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Photo: Ernst Schäfer

Memorial service

“Young pioneers” in the courtyard of the former crematorium, in front of the memorial plaque dedicated to Ernst Thälmann on the anniversary of his death, 18 August 1957

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Swearing-in ceremony

A unit of the National People’s Army is sworn in at the bell tower of the Buchenwald Memorial, May 1974

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Guests from abroad

“Young pioneers” from the Soviet Union in front of the Thälmann memorial plaque in the courtyard of the former crematorium, July 1974

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Official visit

L. to r.: Klaus Trostorff, former inmate and director of the National Buchenwald Memorial; Rudolf Kirchschläger, Federal President of the Republic of Austria; and Erich Honecker, head of state and government of the GDR, in front of a model of Buchenwald Concentration Camp, October 1983

Until 1989

The commemoration programme of the National Buchenwald Memorial was hardly modified throughout the GDR’s existence. The few changes that were carried out had to do with the expansion of the memorial’s infrastructure and the modernization of the historical exhibitions.

It was not until the mid 1980s that certain aspects of the memorial’s work were questioned. It was ascertained that fewer and fewer young people were actually being reached by the memorial and the outdated commemoration rituals. Against this background, there were thoughts of establishing a young people’s centre and a history workshop. What is more, the historical exhibition was to undergo revision following the refurbishment of the former depot, and in this context "unjustified gaps" in the concept were addressed, e.g. the Hitler-Stalin pact and the fates of the Jewish inmates, the homosexuals, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Sinti and Roma. The new concern with these gaps never got past the level of scientific discussion and specialized conferences, however, and found substantial expression neither in the new historical exhibition nor in the memorial’s general research work.

The history of Soviet Special Camp No. 2 represented a further gap. While its existence was not fundamentally denied, its stereotypical characterization as a normal internment camp for Nazi and war criminals was intended to make any preoccupation with its history appear an obsolete act and an unjustified affront to the concentration camp inmates. No acknowledgement whatsoever was made of deaths occurring in the special camp or of the graves in the immediate vicinity of the memorial.

For these reasons, it was recognized after the fall of the GDR that the memorial needed restructuring. In 1990/91, a historians’ commission drew up the guidelines of the new memorial conception and recommended that its name be changed to "Gedenkstätte Buchenwald" - Buchenwald Memorial.

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