On July 15, 1937, the first 149 prisoners were deported from CC Sachsenhausen to the Ettersberg near Weimar to establish what would later become CC Buchenwald. On that day, the camp consisted of a barrack in the middle of the Ettersburg State Forest. Guards from the CC Lichtenburg had set it up. Over the next five weeks, almost 2,000 prisoners arrived from the Sachsenburg and Lichtenburg camps, including a large number of political prisoners. 1937, the total number of prisoners brought in was 2912 men, of whom 53 had already died on January 1, 1938.
The first prisoners had to clear the forest, lay sewers and power lines, build roads, barracks, residential buildings, garages and a barracks camp. This period of construction was particularly cruel. In 14 to 16 hours of hard physical labor every day, under constant danger of punishment from SS men, the camp and its SS quarters, administrative buildings and villas for the higher SS officers, roads, district heating plants, the camp fence with its 23 watchtowers, and factories were built on this mountain near Weimar in just under two years. Despite the rush and the endless working hours, hardly any technical aids were used.
When it became known in the city of Weimar that the new concentration camp was to bear the name “K.L. Ettersberg,” opposition arose. The name “Ettersberg” was, after all, associated with the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. After an objection by the Weimar Nazi cultural community, the camp was renamed “K.L. Buchenwald/ Post Weimar” two weeks later.
Buchenwald was part of the fascist camp system that was reorganized in preparation for the fascist war. Until then, there were many smaller regional concentration camps, often under the responsibility of the SA. This changed in the mid-1930s. The small camps were dissolved and central camps such as Dachau, which had existed since 1933, were created at Sachsenhausen (1936), Buchenwald (1936), Flossenbürg (May 1938), Neuengamme (late 1938) and – after the “Anschluss” of Austria – Mauthausen (August 1938), as well as Ravensbrück in May 1939. The central function of these camps was the longer-term elimination of a larger number of political opponents in preparation for the planned war. In addition, the aim was the increasing internment of “elements harmful to the people,” as it was called in Nazi diction, i.e., all those who were excluded from the fascist “Volksgemeinschaft” as “enemies of the people.”
Since the annexation of parts of the CSR at the end of 1938, the deportation of people from all over Europe to the Ettersberg began. In the course of the Second World War, they came from Poland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. Spanish fighters and Italian prisoners were also on Ettersberg in large numbers. In total, more than 30 nations were represented here. A total of over 250,000 people were imprisoned in Buchenwald and its 136 satellite camps. More than 60,000 people were murdered because of the prison conditions, on the death marches and the terror of the SS.
However, we also remember that the political prisoners in Buchenwald Concentration Camp succeeded in organizing resistance against the SS terror for the common survival of all prisoners, a resistance that resulted in the establishment of an International Camp Committee with an International Military Organization.
The political resistance succeeded in self-liberation of the camp when the Allied forces approached on April 11, 1945. 21,000 prisoners, whose deportation on death marches could be prevented, among them more than 900 children and youths experienced the liberation.
On April 19, 1945, they formulated their still famous Oath of Buchenwald:
“The destruction of Nazism with its roots is our slogan. The building of a new world of peace and freedom is our goal!”
The FIR and its member organizations feel obliged to this legacy of the survivors until today.