75 years ago: A symbolic event – the self-liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp

11. April 2020

The FIR reminds in these days of the self-liberation of the concentration camp Buchenwald by the prisoner resistance on 11 April 1945. This event is symbolic for the success of the common anti-fascist acting.

Already in the year 1943, the illegal International Camp Committee (ILK) in CC Buchenwald, in which Belgian, German, French, Italian, Polish, Soviet and Czech anti-fascists worked together, assigned politically reliable prisoners to build up a military organization from experienced prisoners for self-protection. Under the leadership of the German communist Otto Roth, German, French and Soviet prisoners in particular were trained for this purpose.

For months, weapons and ammunition from SS stocks were obtained and deposited in safe places. From the carbine production in the Gustloff factories, weapon parts were smuggled into the camp and assembled there. The Soviet prisoners produced incendiary flasks as well as cutting and stabbing weapons with very simple materials. At the beginning of 1945, it was even possible to smuggle a complete machine gun into the camp during the arrival of an evacuation transport. The task of the military organization was to protect the prisoners from destruction during the Allied forces arrived.

The military advance of the Red Army in the east and of American troops through Hesse towards western Thuringia in early April 1945 led to considerations of military action. On April 2, the ILK still rejected an armed uprising, but demanded that the planned evacuation by death marches be delayed. When on 6 April 1945 46 prisoners, who the SS considered to be part of the illegal camp committee, were called to the gate, the resistance became apparent: The camp hid the wanted persons from the SS.

When units of American tank forces arrived near the camp, the ILK issued the order to revolt on 11 April 1945 at 2.30 pm. The prisoners’ armed combat groups stormed the main gate, switched off the electricity in the barbed wire fence, occupied the guard towers and captured weapons. At 3:15 p.m., camp elder Hans Eiden announced: “Comrades, we are free!”

With this action, the ILK saved over 20,000 prisoners from the planned extermination in the last hours of the camp, including over 900 children and young people who had already been under the special protection of the camp resistance before. The armed prisoners captured about 220 SS members and other Nazis. On April 13, 1945, a commander of the 3rd US Army took over the liberated camp.

In addition, because of this self-liberation, the prisoners self-confidently stood up for their freedom appeal on April 19, 1945 and formulated the “Oath of Buchenwald” in their respective languages. In it, they swore: “We will only stop the fight when the last guilty stands before the judges of the nations! The destruction of Nazism with its roots is our slogan. The creating of a new world of peace and freedom is our goal! We owe it to our murdered comrades, their families.”

This oath is the political legacy of antifascists all over the world until today.