects between 1933 and 1945. Fifteen defendants were found guilty, and eight were acquitted. Of the 15, seven were given the death penalty and eight imprisoned.

Herta Oberheuser was the only female defendant in the medical trial. She received a 20 year sentence but was released in April 1952 and became a family doctor at Stocksee in Germany. Her license to practice medicine was revoked in 1958.

 

FRITZ FISCHER--Sturmbannfuehrer (Major) in the Waffen SS; and Assistant Physician to the defendant

Survivors

A Jewish Brigade soldier with two members of "Kibbutz Buchenwald," a group of survivors from the Buchenwald concentration camp preparing for agricultural work in Palestine. Antwerp, Belgium, 1946.

Valuables

The valuables displayed here were confiscated from prisoners by German guards at the Buchenwald concentration camp and later found by American forces after the liberation of the camp. Buchenwald, Germany, after April 1945.

Human Remains

Human remains found in the Dachau concentration camp crematorium after liberation. Germany, April 1945.

Corpses

 stacked behind the crematorium in Buchenwald. Germany, May 1945.

Doctors' Trial

The defendants' dock and members of the defense counsel during the Doctors' Trial. Nuremberg, Germany, December 9, 1946-August 20, 1947.

Roll Call

Prisoners during a roll call at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Their uniforms bear classifying triangular badges and identification numbers. Buchenwald, Germany, 1938-1941.

Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley

Generals Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley view corpses of inmates at Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Germany, April 12, 1945.

Newly Arrived Prisoners

Newly arrived prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Buchenwald, Germany, 1938-1940.

Returning From Work

Returning from work in a stone quarry, forced laborers carry stones more than six miles to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Germany, date uncertain.

SS Guard

An SS guard supervises prisoner forced laborers in the forest near the Buchenwald concentration camp. Germany, probably 1937 or 1938.

Forced Laborers

Forced laborers cut quarried stones outside the Buchenwald concentration camp. Germany, 1944.

Medical Personnel Experiment on a Prisoner

Medical personnel experiment on a prisoner at the Buchenwald concentration camp. Buchenwald, Germany, date uncertain.

Emaciated Survivors of the Buchenwald

Emaciated survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp soon after the liberation of the camp. Germany, after April 11, 1945.

Liberated Prisoners

Liberated prisoners demonstrate the overcrowded conditions at the Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany, April 23, 1945.

Inmate # 3120 Postcard

Postcard sent by from Buchenwald by inmate # 3120,
Gustav Kalouch, to his parents in Prague

Registration for newly-arrived prisoners at Buchenwald.

Russian Survivor Identifies Buchenwald Camp Guard

Ilse Koch, wife of the former commandant of Buchenwald concentration camp, on trial at Dachau. She was known as the “Bitch of Buchenwald.”

U.S. Congressional Committee

Members of a U.S. Congressional committee investigating Nazi atrocities walk through a prisoner barracks in the newly liberated Buchenwald concentration camp.

New Prisoners At Buchenwald Line Up For Registration (1937-1941)

Topf Crematorium

Washing and Shaving of Prisoners at Buchenwald (1940)

Washing and shaving newly arrived prisoners at Buchenwald

The Buchenwald Orchestra (April 11, 1945)

Photographs from an American Soldier at Buchenwald (1945)

These photographs were taken by Sergeant John Poulos who served as an MP in the 512th MP Battalion of General Patton’s 3rd Army. 
He was an early liberator of Buchenwald, where these pictures were taken with his Zeiss Ikon camera.

 

Liberating Buchenwald

Entrance to Buchenwald

Corpses left on the street below

Close-up of truck load of corpses

Load of bodies

American World War II Air Force Pilots Were Prisoners at Buchenwald

American World War II Air Force pilots were prisoners at Buchenwald until rescued by the Luftwaffe

On the last train out of Paris, just before the Allies liberated the city, were 168 American fighter pilots who had been shot down over France.  They were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, not as POWs, but as “terrorfliegers” (terror flyers) because they had been aiding French Resistance fighters, whom the Nazis called “terrorists.”

Nazi poster called French Resistance an "Army of Crime"

According to the Geneva Convention of 1929, the French Resistance fighters were non-combatants who did not have the rights of Prisoners of War if they were captured. The same rules applied to Americans who aided the French Resistance. That’s why the 168 flyers wound up at the Buchenwald concentration camp instead of a POW camp.

This blog post gives information about a new book that will be coming out soon; the book tells the story of Joseph F. Moser, one of the American flyers who was imprisoned at Buchenwald. According to the book, Joe Moser very narrowly survived bailing out of his P-38 with an engine on fire. He and 167 other Allied pilots were  sent to Buchenwald on orders from Berlin to be executed as “terrorfliegers.” Four days before their scheduled “extermination,” they were rescued by Luftwaffe (German Air Force) officers and shipped instead to the most famous POW camp in Germany: Stalag Luft III.

World War II started when France and Great Britain declared war on Germany after Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. By September 28, 1939 Poland had been conquered, with the help of the Soviet Union, which invaded Poland on September 17, 1939, but Poland never surrendered and there was no peace treaty. The Poles continued to fight throughout World War II, not on the battlefield, but as  “illegal combatants” according to the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929. Captured Polish Resistance fighters were sent to Dachau, instead of a POW camp.

Germany invaded France on May 10, 1940, and on June 17, 1940, Marshal Henri Philippe Pétain, the new prime minister of France, asked the Germans for surrender terms; an Armistice was signed on June 22, 1940. The French agreed to an immediate “cessation of fighting.”

The French Resistance movement was in direct violation of the Armistice signed by the French, which stipulated the following:

“The French Government will forbid French citizens to fight against Germany in the service of States with which the German Reich is still at war. French citizens who violate this provision are to be treated by German troops as insurgents.”

The Buchenwald concentration camp held many French Resistance fighters as prisoners. The photo below shows a monument at Buchenwald in honor of the Resistance fighters.

Buchenwald monument in honor of Resistance fighters

The excerpts from the book about Joe Moser, which were posted on the blog, caught my attention because it was mentioned that the American flyers at Buchenwald complained about the Germans not treating them in accordance with Geneva Convention of 1929.

For example, this quote is from the new book which will soon be published:

After our first meal, we gathered back together in the open area where we had slept. It was about this time that Colonel Phillip Lamason stepped forward. Col. Lamason was the senior officer among the 168 of us, a tall, good looking Squadron Leader from the New Zealand Air Force. I consider it one of the greatest blessings of this challenging time to have Col. Lamason as our commander. His quiet, strong but aggressive leadership was a critical factor not only in holding us together but also in facilitating our eventual release.

“Attention!” he said unexpectedly in his clipped New Zealand accent. We instinctively quickly got up, tried to get ourselves in some semblance of order, and stood stiffly waiting.
“Gentlemen, we have ourselves in a very fine fix indeed,” he went on. “The goons have completely violated the Geneva Convention and are treating us as common thieves and criminals. However, we are soldiers! From this time on, we will also conduct ourselves as our training has taught us and as our countries would expect from us. We will march as a unit to roll call and we will follow all reasonable commands as a single unit.”

The “goons” that Col. Lamason was referring to were the Germans who were fighting on the battlefield while the French, who had signed an Armistice after only 5 weeks, were fighting as what Americans today call “terrorists.”  Great Britain and America were aiding the “terrorists” in France, which meant that these flyers, who were captured while aiding the French Resistance, were fighting in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The American flyers were scheduled to be executed on October 24, 1944, but  Luftwaffe officers came to Buchenwald just in time to rescue them.

Here is another quote from the blog about the forthcoming book:

“One thing is certain, Col. Lamason never let an opportunity pass by where he didn’t make it clear that we strenuously objected to our treatment and that our tormentors were violating the Geneva Convention.”

The attitude of the British and the Americans in World War II was that the Geneva Convention applied only to the Germans.  No British or American soldiers were ever put on trial for violating the Geneva Convention with regard to German POWs.

At Dachau, American soldiers executed the Waffen-SS soldiers who had been sent from the battlefield to surrender the camp.  At Bergen-Belsen, the British executed some of the Hungarian soldiers who had been sent to the camp to help with the voluntary transfer of the camp to the Allies.  After World War II ended, the British held the first trial of the Germans; staff members of the Bergen-Belsen camp were put on trial as war criminals. 

Staff members of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps were prosecuted by an American Military Tribunal for violating the Geneva Convention with regard to Soviet POWs although the Soviet Union had not signed the Geneva Convention and the Soviets were not treating German soldiers according to its rules.

The British SOE was formed in order to aid the French Resistance, which was a violation of the Geneva Convention since the French had signed an Armistice and promised to stop fighting.  After the war, Germans were put on trial for allegedly executing British SOE agents, although there was no proof whatsoever that the agents were even dead.

The Allies made sure that there were no German Resistance fighters after Germany surrendered in World War II; they kept millions of German soldiers in captivity for years after the war.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower designated German POWs as Disarmed Enemy Forces (DEF) so that America would not have to follow the Geneva Convention with regard to German POWs.  The Soviet Union kept German POWs in camps for ten years after World War II ended.

Out of the 168 flyers that were sent to Buchenwald, 166 survived their two months imprisonment at Buchenwald.  Instead of being grateful that the Luftwaffe officers took them out of Buchenwald and put them into a POW camp, the survivors of this fiasco are still whining about the Germans not following the Geneva Convention with regard to what we now call “terrorists.”  These Allied flyers should have been advised, before they were sent on their mission, that they would not be entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention in the event that they were captured.

RUSSIAN P.O.W. MURDERS

The first 3,000 Soviet prisoners of war arrived at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp during September 1941. After months of marching hundreds of miles they finally entered the camp completely exhausted and emaciated into mere skeletons.

They had received almost nothing to eat during the march. Some weeks later another 4,000 arrived and during the ten kilometre march from the station in Weimar to the camp, 417 collapsed and died. In the camp, one of the most vile cold-blooded war crimes took place in a facility hastily constructed inside the camp's horse stables.

When no longer able to work in the stone quarry the prisoners were taken to the stable and ordered into the shower-room eight at a time. The door was then closed and through a slit in the door the unsuspecting victims were simply shot down by an automatic pistol. To cover the cries of the dying loud music was played over loudspeakers. After the killings the showers were turned on but only to wash away the blood.

Another method used was for the prisoner to stand against a measuring device to measure his height. Concealed behind the device was a small cubicle in which stood the SS murderer who then fired a shot into the neck of the prisoner through a slot in the partition.

One such murderer was a Horst Dittrich an SS member of Kommando 99 at Buchenwald who confessed to having shot at least thirty-eight Russians POWs this way. Around 500 killings a day was achieved through these methods. In all, about 7,200 Russian POWs were murdered in Buchenwald.

Horst Dittrich, on the right, testifies at American Military Tribunal

Brutal Soviet-Run Prisons

The former concentration camps of Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen were taken over by the Soviets after World War II and became brutal Soviet-run prisons.

Tens of thousands of German civilians were arrested during the Soviet occupation. Anyone, young or old, who had any connection with the Hitler regime, or showed signs of unfriendliness to the new communist rulers, were arrested and thrown into these camps without trial.

Exposure, starvation and disease soon took their toll. After the collapse of the Communist Government in 1990 investigations were undertaken to trace those many thousands of young men and boys who had simply disappeared.

In 1991, excavations at Sachsenhausen uncovered around fifty mass graves 25 feet by 13 feet wide. Digging revealed bodies stacked 15 feet and higher. It was reported by the Brandenburg State that the bodies of 25,500 persons were found at Sachsenhausen.

In other mass graves, at Fünfeichen, Lamsdorf and Ketschendorf, the German Government estimates that another 65,000 bodies will eventually be discovered. In Berlin, a museum has on public display the names of some 43,000 persons known to have died in military prison camps run by the Soviet Union in Germany between 1945 and 1950.

ATROCITY AT THEKLA-1 (April 8, 1945)

As the surrender of the city of Leipzig was being negotiated a gruesome discovery was made by men of the US 272nd Infantry. Three kilometres north-east of the city was the satellite slave labour camp of Buchenwald, known as Thekla-1.

It housed some 800 prisoners who were employed at the Erla aircraft factory in nearby Abtnaundorf. As the American forces approached Leipzig, most of the inmates were marched east to other camps leaving behind all those sick and ill.

These sick prisoners were locked up in one of the camp huts which was then set on fire after incendiary bombs were thrown in. In a desperate bid to escape the flames doors and windows were smashed down and many of the escapees machine-gunned as they emerged.

The American soldiers encountered a scene reminiscent of the massacre at Gardelagen only five days earlier. Horribly charred corpses lay strewn around the burned-down hut. It is estimated that around 100 slave labourers perished in this atrocity. Three French prisoners survived.

 

François Amoudruz

I was thirteen at the declaration of war and lived with my family in Clermont-Ferrand. 
Without hate, my father, and a veteran officer, said "the Krauts" when speaking of the Germans. 


In late 1942, the whole of France is occupied militarily. 

The Gestapo moved around and multiplies its violent actions. I have nothing but disgust and contempt for them. The University of Strasbourg, withdrawn and Clermont-Ferrand recalcitrant, is targeted in June and November 1943. There are a lot of arrests. My brother is tortured. student at law school, I was arrested Nov. 25 and thrown in a cell. 

My hostility will increase with the events that affect me sadly questioning, handcuffed the start of the prison camp Compiègne, transport to Buchenwald in cattle car, the discovery of Hell concentration, the loss of my identity as a man and striped suit threaded a hurry. I am appalled and do not understand how these people civilized and secular culture - is not far from Weimar Buchenwald - has come to this! I tend to be guilty because the accomplice. Is this the place for such thoughts? 

The important thing is not to look around? My observations allow me to discover the structure of the camp, the hierarchy in the organization and nationalities among prisoners. The Germans were interned, as I carry the red triangle, then held for reasons "political" So opponents of Nazism. Many are Flossenbürg and Buchenwald. I'm going to distinguish between the Germans of Hitler supporters, opponents and the mass maoeuvrée by Nazi propaganda. Back in France in late May 1945, after the "death marches", I might find the schools of the Faculty of Law in fall 1947. 

A teacher, a fervent European federalist involving the Franco-German reconciliation, will seek to recruit me. His speeches worried me three years after my return from deportation, while the Germany does not dézanifiait and leaders introduced the notorious Nazi positions of responsibility and the judiciary in particular. Evoking a possible deported to a German rearmament was something grotesque. And I thought: " Given the 50 million people, have the decency to keep quiet . " I maintained, however, a pleasant relations with the Germans persecuted since 1933 and we will arrange all major events. 

They give me the courage, once again, to cross the border. time doing his work, it became necessary to make a contribution to European integration based on constituent peoples whose diversity is a source of wealth. I act this way, by multiplying our relations with the Germans responsible for Nazi camp memorials that have an impact on people of all ages. 64 years after the unconditional surrender of Nazi and armies, it seems to me encouraging to feel that the German people as a whole, overcome his past. For me it will always be " neither hatred nor forgotten " 

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