German civilians are forced to tour Buchenwald (1945)

As the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps, several commanders ordered that local civilians be rounded up and forced to complete a tour of the camps – to reveal what they had been supporting for several years. This New York Times report was filed in Buchenwald on April 18th 1945:


“German civilians, 1200 of them, were brought from the neighbouring city of Weimar today to see for themselves the horror, brutality and human indecency perpetrated against the ‘neighbours’ at the infamous Buchenwald concentration camp. They saw sights that brought tears to their eyes and scores of them, including German nurses, just fainted away.

They saw more than 20,000 nondescript prisoners, many of them barely living, who were all that remained of the normal complement of 80,000. The Germans were able to evacuate the others before we overran the place on April 10th.

There were 32,705 that the ‘visiting’ Germans didn’t see, although they saw some of their bodies. It was this number that had been murdered since the camp was established in July 1937. There was a time when the population reached 110,000 but the average was always below that. It included doctors, professors, scientists, statesmen, army officers, diplomats and an assortment of peasants and merchants from all over Europe and Asia.

There was a group of British officers left behind and one of seven French generals, but this was obviously an oversight in the great confusion that followed the news of our approach…

This government-controlled camp was considered second only to that at Dachau, near Munich, as the world’s worst atrocity centre. It had its own gallows, torture rooms, dissection rooms, modern crematoria, laboratories where fiendish experiments were made on living human beings; and its sections were people were systematically starved to death.

This correspondent made a tour of the camp today and saw everything herein described… The German people saw all this today and they wept. Those who didn’t weep were ashamed. They said they didn’t know about it, and maybe they didn’t, because the camp was restricted to army personnel. But there it was right at their back doors for eight years…

There were human skeletons who had lost all likeness to anything human. Most of them had become idiots but they still had the power of locomotion. Those in the sickbay were beyond all help. They were packed into the three-tier bunks, which ran to the roof of the barn-like barracks. They were dying and no one could do anything about it…

Some Germans were skeptical at first, as if this show had been staged for their benefit… These persons, who had been fed on Nazi propaganda since 1933, were beginning to see the light. They were seeing with their own eyes… that their own government had perpetrated.”