Some years ago I wrote about an experience I had when I was a student in what was then West Germany. The year was 1976, and the Cold War was in full swing. There were a number of ways to enter East Germany as a Westerner, but most of those involved East Berlin. Of course, a good sector of East Germany had to be traversed to get to Berlin, but those sectors were rigidly patrolled. My first time to Berlin involved a long Bus trip. There were rest stops on the highway where you could get off the bus, but you couldn’t leave the rest stop except to get back aboard the bus. My second time to Berlin was done by train. The train transited similar sections of East Germany, but again, except for what you could see out the windows, you couldn’t really call it a visit.
Eventually, the group I was studying with got the opportunity for a trip into East Germany for a week. The itinerary included Weimar, Leipzig, Dresden and Meissen. As I described it once before …
When in Weimar, we took a day trip to the infamous concentration camp for political prisoners, Buchenwald. NOT one of the designated extermination camps, some estimate that over 56,000 died there.
I have memories of my life as a young teen. There were good times and bad, of course, but life had me questioning and doubting myself in many ways. It felt quite torturous, at times. (I had not yet been diagnosed with chronic depression, the old seratonin uptake conundrum, in my case, combined with countless other ‘issues.’ Even so, that was just a part of what I experienced.)
But Buchenwald was a totally different experience. The grounds were innocuous enough, trees, grass, sunshine … nothing very distinctive (except for the few remaining buildings, the entrance gate, the horse stable, the crematorium), but the history seemed to overshadow everything. To me it seemed the ground screamed with the atrocities committed there. And what would trying to survive there be like? Cold bacterial cesspool, never clean, never sanitary, never enough food or water, never decent food or water what little there was, never privacy, immense cruelty from the guards and experimentation squads, surely also from fellow inmates, sometimes, given the stresses. And then executions atop the other threats … How could anyone survive chaos so extreme?!
And, yet, many did survive. Over 56,000 died, but approximately 280,000 were imprisoned there at some point! Many more survived than died (though surely there were other consequences survivors faced). What kind of capacity for conflict and chaos did those remarkable people have?
I mention it because … the contrast between what Buchenwald inmates faced and my minuscule problems from that time in my life gave me strength in my own little battles. Compared to what they faced, I had experienced no adversity at all. In a strange way, that helped me, gave me a healthy perspective I never had before. My problems, so large before, diminished to much more manageable size.
It has been interesting telling friends and loved ones about the visit to Buchenwald. The impression it made on me over 45 years ago remains strong and intense. I would never visit Buchenwald on my own now, but hypothetically I could return if accompanying loved ones who had never been there.
At the top of the diary, I posted a picture of the camp motto on the entrance gate to Buchenwald.
Jedem das Seine
Translated by some as To each his own, I think a better translation for the situation is Each gets what he deserves. Gaslighting before there was a term for it — blaming the prisoners of Buchenwald for the tortures they had to endure.
I have been thinking about Buchenwald because of an ad I found on Facebook, about a virtual tour of the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Based in Chandler, AZ, the Center for Holocaust Education of the East Valley JCC is conducting the tour, using the Zoom platform.
(I have no affiliation with the East Valley JCC, nor any Holocaust organization, and had never heard of them prior to the offering of this tour.)
While their FB ad campaign uses more than one ad, here is one of the ads they displayed.
The price for the tour is $39 per device connecting to the Zoom, but they are willing to offer group (even school) tours, customized for whatever the group might be. There is apparently a Q&A period once the main portion of the tour concludes, so the opportunity for interactive engagement is there.
Kathy and my sister and I will participate in the tour this weekend. From their scheduling page, all tours are booked until the beginning of October. (I think October 8 is sold out.)
While I visited the Buchenwald concentration camp in person, I have never visited any of the extermination camps. Wikipedia lists six Nazi extermination camps: Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek and Auschwitz (sometimes called Auschwitz-Birkenau). All of those camps are on what is now Polish soil. Even though it is not included in the above extermination camp list, Maly-Trostenets is also considered by many to have been an extermination camp. The memorial facility for that camp is in what is now Belarus.
As might be expected, exact death toll numbers aren’t possible for these atrocities, not in Buchenwald, not in the extermination camps. The approximate range of fatalities for the extermination camps is something like:
Chelmno 152-340,000, Belzec 434-600,000, Sobibor 150-250,000, Treblinka 700,000-900,000, Majdanek 78,000, Maly-Trostenets 65,000-100,000 or more. Auschwitz 1,100,000.
(Those approximations were arrived at from the wikipedia pages for each of those sites.)
By every reckoning, of the camps designed or adapted for the purpose of killing people, Auschwitz was responsible for the greatest number of deaths.
I am not looking forward to the experience, because, even without seeing the faces of many of those killed under such barbaric circumstances, even without seeing live video of the executions, it is still a grim reminder of the evil that was the Nazi regime, and of the kinds of things that exist to this day, even if on a smaller or not yet developed scale.
I have no idea if any of you might wish to participate in a tour like this. Your thoughts and feelings about it are your own, and you should do what you think best about it. I wanted to write about it, however, as it might interest someone, and I have not seen the tour mentioned anywhere else on Daily Kos.
I wish we lived in a world where things like Buchenwald and Auschwitz could never happen, but, as we all know, even within the US fascistic elements are alive and doing much better than they should. If awareness of the history can help in the kinds of fights we make, then perhaps this notice will be worthwhile. I know awareness of history isn’t a popular concept in some places.
In any case, thank you for reading.
Diary update: As I mentioned, my sister, my sweetheart and I participated in the virtual Zoom tour of Auschwitz. I will try to post a diary followup tomorrow, 9.25. We have had to grok the experience over a little bit of time.