The Buchenwald Report

The Buchenwald Report

The Buchenwald Report

The Buchenwald Report

Synopsis

In the closing weeks of World War II, advancing Allied armies uncovered the horror of the Nazi concentration camps. The first camp to be liberated in western Germany was Buchenwald, on April 11, 1945. Within days, a special team of German-speaking intelligence officers from the U. S. Army was dispatched to Buchenwald to interview the prisoners there. In the short time available to them before the inmates' final release from the camp, this team was to prepare a report to be used against the Nazis in future war crimes trials. Nowhere else was such a systematic effort made to talk with prisoners and record their firsthand knowledge of the daily life, structure, and functioning of a concentration camp. The result was an important and unique document, The Buchenwald Report. Shockingly, not long after the war ended The Buchenwald Report was almost lost forever. Only selected portions were entered as evidence at the Nuremberg trials. Professor Eugen Kogon, a prisoner at Buchenwald who assisted the Army specialists in conducting their interviews and writing the report, made use of the material gathered as a background source for his classic book, The Theory and Practice of Hell, but subsequently his copy was accidently destroyed. Thus the complete report was never published, and both the original document and a precious handful of copies gradually disappeared. Recently-more than four decades later-a single, faded carbon copy was discovered, apparently the only one still in existence. It is translated from German and presented here in book form, as its authors intended, for the first time. The book is divided into two parts. The first, the Main Report, formally presents the interview team's findings. It describes in detail the camp's history, how it was organized and functioned, who the prisoners were, how they lived, and how they were treated by their Nazi captors. This part of the report is based on the camp's own incriminating files and records as well as on information obtained from the prisoners. The second part, the Individual Reports, is the heart of the book. Here are the eyewitness accounts of the camp inmates, statements taken while they were still behind the same barbed wire that had held them for so many years. The prisoners relate events so recent, so painful, that they can only speak with strong emotions but often with great eloquence. The interview team had the foresight to take these accounts and organize them according to specific topics, for example forced labor, daily camp life, punishments, resistance, or SS guards. As a result, the book goes beyond simply a collection of individual stories, providing instead a well-rounded portrayal of every aspect of Buchenwald concentration camp from the prisoners' point of view. The Buchenwald Report is one of the most remarkable and important documents to emerge from the Holocaust and World War II. It is a deposition against the monstrous crimes of the Nazis, damning testimony provided by their intended victims in a final act of defiance. These are the voices of people courageous enough to tarry a while longer in hell, so that they could tell the world the truth at last. Perhaps they already sensed that, as Milan Kundera was to put it, "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting." After fifty years, and too many lapses of memory, we know they were right.

Excerpt

Because of history's many ironies, the Buchenwald concentration camp and the Buchenwald Report have been intimately and continuously connected to my life. Even now, when I am almost eighty years old, this connection continues to exist as a clear, contoured, and vivid part of my life, entering for brief or longer periods and sometimes appearing in dreams. These memories are usually reawakened in me on such occasions as watching Steven Spielberg remarkable film Schindler's List.

My father, Dr. Max Praeger, a Viennese publisher and bookseller, was a prisoner in Buchenwald from autumn 1939 to spring 1945, in what were to be the last years of his life. I myself had narrowly escaped arrest, and probable internment in Buchenwald, at least three times before leaving Austria for Paris. But it was clear that France was not going to be a safe haven for much longer, and so I came to the United States. There I held numerous jobs--lens grinder, soda jerk, gas station attendant--before joining the army. Eventually I found myself, in that final spring of the war, as an intelligence officer attached to the Sixth Armored Division of George S. Patton's Third Army, which had raced across France and had entered Germany. Having thought of my father throughout four campaigns in Western Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge, and having to some extent experienced these campaigns and battles as a race for his life, I had remained quite optimistic about his fate. One day in my jeep, early in April 1945, I encountered a column of concentration camp inmates in their striped uniforms who had run away from their guards and who told us that they had left Buchenwald two days before. When I inquired whether anybody knew my father, one of the prisoners identified himself as a member of the same work detail as my father. This man (whose name, sadly, I soon forgot in the swirl of events) had been my father's partner on a large two-man saw of the type used in the logging work in the forests near Buchenwald. For two years they had shared the hardships of prison labor. He also told me that my father had been sent to Auschwitz and certain death. For so long I had dreamed of finding him alive; now I learned that I had just missed saving him. My informant reported that my father had been obsessed with the idea of my finding him and that his dream had been to see me again in an American uniform.

Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945, by a reconnaissance battalion of the Sixth Armored. The next day, April 12, as this unit had moved on in the direction of Czechoslovakia and the other U.S. troops that were to take over the camp had not yet arrived, I was the only American in Buchenwald. I took the opportunity to . . .

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