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The camp gate - Building

The camp gate was one of the first buildings the inmates were forced to construct in 1937. It served as the main watchtower of altogether twenty-two, and as a stand for a machine gun which could be aimed at any spot on the muster ground. All SS announcements were also made over loudspeakers installed on the gate building. The right wing housed the offices of the commanding officer of the "protective custody camp"; in the left wing was the camp prison, the dreaded "Bunker". The gate building was also the only permissible entrance to and exit from the camp. It literally marked the boundary between the Volksgemeinschaft ("people’s community") – of which the SS defined itself as the elite – and the Gemeinschaftsfremde ("aliens to the community"). The forced passage through this gate meant entry into an existence dominated by torment, suffering, pain and crime. Photo: Kriminalpolizei Weimar, 1937. SGBuMD

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To the Right of the Camp Gate: The Zoo

Postcard of the SS zoological garden from 1939. In 1938, Camp Commander Karl Koch had a zoo built in the direct vicinity of the entrance area to the inmates’ camp. It was financed with “donations” extorted from the inmates themselves. The highlight of the "Buchenwald Zoological Garden", as it was officially designated, was a bear pit with four brown bears. As stated in a commandstaff order, the zoo was intended as a means of offering the SS men "distraction and amusement". The contrast between the images of beautiful and well-cared-for fauna "and the masses of human beings living in a forced state of misery and made to vegetate like lepers was evidently deliberate. The zoo was accessible not only to the SS and their families but also to civilian workers from Weimar employed in the factories in the camp vicinity. SS postcards advertised for the zoo. As a centre of German Classicism, the nearby town of Weimar and its citizens were of special interest to the National Socialists. The city is a unique example of what was meant by the National Socialist aim to build a new, racially defined society. SGBuMD

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The "Time Lane"

The camp gate is located on a former ducal hunting lane leading from Ettersburg Castle and used by the concentration camp architects in 1937 to mark the course of the camp fence. The "Time Lane" project undertaken in 1999 makes this route accessible once again, and connects Ettersburg Castle – as a symbol of Weimar Classicism – with Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The Time Lane thus serves to provoke thought about the proximity of culture and barbarianism. Photo: Alfred Stüber. SGBuMD

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"To Each His Own"

Detail of the camp gate with the inscription "Jedem das Seine". The inscription "Jedem das Seine" ("To Each His Own") was created in early 1938. By order of the camp commander it was installed in the camp gate in such a way as to be readable from the inside. The inmates standing on the muster ground were to have it in their field of vision at all times. The SS was evidently making reference to the highest Prussian distinction, the Order of the Black Eagle, which bore this inscription in Latin. The saying itself is two thousand years old and can be traced back to the Roman legal principle of "suum cuique". The SS interpreted "to each his own" unambiguously as the rightn of members of the "master race" to humiliate and destroy others. They also had a motto of their own inscribed on a beam over the gateway: "Recht oder Unrecht – mein Vaterland" ("justly or unjustly – my fatherland"). A Buchenwald inmate – Franz Ehrlich, former master pupil at the Dessau Bauhaus – was given the order to submit a design for the typography of the inscription "Jedem das Seine". Ehrlich designed the letters in the manner of the Bauhaus masters and his teacher Joost Schmidt. The typography in the camp gate was thus a subtle intervention against the inhumane spirit of the inscription. Photo: SGBuMD

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Detention Cell Building

The gate building as seen from the muster ground. In the left wing with the blinded windows were the dreaded cells of the "Bunker". That was the name of the camp prison which was filled to capacity without interruption from February 1938 to the end: twenty-six cells to the left and right of the narrow corridor, each 2.05 m (6' 9") long and 1.38 m (4' 6") wide, with separate radiators and light switches, fold-down cots and steel doors. The official catalogue for detention cell sentences – 3 to 42 days in the cell, alone or in groups, standing all day without any opportunity to lie or sit, confinement in darkness and generally on a diet of bread and water – was considered a mere guideline. Committal to the prison was arbitrary; the charges ranged from theft, homosexual relations and disobedience to sabotage, attempted escape and resistance – all acts punished as violations of the camp regulations. In reality, the tortures carried out in the confined cells went on for months and often ended in the prisoner's death. "Hearing until confession" – as it was expressed by the SS – was par for the course in the camp's most terrible torture chamber. Here human beings were tormented to death, hanged from the bars or killed with injections of phenol or air. Callous jailors tortured the prisoners of their own accord or in compliance with orders from above. Sometimes, as in the case of the Protestant pastor Paul Schneider, the entire camp was made witness to the agonizing procedure. Cell no. 1 was where prisoners spent their final hours before being murdered in the crematorium. Photo: SS, 1943. Musée de la Résistance et de la Déportation, Besançon

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3:15 pm on April 11, 1945

Gate building with clock, 2008. As tanks of the 3rd U.S. Army rolled over the summit of Ettersberg Mountain on April 11, 1945, inmates from the international resistance organization occupied the camp gate. Camp Senior Hans Eiden hoisted a white flag on the tower, thus signalizing to the American troops that the SS had fled from the area. The moment of Buchenwald's liberation – 3:15 pm – is commemorated on the face of the tower clock. Photo: Katharina Brand. SGBuMD

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The Present-Day Use of the Gate Building

Seminar room in the former administration wing of the gate building. The model was constructed by former inmate Richard Kucharczyk in 1962. Today the left wing of the gate building, the former "Bunker", serves as a place of commemoration for the inmates who died in the cells. The interior can be toured. In the right wing are rooms containing models of the camp grounds – one constructed by a former inmate – for use within the framework of the memorial's historical-political education work. Photo: Claus Bach. SGBuMD