Survivors of Buchenwald and Mittenbau-Dora concentration camps will gather in a wreath laying ceremony on Monday to mark when the sites were liberated from Nazi forces, exactly 77 years ago.
Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp within Germany’s pre-war borders in 1937; hundreds of thousands of imprisoned people from all over Europe passed through there during the war. Mittelbau-Dora was its extension.
The annual commemoration of the liberation of the sites has been disrupted by COVID-19 for the past two years. But around 500 people, including survivors and their families, attended a Sunday event – part of week-long remembrance celebrations – at Buchenwald camp, near the central German city of Weimar.
Only 16 survivors of the Buchenwald prison camp are alive, prompting Jewish leaders to call for renewed efforts to remember the horrors of the Holocaust when 6 million Jews were killed.
“What people are capable of, we see today not far from us,” said Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, referring to the war in Ukraine.
Release of Buchenwald prisoners
The U.S. Army first reached Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, freeing some 21,000 prisoners then held there.
By 1937, Nazi forces had captured and sent some 280,000 people to Buchenwald and its 139 subcamps.
The prisoners were mainly Jews, but also Roma, Sinti, Poles, homosexuals and others who were systematically targeted for extermination by the Nazis.
In Buchenwald, the prisoners are forced to produce weapons. Many have also been used in medical experiments. Some 56,000 people died from executions, disease and starvation.
Mittelbau-Dora was initially a subcamp of Buchenwald, but later operated independently. About a third of its 60,000 inhabitants died before the end of the war.
War in Ukraine threatens Holocaust survivors
The anniversary comes at a time of renewed upheaval that has seen 10,000 Holocaust survivors living in Ukraine threatened by war.
Some of those who lived through the horrors of the death camps have since fled their country as Russia’s assault on Ukraine continues.
Anastasia Guley, 96, who was present in Buchenwald on Sunday, was incarcerated in the Buchenwald, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps.
Guley now lives in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, near the Buchenwald site.
Buchenwald survivor Boris Romantschenko, who was killed this month after Russian missiles hit his building in the devastated city of Kharkiv, was specially commemorated on this year’s liberation anniversary.
“I fundamentally regret that I’m still alive because now it’s the second time I have to live through a war,” said Alla Senelnikova, 90, a retired doctor also from Kharkiv.
Germany has banned Russian delegates from attending Buchenwald ceremonies this year in light of the war in Ukraine, despite the Soviet Union’s key role in defeating Hitler.
sl/msh (dpa, epd)