Making history visible

Even as most of the buildings within the former camp grounds were being demolished and sold, 1.5 kilometres away from the camp, the East German government was planning the construction of a large-scale monument to commemorate Communist resistance at Buchenwald. Completed in 1958, the monument was intended to serve as a beacon to future generations in the ongoing effort to create a true socialist society. Both the monument and the redesign of the former camp grounds incorporated references to the "Oath of Buchenwald" the execution of Ernst Thälmann, chairman of the German Communist Party; the narrative of "self-liberation", the novel Naked among Wolves and Weimar Classicism ("Goethe Oak").

Throughout the process of memorialisation, the experiences and memories of individuals, groups, and entire nations were alternately cultivated, exploited or repressed. Today, the history of the National Buchenwald Memorial has been extensively researched and documented, and the mechanisms that shaped the exhibition and the memorial grounds can be traced with comparative ease. By examining the architecture, the process of constructing a seamless explanatory narrative within the GDR, biographical accounts, and comparisons to the memorialization of other camps in then-West Germany (including Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Neuengamme), participants gain a greater understanding of historical events as well as their subsequent presentation within Buchenwald’s culture of memorialization.