Special Camp Number 2 at Buchenwald

Mass graves of 7,113 Germans who died in Special Camp No. 2

The former Buchenwald concentration camp became Special Camp Number 2, one of 10 camps and 3 prisons used for the internment of German citizens by the Soviet Secret Service (NKWD) in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany after World War II.

Since 1990, those who died in Special Camp Number 2 have been commemorated. The anonymous mass graves are now marked by pillars of steel, arranged as a forest cemetery, as shown in the photo above.

On July 3, 1945, the American army turned the Buchenwald concentration camp over to the Soviet Union since it was located in the area of Germany that had been given to the Soviet Union by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference before the end of the war. The last of the survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp were released, and barely four weeks after they were gone, the former Buchenwald concentration camp became a Communist internment camp for German prisoners.

The following quote is from the Buchenwald camp guidebook, written by Sabine and Harry Stein:

Although it soon assumed extensive and arbitrary proportions in the Soviet zone, the practice of internment was not without reason at the beginning. The boots of the German army had been devastating Europe for six years. Germans committed unimaginable atrocities in the name of their people. They ventured to exterminate whole nations in a merciless way with the help of a huge bureaucracy. The majority of the German people allowed this to happen and followed Hitler. Nobody expected them to welcome the allied troops as liberators but rather to reject and even to fight against these troops as invaders. For this reason, preventive measures to accompany the occupation process were already on the agenda of allied talks before the end of the war. Chapter III, paragraph 5 of the Potsdam Agreement signed by the allied powers in August 1945 says: 'Nazi party chiefs, influential followers of the Nazis and the management of the Nazi offices and organizations and any other person who is dangerous to the occupation and its aims shall be arrested and interned.' But the practices of internment were primarily determined by the character and by the particular interests of the respective occupying power in spite of these common agreements which were specified in detail by additional laws and instructions and accompanied the internment measures. Anti-Nazi policy was put in practice in the Soviet zone. The machinery of the security service controlled the special camps and made arrests in this zone - it ran the huge GULAG system in its own country. Thuringia was taken over by the Soviet military administration in July 1945. At the beginning, people from this region were sent to Buchenwald as this was the furthest west of all the special camps.

In the first month that Special Camp Number 2 was in operation, from August 20, 1945 to September 17, 1945, there were 1,392 persons interned. By the end of 1945, there were 6,000 in the camp. No records are available regarding the reason for the arrests.

The prisoners included a small group of top Nazis who were held to be responsible for crimes committed by the Nazis, a large number of low level officials in the Nazi party, members and leaders of the Hitler Youth (which was founded in nearby Weimar), members of the Waffen SS elite army, and German army officers in the Wehrmacht, which was the regular army. According to the camp guidebook, "a large number of persons came to the camp because they had been denounced, taken for somebody else or arrested in an arbitrary way."

Altogether there were 28,455 people interned in Special Camp Number 2 between August 1945 and February 1950, including approximately 1,000 women, some of whom brought very small children with them. The population of the camp reached its peak in the spring of 1947 when there were 16,371 prisoners in the camp.

The German inmates were housed in the same barracks used by the Nazis for their Communist prisoners. The Small Camp at the bottom of the hill was closed down and the rest of the camp was divided into four sections, separated by barbed wire. There was only a small guard unit and, as in the Nazi camp, the internal management of the camp was run by the prisoners.

The camp guidebook describes the miserable conditions in the camp:

The prisoners suffered from overcrowding, vermin and cold in the barracks. No clothing was issued to the prisoners. For long periods of time, it was not possible to replace worn out clothes or broken shoes. Bad sanitary conditions caused a large number of skin diseases and edema in addition to tuberculosis and dystrophy which were mainly due to undernourishment. Hunger and isolation seriously affected everyday life. Hunger was almost omnipresent. Mass deaths ensued when the restricted rations were cut temporarily. The catering situation reached its lowest level in Special Camp No. 2 in the winter of 1946 and 1947. Complete isolation from the outside world, enforced idleness and a lack of any positive prospects caused frequent depressions and other psychological diseases which accelerated physical decline. Soviet officials did not guarantee a minimum standard of detention which would have included contacts with relatives by letter or visits. Nothing was done to find out the guilt of individuals which might have allowed the liberation of many.

The mortality rate in the Soviet camps was higher than the rate shown by statistics in the Nazi camps. According to the camp records kept by the Soviet Union, there were 122,671 persons arrested and interned between 1945 and 1950 in the Soviet internment camp system in Germany, and 42,889 of them died. In addition, 756 persons were executed. The camp guidebook says that "This information has been questioned from various sides, requiring corroborative research."

There were 7,113 people who died in Special Camp Number 2, according to the Soviet records. They were buried in mass graves in the woods surrounding the camp. Their relatives did not receive any notification of their deaths.

Some of the prisoners at Special Camp Number 2 were transferred to the Soviet Union. The largest group left for the Soviet Union on February 8, 1947.

Only rarely were prisoners released on an individual basis. The highest number to be released at any one time was in July and August of 1948 when 9,250 people were released, most of them low level Nazi officials or women and young people; 4,268 prisoners remained in the camp.

The dissolution of the camp started on January 16, 1950 and it was concluded one month later. 2,415 prisoners from the camp were handed over to the government of the German Democratic Republic for the Waldheim trials, and the rest were set free.

After the camp was closed, the subject of the camp and the existence of the mass graves was taboo in East Germany. The barracks and other buildings were torn down after the German prisoners were released. There was no form of commemoration and no monuments were built to the victims.

There was no fanfare when the prisoners were finally released, and I was not aware of any coverage of the event in the American press. After the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and the unification of Germany, one of the mass graves near the camp was made a part of the Buchenwald Memorial Site.

Sunflower decorates cross of victim of Special Camp

Crosses at the mass graves of German victims

Museum for Special Camp No. 2

War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 at Dachau