A Concentration Camp
The Buchenwald Concentration Camp was built in 1937 by the German Nazi regime, and during the course of its existence as a concentration camp – between 1937 and 1945 – prisoners who did not belong to the National Socialist idea of the ‘community of people’ were sent there. During those years, more than 250,000 political opponents of the Nazi regime, criminals, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sinti, Roma, and homosexuals were sent from nearly every country of Europe to Buchenwald and its subcamps to be imprisoned. 56,000 of them died there. A trip into the camp quickly turns those figures into individuals, not simply by the fact of their death – one already knew that before visiting the camp – or even their life.
They came alive through the scanty knowledge that one got of their life in the camp, and more powerfully, by the knowledge of the ways they died and what became of their bodies. Many dropped dead standing in line for the early morning and evening roll-calls; many starved to death; many were hanged to death; many were shot by their guards at the base of the skull, once the guards discovered that it was a very efficient way of bringing people to their death; and many still died from experiments with all kinds viruses in a secluded part of the camp.
Evil lives among us
Then, slowly, in the midst of learning about this, a thought, nagging and worrying, start forming in ones mind. One starts wondering who the people were who could have done this to fellow human beings. And then it dawns on one that it is very convenient to think of them as monsters, while in fact they were humans like us. That is a very scary thought. They were human beings like us. Although they were heavily indoctrinated to believe that those they held in the camp and systematically murdered were enemies, I still could not get my mind around it that they got to the point of killing off their fellow human beings the way they did. I wonder whether those guards could in any way have thought that they were in danger of being killed by the people they held in their cells, and justified killing them in those terms.
Or was it simply that they killed because there is something in us that could easily turn us into machines that could kill like those people? What did they become after doing these things? But the more one thinks of it the more one realises that they were people like us, human beings who grew up with other human beings and not on special facilities for would-be concentration camp guards. They had families and friends. Just as I was reeling under these thoughts one of my friends pointed it to me that there were some who refused to join the Nazi, and that many of them in fact ended up as inmates in concentration camps. Maybe one should take some solace in the courage of those individuals.