Digital Photo Archive
Views of the camp in its partially disassembled state of 1952 can be found here.
Buchenwald was the first concentration camp to be liberated by a Western Allied army. Press coverage took place immediately in the form of reports, films and photos, and had a deep and lasting impact on the Western world’s perception of the National Socialist crimes and the realities of the camps. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied forces who would later serve as president of the United States of America, visited Ohrdruf Subcamp on 12 April 1945, i.e. one day after the liberation of Buchenwald. In his memoirs, he recalled:
"I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. … I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock. …As soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt."
Likewise under the influence of his impressions of the camp, General Patton, the commander of the Third U.S. Army, ordered a representatively selected group of Weimar citizens to tour the camp on April 15.
In addition to guided tours and photo and film documentation, the collection of reports written by inmate survivors contributed substantially to the perception of camp reality and the dissemination of the history of Buchenwald Concentration Camp. In the very first days following liberation, over one hundred inmate survivors – primarily persons who had carried out functions within the camp and were therefore more familiar with the system than others – produced approximately 150 first-hand reports at the request of the Intelligence Team of the Allied Forces Psychological Warfare Division. Originally intended as a report for the Allied Forces Supreme Headquarters, the first standard work on the Nazi concentration camp system was drawn up by the former Austrian inmate and publicist Eugen Kogon. Kogon had been strongly involved in the production and compilation of the survivors’ reports. The first edition of his book SS-Staat appeared (in German) in 1946. A bibliography of the literature published internationally on Buchenwald Concentration Camp would comprise far more than a thousand titles.
In July 1949, even before the official foundation of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the dissolution of Special Camp No. 2, the information bureau of the Soviet military administration in Germany recommended that the VVN (Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes; association of victims of Nazi persecution) establish "a national museum in Buchenwald Camp" after the example of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Yet the VVN’s vision of a "large-scale museum of the resistance", in which former barracks would be placed at the disposal of various nations for their own exhibitions, was never realized.
The politburo – the supreme council of the GDR’s ruling party SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) – had other plans. At a meeting of the Buchenwald Committee in January 1950, Walter Bartel announced tersely: "The party has commissioned the erection of a Thälmann memorial."
The consequences this would have for the camp grounds became clear in a resolution passed by the secretariat of the SED Central Committee on October 9, 1950: on the basis of preparations carried out by the former inmates Walter Bartel and Robert Siewert as well as Willy Kalinke, the chairman of the Thuringian branch of the VVN, it was decreed that the entire camp, along with all of its barracks, was to be torn down. Only the crematorium – as the site of Ernst Thälmann’s death –, the gate building, and the western and eastern towers were to remain standing. The resolution was later supplemented by a plan to afforest the grounds.