From Academic Kids

Missing image
Slave laborers in the Buchenwald concentration camp (Elie Wiesel is second row, seventh from left).

Buchenwald was a Nazi concentration camp established on Ettersberg Hill near Weimar, Thuringia, Germany, in July 1937. The name "Buchenwald" means "beech forest" in German, such a forest surrounded the area where the camp stood. The prisoners were used as slave labour in local armament factories.

The first commandant was Karl Otto Koch, whose second wife Ilse was known as "The Bitch of Buchenwald", one of the cruelest figures of the Holocaust.

Despite not technically being an extermination camp, mass killings of prisoners of war took place in the camp, and many inmates died during medical experiments, or fell victim to arbitrary acts perpetrated by the SS.

The camp was also the site of large-scale testing of vaccines for epidemic typhus in 1942 and 1943, all in all testing 729 inmates, around 280 of whom died. Because of their long association in cramped quarters in Block 46, the bacterium killed more and infection lasted longer than typhus in healthy adults.

The camp was evacuated by the Nazis as Allied troops approached the area, and the U.S. 3rd Army assumed control of the camp on 11 April, 1945.

After the departure of Allied troops, the Soviet occupation forces used the infrastructure of the camp from 1945 to 1950, re-naming it "Special Camp N° 2", in which a further 12.000 people died.


Female prisoners and overseers

The number of women prisoners held in Buchenwald was about 200 to 1000. The first women prisoners were twenty political prisoners and two female SS guards (Aufseherin) who arrived in Buchenwald from Ravensbrück to serve in the camp's brothel in 1941. Later the SS fired the two SS women on duty in the brothel because they were accused of corruption, and their positions were replaced by SS men. The majority of women prisoners, however, arrived in 1944 and 1945 from other camps, i.e. Auschwitz, Ravensbrück and Bergen-Belsen. Most of the women were Jewish. Only one barrack was set aside for the female prisoners, and this was overseen by the female Blockführerin, Franziska Hoengesberg. Many of the women prisoners were later shipped out to one of Buchenwald's many female subcamps in Sömmerda, Buttelstedt, Mühlhausen, Gotha, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Lippstadt, Weimar, Magdeburg and Penig, to name a few. When the Buchenwald camp was evacuated, the SS sent the male prisoners to other camps, and the 500 remaining women (including one of the secret annex members who lived with Anne Frank, "Mrs. van Daan" - her real name was Auguste van Pels) were taken by train and foot to the Theresienstadt camp and ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Many, including van Pels, died sometime between April 1945 and May 1945. Because the female prisoner population at Buchenwald was comparatively small, the SS only stationed 23 female guards in the camp. Ilse Koch served as head supervisor (Oberaufseherin) of 23 female guards and hundreds of women prisoners in the main camp. Today 21 female SS guards are known by name; Maria Balkenhol, Elisabeth Baessler, Elli Ebert (who served at Buchenwald and Ravensbruck), Frieda Friedrichs (who served at Buchenwald, Magdeburg and Comthurey), Karoline Geulen, Elisabeth Hirsemann, Franziska Hoengesberg, Maria Isert, Frieda Jahnke, Elisabeth Max, Elfriede Motzkuhn, Louise Nauth, Else Purucker (who served in Buchenwald and Taucha), Charlotte Rafoth, Lieschen Rech, Wilhelmina Sadrinna, Martha Schaefer (who first served at Flossenbürg then Buchenwald), Irmtraut Sell, Emma Theissen (who served at Buchenwald and then Essen subcamp), and Amalie Wilde1. Eventually, more than 530 women served as guards in the vast Buchenwald system of subcamps and external commands across Germany. Only twenty-three women served in Buchenwald, compared to over 2,000 men.

Well-known prisoners


Note 1: All the information on these female overseers came from Daniel Patrick Brown's book THE CAMP WOMEN The Female Auxiliaries Who Assisted the SS in Running the Concentration Camp System.


  • Bodo Ritscher: Das sowjetische Speziallager Nr. 2 1945-1950. Katalog zur ständigen historischen Ausstellung. Wallstein, Göttingen 1999.
  • Volkhard Knigge und Bodo Ritscher: Totenbuch. Speziallager Buchenwald 1945-1950. Stiftung Gedenkstätten Buchenwald und Mittelbau Dora, Weimar 2003.

External links:


eo:Buchenwald fr:Buchenwald it:Campo di concentramento di Buchenwald he:בוכנוואלד nl:Buchenwald pl:Buchenwald pt:Buchenwald


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