Third meeting of the historians’ commission on the new conception of the memorial with representatives of the victims’ associations and other societal organizations. The chairman, Prof Dr Eberhard Jäckel (3rd fr. l.), opens the meeting, February 1992. Photo SGBuMD

The New Conception of the Memorial since 1990

The Nationale Mahn- und Gedenkstätte (NMG) Buchenwald; dedicated in 1958 was conceived as a national GDR memorial; the resistance struggle carried out by the Communist inmates was overemphasized. For the most part, the fact that the SS had also held numerous other inmate groups in custody was suppressed. Those groups included victims of racist persecution (Jews as well as Sinti and Roma), "strangers to the community" (so-called work-shy, asocials, habitual offenders and homosexuals), Jehovah’s Witnesses and the women who were forced to perform labour in the armament industry at Buchenwald Concentration Camp subcamps. What is more, the existence and history of the Soviet Special Camp in Buchenwald was largely tabooed.

Against this background, the Buchenwald Memorial had to be comprehensively redesigned and restructured after the demise of the GDR. As early as November 1989, the staff of the National GDR Memorial developed a new working concept. In September 1991, the guidelines for the new conception were then formulated by a historians’ commission appointed by the Thuringian minister of science:

"Both the Nazi concentration camp and Soviet Special Camp No. 2 are to be commemorated.
The concentration camp is to be the primary focus. The commemoration of Special Camp No. 2 is to be subordinate.
The commemoration sites are to be distinctly separated spatially. [...]
The permanent exhibition, strongly influenced by the partiality of GDR historiography, must be newly conceived and designed on the basis of the present state of research. [...]
Further elucidation and long-term research work is required for the planning of a memorial to Special Camp No. 2, as well as for an exhibition on and documentation of that camp. [...]
The commission recommends the elucidation of the political background and history of the National Buchenwald Memorial of 1950–1990, its conception by the GDR, its exploitation for the purposes of state propaganda and its political instrumentalization in a larger context."

At a later session, the commission recommended "the erection of a new building for the exhibition commemorating the special camp. It should be a low building, located in the area downhill from the depot building and the disinfection station, where the camp borders the graveyard." It was recommended that the name "Nationale Mahn- und Gedenkstätte Buchenwald" be changed to "Gedenkstätte Buchenwald" ("Buchenwald Memorial").>