Chapter 1: National Socialism and violence

Germany, 1937 – Hitler’s party, the NSDAP, holds the power unchallenged. The majority of the population identifies with the new order or has come to terms with it. Many profit from the economic upswing that goes hand in hand with armament.

The Nazis propagate the goal of a “racially pure”, harmonious “people’s community” free of social and political conflicts. In reality, they have created conditions that are based on violence and continually generate violence. The foundations of a peaceful order – the democratic separation of powers, equality before the law, freedom of opinion and all other civil liberties – have been destroyed. The media, the justice system and state administrations operate entirely in keeping with National Socialist ideology. After taking over the government in 1933, the regime has established concentration camps. The purpose of those camps – the persecution and intimidation of political opponents – has been fulfilled. Nevertheless, new concentration camps are built. Now the concern is no longer solely with terror, but above all with restructuring the society according to racist principles.

The Nazi classification of the citizens as supposedly superior or inferior persons leads to constant violence. Several hundred thousand fall victim to persecution and ostracization even before the war begins: in addition to the political prisoners, this group of persons consists primarily of Jews, but also Sinti and Roma persecuted as “Zigeuner” and other stigmatized persons such as homosexuals, ex-convicts and people considered “work-shy”.

Weimar – a cultural centre of National Socialism

Weimar is the capital of the NSDAP district of Thuringia and, as the domain of Goethe and Schiller, holds a firm place in the cultural self-conception of the Germans. The majority of its middle class and civil servants hold nationalist and anti-democratic views. The NSDAP is already able to march here undisturbed in the 1920s, and in 1926 it holds its Reich convention in the Deutsches Nationaltheater.

The Ettersberg, where the new concentration camp is built, is a well-known symbol of the Goethe era. The concentration camp easily becomes an integral element of the city: the municipal hospital and crematorium are placed at the disposal of the SS for their needs. For companies and shops the camp is a customer like any other. The only thing the culturally educated middle class objects to is the initial name, "K.L. Ettersberg", on account of the reference to Goethe. The SS leadership responds without further ado and changes the name to "K.L. Buchenwald/Post Weimar".

A concentration camp is built

In the summer of 1937, the SS closes the Central German concentration camps of Lichtenburg (Prussia), Sachsenburg (Saxony) and Bad Sulza (Thuringia) and transfers 2,000 inmates from there to the Ettersberg. They are political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and former convicts who have been in custody for many years and already served their prison sentences. In the summer of 1938, the number of inmates triples on account of police operations against “asocials”. Many Jews, Sinti and Roma are also arrested on this pretext. They are put to work building the camp. The SS punishes escape and open resistance with death.

The November Pogrom

On the night of 9 November 1938, members of the NSDAP, the SA and the SS destroy nearly all of the synagogues in Germany, loot Jewish businesses, and murder Jews. Although the Buchenwald Concentration Camp is only half-built at this point in time and already full beyond capacity, the Gestapo commit nearly 10,000 Jewish men to the camp. The total number of inmates increases to 19,676.

Like the pogrom, the internment is intended as a means of heightening fear and forcing Jews to emigrate. They are released only if they agree to the dispossession of their property and can furnish proof that they intend to leave Germany immediately. Typhus breaks out as a consequence of the disastrous hygiene conditions and shortage of water. It is only when the epidemic spreads to the surrounding villages that the SS take measures to control it.