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Human remains - evidence of crimes

We deliberately do not show any human remains in our exhibitions, even though they are in our collection. These should actually be buried for humanitarian reasons. However, as they are also evidence of the National Socialist crimes committed in the concentration camps, we keep them.

A speciality of the SS in Buchenwald was the production of macabre "gifts", which the SS men presented to each other: Human skin - preferably skin that had been tattooed - was cut from the corpses of inmates, tanned and processed into everyday objects.

After the liberation of the camp in April 1945, human remains that had been abused by the SS in this way were preserved as evidence. Some of them have been part of the memorial's collection since the mid-1950s, others since 2023.

Office of the camp commandant. You can see the lampshade that was also shown on the table with the specimens on 16 April 1945.

Human remains as a "gift item" for the SS 1941/42

Initiated by the SS camp doctor Dr Hans Müller, the removal, tanning and processing of tattooed skin from prisoner corpses into everyday objects such as pocket knife cases and lampshades began in 1941.

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The picture shows a table with human specimens. On the far right is a lampshade made of human skin. To the left are pieces of tanned, tattooed human skin on the front of the table. At the back of the table, organs are displayed in preparation jars. A heart and a lung are clearly recognisable. Two shrunken heads can also be seen between the organ preparations.

Table with human specimens 16th April 1945

On the 16th April 1945, just a few days after the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp, 1,000 Weimar residents were ordered by the American city commander to visit the camp on the Ettersberg. They were confronted with the conditions in the...

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On display is a small lampshade made of human skin, which is presented on an exhibition wall.

Small lampshade Original in der Sammlung seit 1953

The small shade of a bedside lamp, which apparently came from one of the houses in the SS villa settlement of the Buchenwald concentration camp, was taken by the former German political prisoner Karl Straub (1898-1966) immediately after the liberation...

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You can see an exhibition wall on which organ preparations and a small lampshade made of human skin are displayed on the left. Above them is an information board depicting two shrunken heads. On the front left are pieces of tattooed human skin.

Pieces of skin with tattoos Originale in der Sammlung seit 1953

The pieces of skin from the pathology department of the Buchenwald concentration camp had been taken after the liberation by an unnamed inmate, possibly Karl Straub, and initially ended up in the holdings of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute of the GDR in...

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You can see a pocket knife case made from human skin. It has a yellowish colour due to the tanning process. It is rounded at both ends. On the right-hand side, you can see a folded and pointed clasp that has been folded onto the pouch.

Case for a pocket knife In der Sammlung seit 2023

During his visit to the pathology department in April 1945, a British parliamentarian received two artefacts from its deputy prisoner chaplain, Dr. Kurt Sitte (1910-1993). These were a penknife case made from human skin and a small piece of human skin...

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The picture shows a large lampshade sewn together from square pieces of skin on the sides and triangular pieces of skin on the top.

Piece of a lampshade In the collection since 2023

On 21 April 1945, a British parliamentary delegation visited Buchenwald Concentration Camp to see the conditions in the liberated camp for themselves. Two of the MPs took objects from the pathology department home with them to present to the British...

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On display is an organ preparation of a bullet-riddled heart presented on an exhibition wall.

Bulleted heart In der Sammlung seit 1955

The dissected heart is also one of the specimens found in the Buchenwald concentration camp's pathology department after its liberation. According to the report of a former German inmate who published his memoirs at the end of 1945, the dissected organ...

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All human remains are now stored in the new underground storage facility built in 2013 for the collection, art collection and archive. There they are housed in their own climate-controlled area, the conditions of which are constantly monitored.

In recent years, we have endeavoured to reconstruct the provenance of the "human remains" in the collection as far as possible. There are a total of twelve objects in the collection with such a connection. Other human remains from Buchenwald are now in the collection of the German Historical Museum in Berlin and the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Not least because these crimes in Buchenwald and the authenticity of the surviving human remains are repeatedly called into question in historical revisionist circles, the Buchenwald Memorial has decided to commission new forensic expertises.

Forensic biologist Dr Mark Benecke, a publicly appointed and sworn expert for the securing, examination and evaluation of biological evidence since 2001, was commissioned to carry out the scientific investigations. Several laboratories with the best possible laboratory techniques were involved. This dossier provides an overview of their initial findings.

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