'AN DIE ALLIIERTEN!
AN DIE ARMEE DES GENERALS PATTON!
WIR BITTEN UM HILFE. MAN WILL UNS EVAKUIEREN.DIE SS WILL UNS VERNICHTEN.'
To the Allies!
To the Army of General Patton!
We ask (beg) for help. They want to evacuate us. The SS want to destroy us.
[The above was a Radio-Transmitter Message(Funk) sent by inmates on the 8th April 1945 to the US Army. Although the message was sent several times, I could find no records or evidence that the request was heard or received by the advancing American Troops.sic]
Disintegration in the concentration camp system dominated since the beginning of 1945 almost all areas of everyday life of the prisoners in Buchenwald and found its expression in the uncontrolled arrival of evacuees from other camps. Regardless of this the SS built especially in these months and reached its peak, a system of satellite camps. Even the approach of the Allies, they did not think of a resolution of the camp by partially or completely releasing the prisoners. With the evacuation of camps in Western and Eastern Europe, whose fittest occupants survived after sorting them according to their work potential and were sent into different camps. This was also the general direction taken by the administration which to the very end was decisive for Buchenwald. There are indications that a handover to the advancing Allies during the first days of April 1945 was taken into consideration by the SS leadership and played a role briefly, but just as quickly was rejected. During March, which started the repatriation of prisoners from sub-camp near the approaching fronts this sudden increase in the occupancy of the main camp in Buchenwald reached about 48,000 people.
On the evening of April 3rd Hermann Pister had a discussion with prisoners of the "rescue squads" which was put together in case of air raids, a group that consisted mainly from German and Austrian prisoners in the cinema hall and declared that he would surrender the camp. In a letter to Pister from four prisoners, the French politician Andre Marie, the Dutch officer Pieter Cool, the Belgian officer Eugene Soudan and the British Officer Christopher Burney, they proposed to him and offered to intercede on his behalf later as long as he kept his promise. Already on the 4th of April, the first prisoners from the satellite camp evacuated from Ohrdorf arrived. The SS had driven them to exhaustion on the highways(Landstrße), and had many shot on the way.
Since the 5th of April, the SS made preparation for the evacuation of the main camp. At the same time the Gestapo made up a list of 46 prisoners who were considered to be the head of obvious resistance of the illegal committee and ordered them to appear at the camp gate on April 6th. The fugitives went into hiding within the camp.
On behalf of the underground resistance organization who had two electricians, one Pole, Gwidon Damaszyn and a German Social Democrat Armin Walther, who had built a transmitter and installed it in the cinema barracks. In the late morning of the 8 April1945 twelve times the above message was sent from this hiding place via the transmitter. Subsequently, the transmitter was destroyed
The Austrian Eugen Kogon succeeded to smuggle out of the camp,(concealed in a box sic) fled on the same day to Weimar from where he sent a fictitious letter to Commandant Pister. [Knowing the SS mentality from my own experience, I am quoting Kogon's letter which sounds rather childish and naive here in the German language, which he signed as Major Mc Leod . I do not think it had any effect what-so-ever to what followed after.sic]
Transporte verlassen Buchenwald. Es sind Todestransporte-wie der von Ohrdorf!
Die grauenhafte Tragödie von Ohrdorf darf sich nicht wiederholen.
Aus der Luft zu Spezialaufträgen abgesetzt haben wir auf weiten Strecken die Opfer
der Begleitmannschaft und einer aufgehetzten Bevölkerung mit eignen Augen festgestellt.
Wehe Thüringen und wehe den Verantwortlichen in Buchenwald, wenn sich das wiederholt!
Es würde die Zeit des Greuelkommandanten Koch, der den Namen dieses Lagers zum
Abscheu der ganzen zivilierten Welt gemacht hat, erneuern.
Vieles hat sich unter Ihrem Regime gebessert. Wir wissen das.
Sie mögen heute -wie das ganze Land- in Schwierigkeiten sein,
aus denen Sie keinen anderen Ausweg sehen, als Tausende auf den Weg
zu schicken. Schluß damit! Sofortigen Schluß!
Unsere Panzerkommandanten kommen jetzt, um ihre Rechnung aufzumachen.
Sie haben noch eine Chance.
James Mc Leod
War Office, London
Pister the camp commander of Buchenwald-who had been temporarily appointed by Himmler, "Inspector Concentration Camps South"- would be to the end and beyond vigorously obey orders by the SS-Leadership, began on April 7th with the evacuation of the main camp. Evacuation targets were the urban ghetto of Theresianstadt, the concentration camp at Dachau and Flossenbürg. On that same day the Inspector of Concentration Camps Glücks made an announcement that the remaining camps in southern Germany can take even by force if necessary 20.000 additional prisoners, and he had until the 10th of April almost precisely that number of prisoners leaving for southern Germany and most of the Jewish prisoner marched towards Theresienstadt.
Survivors of the camp took the assumption that the whole camp would have to be cleared, but the occupants refused and used any means available to stay. Conduct of disobedience and boycott saved thousands of prisoners from the death marches.
|Railway wagon with evacuees after liberation 1945, information by R.J.Büchler, Israel, these are inmates from Buchenwald. Note, a prisoner seems to be offering food.|
LIBERATION FROM THE OUTSIDE AND INSIDE
During the beginning of April the U.S. Army troops reached the outer fringes of camp Ohrdorf , whose last occupants had been murdered by the SS during their withdrawal. On the 11th of April, U.S. armored forces moved against the SS garrison Buchenwald and American troops ended the SS rule on the Ettersberg. As the prisoners on the evening of the 11th April 1945 report in their log, by 1300 hours two American tanks approached coming from the northerly direction of the quarry. An hour later, 12 tanks reached the stables of the camp in the northern area and engaged the SS in heavy fighting. Approximately at 14.30 hours they overran the SS area. A short time later, about14.45 the prisoners began to disarm the remaining SS-men and to take over the camp.
.The inmates rounded up over the next hours about 76 scattered and trapped members of the SS. On the same afternoon Lieutenant Emmanuel Desard from the U.S. Army, together with Sergeant Paul Bodot walked as one of the first allied military personnel into the camp, and appointed the camp elder, Hans Eiden, responsibility for 21.000 remaining survivors. Around the same time there was also a reconnaissance squad of the 6th Armored Division of the US.3rd Army that arrived in the camp.
In the following days until the takeover of the camp on April 13 into American administration took effect a significant number of regularity and supply structures remained in force which were vital for the majority of the inmates. In the first few days, hundreds of them still died. On April 16, 1945, of the approximately 21.000 that were liberated, only 20,000 of various nations were alive (as of April 11th 1945.)
|Sergeant Paul Bodot in the Jeep which he and Lieutenant Emmanuel Desard drove to Buchenwald April 11th 1945|
CAMP LIFE AFTER
The confrontation the American soldiers faced of prevailing conditions and poor facilities in Buchenwald was a shock to them. They had liberated a camp where there were 21.000 persons, of whom many were still languishing, and a place that was full of corpses. Hundreds of prisoners still died of starvation, and still affected from the consequences of poor hygienic conditions and the state of emergency that was imposed..
After the liberation the gates remained still closed initially for the small camp (Kleines Lager). The U.S. Army had ordered the control of self-management of prisoners. The weapons the prisoners had were turned in by orders of American commanders.
On the 12th of April, the French physician Dr. Joseph Anselme Brau became head physician for the liberated camp. During the first days the 120th Evacuation Hospital of the U.S. Army took 4.700 sick inmates from the barracks of the camp into the former SS garrison. At least one in four of them died in the following weeks. Hospitals, too, from the surrounding areas took patients in. Despite all efforts to save lives the daily piles of corpses in the courtyard of the crematorium increased, the funeral of the dead had to continue at first into earth craters(Erdtrichtern)on the southern slope of the Ettersberg. In late April, the dead were buried beneath the Bismarck Tower which was located there.
|After April 11th the gates to the Kleine Lager(Small Camp) were still closed.|
Over the period from July 1937 to March 1945 a total of 238.980 male prisoners had been sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp. By the end of March the camp records officially registered 33.462 deaths, in addition to this 913 inmates died between 1st and 10th of April 1945, so that the total number of victims that can be determined and documented is 34.375. At an average occupancy of `22.654 camp inmates, this means that during the nearly eight years of existence one and a half years of intakes have died. Of the 28 womens camps with approximately 27.000 prisoners, 335 have died. Moreover, the SS shot approximately 8.000 Soviet prisoners of war and hanged in the crematorium about 1.100 people, whose names were unknown. With the anonymous death transports from camps in the East and the evacuation marches in April 1945, which left an estimated 12,000 people dead, resulting in a total death toll of the Buchenwald concentration camp of about 56.000.