Interviews with witnesses and survivors in the exhibition. Photo: Claus Bach. Buchenwald Memorial

Soviet Special Camp No. 2

"Denazification" or "Sovietization"? The role of the Special Camp

Discussions regarding the purpose of the Soviet special camps in general and, more specifically, that of Buchenwald Special Camp No. 2, have a tendency to take on a political character. Many of the interpretations are polemical and one-sided, often neglecting to consider important historical background and processes. Even the debate as to who, exactly, was interned in the camp – a list that includes National Socialist perpetrators, collaborators, opponents of Communism, people who had been denounced, as well as random victims – is equally politicized and polemical. This seminar aims to delineate criteria for assessing these issues. Ultimately, the history of the special camp can only be understood against the backdrop of the crimes that were committed in Nazi Germany, including the war of extermination and the conquest in the East, and the Stalinist terror of the Gulag system.

Paths to the camp – Paths after the camp

The question of personal experience lies at the centre of this issue. While the way in which individual inmates experienced the camp was substantially shaped by their social and professional status prior to their incarceration, other highly individual circumstances also played an important role. At times, these other factors could even take on life or death significance in the special camps. By examining biographical accounts, one can begin to grasp the lifelong impact that incarceration in a special camp had on survivors. The same is true for the family members of those who were incarcerated, particularly in the case of inmates who “vanished without a trace”. In many such cases, the date and place of death remained unknown for many decades.

Survival and death, 1945 to 1950

What was a special camp? What factors shaped the daily lives of inmates? What role should we assign to concepts such as isolation, uncertainty, and lack of purpose? What effect did the constant presence of death have on inmates? A variety of historical resources are drawn upon to help stimulate discussion, including: artefacts; keepsakes that belonged to prisoners; personal accounts excerpted from the memoirs of former prisoners; and worksheets on the Special Camp. In the course of addressing these questions, participants are also able to explore which experiences remain most firmly anchored in the memories of survivors, as well as gain a better understanding of those aspects of life within the camps that are most often suppressed.