Today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp by U.S. troops in 1945. When the Americans arrived, the camp had just been seized by prisoners, some of whom had been forcibly marched there from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen (a sub-camp of Sachsenhausen) in January as Soviet forces were sweeping through Poland. The Americans found 21,000 people left in Buchenwald, out of some 250,000 who had been confined there since 1937. The camp was built five miles northwest of Weimar, the home of Goethe and the birthplace of the Weimar Republic. It first served as a forced labor camp for political prisoners and Jews, and then for Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), resistance fighters, prisoners of war, criminals, and German military deserters. Women were not confined in Buchenwald before late 1943. Medical experimentation was carried out there, including hormonal transplants to “cure” homosexuality. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Buchenwald administered at least 88 subcamps across Germany and provided significant slave labor to the Nazi war effort. At least 56,000 male prisoners were murdered there, including 11,000 Jews. Among the liberators were African American soldiers in the 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion, part of the segregated U.S. Army.
“It made me see clearly what can happen when racism is left unchallenged . . . that the pain of racism is not relegated just to me and mine. . . your pain is my pain, and my pain is yours.” —Leon Bass, 183rd Combat Engineer Battalion
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.