Camp gate

The suppression of equal rights and violation of human dignity by the National Socialists is trenchantly manifest in the inscription in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp gate: "Jedem das Seine" ("To each his own"). Intended in its original context – the Roman legal tradition – as a means toward achieving justice, the principle was now turned into its opposite: the brutal exclusion of so-called "strangers to the community", an ostracism deemed imperative for political, social and/or biological/racist reasons. The SS mockingly demonstrated this worldview to the inmates every day anew: the inscription was mounted in the camp gate in such a way as to be readable from the inside, from the roll call square. What is more, as recent restoration findings have shown, it was painted bright red.

On the side facing the camp, the SS had the letters of the inscription given a fresh coat of red paint every year until the liberation; on the outside they were painted only once. Yet the design of the letters by the inmate and former Bauhaus pupil Franz Ehrlich at the behest of camp commander Karl Koch also subtly conveys the will to resist. By modelling his design on typefaces created by his Bauhaus teachers Herbert Bayer and Joost Schmidt, he smuggled the Bauhaus style – which had been labelled "degenerate art" by the National Socialists and prohibited – into the ignominiously intended motto. In his way, he thus defended its original meaning:

"Iuris praecepta sunt haec:
honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum
cuique tribuere"

"The precepts of the law are these:
To live honourably, not to injure another,
to give each his due."

The inscription in the camp gate thus lends expression to the break with basic political and moral values that became the norm in Germany in the period from 1933 to 1945. It is this break in civilization that constitutes the point of departure for the exhibition. The harmonious co-existence of Weimar and Buchenwald serves as a representative example for the investigation of the phenomenon.