The Buchenwald Concentration Camp was liberated on 11 April 1945 by American troops. The camp was established in 1937 and was one of the largest camps on German soil. Jews, Gypsies, political prisoners, gay men and Jehovah’s Witnesses were imprisoned at Buchenwald, as well as ‘asocial’ prisoners who were incarcerated due to their inability to find work. Prisoners of war were also imprisoned at Buchenwald.
Between 1938 and 1945 it is estimated that approximately 250,000 people were interred at Buchenwald, over 56,000 of whom were killed. Although Buchenwald was not an extermination camp, many prisoners died due to illness, malnutrition, executions, medical experimentation, and the hardships of being used as slave labour.
Shortly before the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps in Eastern Europe, prisoners were marched from those camps to Buchenwald. In January 1945 approximately 10,000 prisoners – mostly Jewish – arrived at the camp after being forced to endure these death marches. In early April the SS began to force inmates on further marches out of Buchenwald. By obstructing orders and delaying evacuation the resistance within the camp saved several thousand lives. However, it is estimated that between 12,000 and 15,000 died during the marches from the camp.
On 11 April 1945, as the Sixth Armoured Division of the Third US Army approached, prisoners stormed watchtowers and took control of the camp. The US Army liberated 21,000 prisoners from Buchenwald.
Find out more about:
- Ben Helfgott, a survivor of Buchenwald
- Jacques Lusseyran, a blind member of the resistance who survived Buchenwald
Image: © Wiener Library