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Photo: Ernst Schäfer

Masonry bases

The “Avenue of the Nations” and its pylons under construction, July 1955.

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Photo: Ernst Schäfer

Ring graves

Construction workers building the rim of ring grave no. 3, July 1955

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Photo: Ernst Schäfer

The Bell of Buchenwald

A worker from the Schilling bell foundry in Apolda polishing the Bell of Buchenwald designated for the tower of the memorial complex, 1957

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Foto: Ernst Schäfer

Installing the bell

The Bell of Buchenwald being lifted onto the memorial tower, which is surrounded by scaffolding, 30 July 1957

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Foto: Ernst Schäfer

Dedication of the GDR Memorial

During the dedication of the National Buchenwald Memorial. At the centre is the sculpture by Fritz Cremer. 14 September 1958

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Photo: Ernst Schäfer

View from the bell tower

During the dedication of the National Buchenwald Memorial. At the centre is the sculpture by Fritz Cremer. 14 September 1958

1958

The "Nationale Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Buchenwald" ("National Buchenwald Memorial") was dedicated on 14 September 1958. A monumental memorial complex had been constructed on the southern slope of the Ettersberg. It adhered to the hero cult of Socialist Realism, while there were also clearly recognizable formal references to the nationalist-conservative memorial architecture built in the wake of World War I and Nazi Germany alike, for example the funerary monuments by Wilhelm Kreis.

An archaistic gate provided access to a stairway leading down the slope. Accompanied by relief steles arranged according to the above-mentioned motto "triumph through death and struggle", the visitor proceeded downward to the burial places of the dead. Passing mass graves surrounded by Roman-style ring walls, he then walked along the pylon-lined "Avenue of the Nations". The descent and the graves were intended to symbolize the "Night of Fascism", while the "Avenue of the Nations" represented militant international solidarity.

Once he had crossed the third ring grave, the visitor ascended the "Stairway of Freedom" to the sculpture of the liberated inmates and the "Tower of Freedom". Here he was to become aware of the inmates’ "self-liberation" and of the "liberated part of Germany", i.e. the GDR, as his native country and his antifascist fatherland. He was to emerge convinced of the historical necessity of the triumph of Communism and conscious of the fact that this form of government had not yet taken hold everywhere and he must therefore remain alert and militant.

The identification with the GDR and the eastern bloc went hand in hand with the rejection of Western Germany and the western alliance as potential successors to the SS state. Commemoration was not so much a matter of critically examining the Nazi past as it was a process of pledging one’s allegiance to the SED state.

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