Opening Hours Practical Info What is where? Apps Public Tours further language offers Accessibility FAQ

History of the Buchenwald Memorial

Close to the memorial is the exhibition on the history of the Buchenwald memorial from 1945 to 1989. On an area of about 300 square meters, documents, pictures, objects and models make the memory-political efforts of the SED clear and which exposed position was assigned to the history symbol "Buchenwald".

Structure of the exhibition

Residents of Weimar during the tour of Buchenwald concentration camp ordered by the Americans. They stand in the inner courtyard of the crematorium in front of the gallows, from which a doll in prisoners' clothing hangs.

In the liberated camp

After the liberation of the camp, survivors tried to make the reality of Buchenwald imaginable by depicting the camp as it had been before the liberation. Alongside journalistic accounts of the conditions in the Buchenwald concentration camp, survivor memoirs were published. The "Report of the International Camp Committee" held a special place among them. This section of the exhibition shows, for instance, how leading members of the camp Communist Party (KPD) began to organize the remembrance of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

A stone urn stands on a block of stone. The urn bears the inscription "In honor of the dead, a duty to the living". The stone commemorates murdered Poles and Germans in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.

From the memorial in Weimar to the grove of honor on the Ettersberg

Initial plans and efforts to honor the dead took place in Weimar. Among them, two different monument concepts from 1946 were drawn up by the former prisoner Werner A. Beckert and prominent communist survivors. Ernst Thape, former Social Democratic prisoner who was then the Minister of Culture of Saxony-Anhalt, proposed in 1947 that a large "Monument to the Unknown Victims of Fascism" be erected on the Ettersberg.

Bricked-on pedestals for the fire bowls on the Street of Nations during construction. In total, 7 pedestals are visible in the picture. The rest of the picture shows building material and wooden scaffolding.

From the Buchenwald Committee Memorial to the National Monument of the GDR

In 1947, under the direction of the "Victims of Fascism" department of the Weimar city administration and the municipal construction office, a grove of honor was added to the Ettersberg cemetery below the Bismarck Tower. In 1950, the Politburo decided to preserve only some relics of the former concentration camp, including the gate building and the crematorium.

On December 14, 1951, the VVN announced two restricted competitions to design the grove of honor and to turn the crematorium courtyard "into a commemorative site to Ernst Thälmann."

At the end of 1953, the Politburo reorganized the responsibilities for the construction of the memorial. The Ministry of Culture was now responsible for the construction of the memorial grove and monument

The photo shows people in the exhibition building reading information boards and examining display cases.

The SED party leadership, comprising of Moscow emigrants, for one, envisioned a remembrance evoking the superiority of communism by the example of Buchenwald, yet on the other hand rejected the idea of legitimizing the political claims of the surviving Buchenwald communists.

Within the party, new investigations were conducted against them for their behavior as political functionaries. Gradually, the SED leadership ousted all former leading members of the camp Communist Party. As early as 1950, Ernst Busse and Erich Reschke were arrested by Soviet authorities, sentenced and transferred to the Workuta camp in Siberia. The SED leadership planned a trial against Walter Bartel modeled after the Slansky trial in Prague.

 Inauguration ceremony of the Buchenwald National Memorial. The view from the tower shows the participants of the large rally at the bell tower. In the center of the picture is the sculpture by Fritz Cremer.

The Buchenwald National Monument and Memorial was inaugurated on September 14, 1958. The design of the former concentration camp grounds and the monument was based on the central theme of "victory through death and struggle".

Scheduled tours of the memorial began at the crematorium, led through the preserved sections of the former camp grounds and the "Museum of Resistance," and ended at the monument at the "Tower of Freedom." The descent into the "Night of Fascism" was followed by the ascent into the "Light of Freedom". The walled rings mark mass graves found after the liberation.

Designed as a secular path of purification, the monument translated Christian salvation history into an inner-worldly communist interpretation of the concentration camp as a place of political martyrdom and political rebirth: a new, better, socialist Germany had grown out of struggle and sacrificial death.

An aerial view of the newly erected memorial site on the Ettersberg. On the left are the three ring tombs and the Road of Nations. On the right, the bell tower of the complex on the Platz der Feiheit stands out.

The National Memorial of the GDR

A "Lagerarbeitsgemeinschaft" ("camp working group") comprised of former inmates approved by the SED controlled the historical image. Memorial visits became an official part of education in the GDR. Collective rallies, "Jugendweihen" (youth dedications), swearing-in ceremonies of young pioneers and the FDJ (Free German Youth) or the National People's Army, class and company outings, training courses and sporting events were all moved to Buchenwald. Anti-Fascism was one of the fundamental principles in the official moral structure of the GDR. The less the future seemed to belong to socialism, the more important the substitute value tradition of an Anti-Fascist past became.

The last section of the exhibition traces precisely this form of regimented memory and shows how it gradually lost its desired community-building power.

The photo shows the exhibition building from the inside. Large information walls, almost reaching the ceiling, stand in the middle of the room, with occasional reading visitors in between.

Leitmotifs of the Buchenwald Memory

The various narratives on Buchenwald in the GDR essentially followed five leitmotifs:

var _paq = window._paq = window._paq || []; /* tracker methods like "setCustomDimension" should be called before "trackPageView" */ _paq.push(['trackPageView']); _paq.push(['enableLinkTracking']); (function() { var u=""; _paq.push(['setTrackerUrl', u+'matomo.php']); _paq.push(['setSiteId', '1']); var d=document, g=d.createElement('script'), s=d.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; g.async=true; g.src=u+'matomo.js'; s.parentNode.insertBefore(g,s); })();