I am currently reading the new book by Flink Whitlock, which is entitled The Beasts of Buchenwald. The Beasts in the title are Ilse Koch and her husband, Karl Otto Koch, who was the Commandant of the camp. I am not quite to the end yet, but so far, I have not seen any mention that Buchenwald was a Class II camp. In January 1941, Heinrich Himmler had designated Buchenwald as the only Class II camp and Mauthausen and Gusen as the only Class III camps.
What did these classifications mean and why is this so important? Well, to give you an idea of the importance, the main Auschwitz camp was a Class I camp. Class I camps had a sign on the gatehouse that read “Arbeit Macht Frei” and non-Jewish political prisoners had a chance of being released. According to the Auschwitz Museum, 1,500 non-Jewish prisoners were released from the Auschwitz main camp. Buchenwald had a sign on the gate that read “Jedem das Seine” and the prisoners had almost no chance of being released.
The “Jedem das Seine” sign on the gate faced the inside of the camp, so that it could be easily read by the prisoners. This sign can be translated as “To Each his Own” or as “Everyone gets what he deserves.” The class III Mauthausen camp, which had been designated as “Rückkehr unerwünscht” (Return undesirable) had no sign on the gate and prisoners had no chance of being released.
On March 9, 1937, Heinrich Himmler had made a new rule that criminals who had committed two crimes, but were now free, could be arrested and taken into protective custody for “rehabilitation.” This new rule included gay men who had been arrested and convicted twice for violating Paragraph 175, a German law that had been on the books since 1871.
Criminals who had already served their time in prison were sent to concentration camps, beginning in 1937, because workers were needed for Hitler’s new projects. The Class III prisoners at Mauthausen and Gusen were men who, according to the Nazis, were “guilty of really serious charges, incorrigible and previously criminally convicted and asocials, that is people in protective custody who are unlikely to be educable.”
As a Class II camp, Buchenwald was a camp for criminals who were considered harder to rehabilitate than the criminals at the Class I Dachau or Sachsenhausen camps, but not as bad as the prisoners in the Class III Mauthausen camp.
As a young man, Hitler had had dreams of becoming an architect, but he failed the entrance exam to be admitted to architectural school. Years later, as the German Führer he had grandiose plans for uniting all the ethnic Germans in Europe and rebuilding Berlin as Germania, the capital of Greater Germany. He was also planning to rebuild Linz, Austria, the place where he intended to retire.
Hitler’s grandiose plans required plenty of granite and brick, as well as manual labor, so after 1937, most of the new Nazi concentration camps were located near quarries so that prison labor could be used for the production of building materials for Hitler’s projects. Besides Buchenwald and Mauthausen, other camps that were established near quarries included Flossenbürg, Gross Rosen, and Natzweiler.
When Germany began losing the war, Hitler’s projects were abandoned and munitions factories were built in the camps. Mauthausen became a camp where prisoners worked on building Me262 airplanes.
The prisoners, in most of the camps, now worked in building jet airplanes and V-2 rockets for the Germans, but there was a problem with workers doing sabotage in the camps. Buchenwald was the main camp where French Resistance fighters were sent. As could be expected, the French Resistance fighters made elaborate plans for sabotage.
To discourage sabotage, camps like Buchenwald had to resort to extreme punishments, such as the punishment called “hanging from the tree.” Martin Sommer, the man in charge of the Bunker (the prison within the camp), originated this punishment, which is illustrated by the photo below, copied from Wikipedia; the photo has this caption: Martin Sommer “Hangman of Buchenwald” hanging prisoners at the “singing forest” in Buchenwald
Stay with me, dear readers, for I am about to get to the point of my post. It is my personal opinion that the Class II and Class III prisoners told Class II and Class III lies. In other words, Buchenwald and Mauthausen had the worst prisoners which resulted in the worst lies coming out of these camps.
I took the photo below in the Dachau Museum in 2001; it shows the famous photo that is on the Wikipedia site. This photo was hanging at Dachau until 2003 when it was taken down after it was revealed that the photo is a fake.
The picture in the photo above is a still shot from an East German DEFA film, made in 1958, which is why the photo is no longer shown in the Dachau Museum. Source: H. Obenaus, “Das Foto vom Baumhängen: Ein Bild geht um die Welt,” in Stiftung Topographie des Terrors Berlin (ed.), Gedenkstätten-Rundbrief no. 68, Berlin, October 1995, pp. 3-8.
I’m not at all sure that the “hanging from the tree” actually took place at Buchenwald. This could be in the category of the shrunken heads and the lampshades made from human skin, which are also famous stories told by the Buchenwald prisoners. Or should I say Class II lies told by the prisoners?