Outside of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp is a small zoo. It was constructed with the children of the German workers in mind, so that they would have some recreational facility for the passing of the dreary days. About 5 meters from the perimeter fence is where the bears were kept. The layout is such that the inmates can look out from their prison into the prison of the bears, and the bears can look out from their prison into the prison of the Jews; and the children of the guards would be standing in between, and perhaps looking back from time to time.
Extract from the Nuremberg Trial
Mr. Dubost (French prosecutor): Could you please tell us about the tattooed skin?
Witness Bachalowsky: Yes.
Mr. Dubost: Please tell us what you know.
Witness Bachalowsky: In Buchenwald, human tattooed skin was placed in Block 2. This block was called the "pathological block".
Mr. Dubost: Could you tell us if there was much tattooed skin in this block?
Witness Bachalowsky: There was always human skin there. I can't tell you exactly how much there was because there was a lot of traffic in this block. There was not only tattooed skin but also tanned human skin without tattoos.
Mr. Dubost: Does this mean that they skinned prisoners?
Witness Bachalowsky: They skinned prisoners, then they tanned the skin.
Mr. Dubost: Could you give us more details about that?
Witness Bachalowsky: I saw the SS leaving Block 2 with human skin in their arms. Some comrades who worked in this block told me the SS received orders for human skin, and that tanned skin were given to the guards and visitors. Human skin was also used to make book covers.
Mr. Dubost: We have been told here that the former commandant, Koch, was punished for that.
Witness Bachalowsky: I don't know about that case, I was not in the camp at this time.
Mr. Dubost: So, were there human tattooed and tanned skin in the camp after Koch left?
Witness Bachalowsky: There was always skin. When the Americans liberated the camp, they still found tattooed and tanned skin...
On the entrance gate to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp are the words Jedem das Seine, To each his own. Not unlike the inscription on the gate of Dachau (Arbeit macht frei, or Work liberates), this inscription is inane and perverse and utterly needless. It is to be noted that this phrase faces inwards, making it legible only to individuals within the complex, and with the gate closed.
Established in 1937, the end total number of victims is estimated at over 56,000, not counting the 13,000 or so who were relocated to camps such as Auschwitz. The site was chosen in part for its proximity to historic Weimar, where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe himself once resided; and it is on the grounds of Buchenwald that the famous Oak tree under which Goethe once labored stood, the Nazis having taken great care in the preservation of it, until Allied bombs felled it in 1944.
Buchenwald was liberated by American soldiers on April 11, 1945. Harry J. Herder, Jr was a 19-year old U.S. Army Private First Class, who rode upon a tank through fences and coils of barbed wire into what he was told would be a firefight:
The bodies of human beings were stacked like cord wood. All of them dead. All of them stripped... Human bodies neatly stacked, naked, ready for disposal. The arms and legs were neatly arranged, but an occasional limb dangled oddly. The bodies we could see were all face up. There was an aisle, then another stack, and another aisle, and more stacks. The Lord only knows how many there were...
Just looking at these bodies made one believe they had been starved to death. They appeared to be skin covering bones and nothing more. The eyes on some were closed, on others open. Bill, Tim, and I grew very quiet. I think my only comment was, "Jesus Christ"...
The three of us looked, and we walked down the edge of those stacks. I know I didn't count them--it wouldn't have mattered. We looked and said not a word. A group of guys from the company noticed us and said, "Wait till you see in there."
Skins and shrunken heads were found, limbs dissolving slowly in vats of acids, an enormous crematorium, and a dank basement in which hundreds upon hundreds of innocents were killed by strangulation or by being hung from meat hooks. A Life magazine photographer named Margaret Bourke-White arrived on the scene, and her photographs shocked the world when they were made public one month later. Hollywood director George Stevens made a documentary about the camp, his footage further cementing Buchenwald in modern popular consciousness.
But it was in the interest of cementing these atrocities of Buchenwald in the minds of Germans that the Americans moved in rounding up a few hundred civilian Germans at gunpoint from a nearby town, and, placing them under forcible arrest, brought them up the Ettersberg hill to the site of the camp. These Germans, who claimed not to have known what was going on within the walls of Buchenwald, despite having most certainly been disturbed by the putrid, incomparable odor of the war years, were still terrified for their lives when they were driven through the gates by American forces, inside to where the inscription of the gate became at last legible: Jedem das Seine, To each his own. And it was from this state of rampant fear to a never-experienced state of horror and brutal, sick incomprehension that these villagers were driven when the Americans lowered their weapons and left the Germans, alive, to walk among the countless heaps of skinny, naked dead. The Americans then drove them home.
A madness like this is not easily recovered from. The Soviets who took over the camp were themselves infected by its extraordinary evil, coming to exercise a cruelty comparable in many ways to that perpetrated by the previous tenants. Some statistics even have the rate of death for German inmates under Soviet leadership as higher than prisoners of Germany during the war years. Russian statistics have it that 7,113 Germans died over the course of the next 6 years in Buchenwald, to be buried in unmarked, mass graves. The gate, still in use, was probably not understood by the majority of the Russian prison guards, though its lunatic's script was in the mother tongue of the new inmates: Jedem das Seine, To each his own.
In 1990, hundreds of steel pillars were driven into the ground in the forest to mark the area as a mass grave.