Scrapbookpages Blog

December 30, 2012

The Buchenwald concentration camp and the Treblinka “extermination camp” both had a zoo

Filed under: Buchenwald, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 6:23 am

There is an on-going discussion in the comments section of my blog about the mislabeling of photos by Holocaust Museums.  For example, the photo below, which is shown on the Yad Vashem Museum website here.

Bears in the Treblinka zoo

Photo of the Treblinka zoo on Yad Vashem website

Photo of bears, enhanced in PhotoShop

Same photo of bears, enhanced in PhotoShop

I have added an enhanced version of the photo. Notice the background, which shows a stone structure, like the one at Buchenwald zoo.

Here is the caption on the photo above, as it is written on the Yad Vashem website:

Name:
Treblinka, Poland, Bears in the menagerie belonging to the camp command.
Belongs to collection:
Yad Vashem Photo Archive
Additional Information:
The photograph is from the private album of Kurt Franz from the time of his service as Deputy Commandant of Treblinka. The album was presented by the prosecution at Franz’s trial in Dusseldorf during the years 1964-5.
Origin:
Justizverwaltung des Landes Nordrhein- Westfalen
Credit:
Yad Vashem
Name of submitter:
Leitender Oberstaatsanwalt-Dusseldorf

One of the regular readers of my blog believes that the photo, shown above, is mislabeled and that the photo was actually taken at Buchenwald, a concentration camp which also had a zoo.

The photos below were taken by me in 1999 when I visited the Buchenwald Memorial Site.

Bearpit in the Buchenwald zoo

Bear pit in the Buchenwald zoo

House for bears at Buchenwald

House for bears at Buchenwald

The zoo at Buchenwald was built in 1938, as soon as the camp was opened. Commandant Karl Otto Koch ordered the construction of a park area for the SS guards, just outside the camp fence. The park featured a birdhouse, a water basin, and a zoo for four bears and five monkeys. The bears were in full view of the prisoners, and there was also an elaborate falconry in another area outside the camp where the SS kept birds of prey.

Commandant Koch may have been a cruel, ostentatious embezzler, but he was soft-hearted when it came to animals. The Buchenwald camp guidebook contains the following order by Commandant Koch, concerning the animals at Buchenwald:

Commanders’s Order No. 56 dated 8th September 1938 (Extract)

1. Buchenwald zoological gardens has been created in order to provide diversion and entertainment for the men in their leisure time and to show them the beauty and peculiarities of various animals which they will hardly be able to meet and observe in the wild.

But we must also expect the visitor to be reasonable and fond of animals enough to refrain from anything that might not be good for the animals, cause harm to them or even compromise their health and habits. (…) In the meantime, I again received reports saying that SS men have tied the deer’s horns to the fence and cut them loose only after a long while. Furthermore, it has been found that deer have been lured to the fence and tinfoil put in the mouth. In the future, I will find out the perpetrators of such loutish acts and have them reported to the SS Commander in Chief in order to have them punished for cruelty to animals.

The Camp Commandant of Buchenwald Concentration Camp

signed by Koch

SS-Standartenführer

Note that “loutish” behavior by the SS guards was not tolerated. The German army was the best disciplined of all the armed forces fighting in World War II, and the elite SS troops were held to an even higher standard. Note that the Commandant is threatening to report them. He did not have the power to punish the guards nor the prisoners without approval from headquarters in Oranienburg.

Photo of Buchenwald taken after the liberation of the camp

Photo of Buchenwald taken after the liberation of the camp

The old photo above was taken shortly after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp. On the far left, you can see the Buchenwald zoo, which was just outside the camp. On the far right is the Buchenwald gatehouse, which is the entrance to the prison enclosure.

The camp inmates were not allowed to visit the zoo, but they could see the bears and monkeys through the fence, which is shown in the photo above.

As for Treblinka, a book by Jean Francois Steiner, entitled Treblinka, mentions that there was a zoo, which had been built at Treblinka by Commandant Franz Stangl for the amusement of the SS staff and some of the privileged prisoners, called Kapos, who assisted the Germans in the camp. Treblinka also had a camp orchestra and a brothel for the SS staff, just like the concentration camps.

Aerial photos taken by the Soviet Union while the Treblinka “death camp” was in operation show that there were Polish farms adjacent to the camp and that the whole area of the camp was devoid of trees. Today, the area of the Treblinka Memorial site is completely surrounded by a forest and the section of the camp where the guards once lived is now covered by trees.

Jean Francois Steiner wrote in his book Treblinka that the privileged prisoners in the camp had “a great life.” They were allowed to marry in the camp, and Kurt Franz conducted the wedding ceremonies. After one of the wedding celebrations, the prisoners got the idea of “a kind of cabaret,” where there was music, dancing and drinking on the Summer nights.

The book Treblinka reads like a novel and I am not sure if it is truth or fiction. The Treblinka II camp, where the zoo was located, was supposed to be an “extermination camp” where Jews were brought for the sole purpose of gassing them immediately upon arrival.

The following quote is from Steiner’s book.  It describes how the privileged prisoners (Kapos) and the SS men were having parties at the “death camp.”  The Commandant, Kurt Franz, was nicknamed “Lalka,” which means doll.  He was given this nick name by the prisoners because he was a very handsome man.

When Lalka heard about what was going on, far from forbidding it, he provided the drinks himself and encouraged the SS men to go there. The first contact lacked warmth, but the S.S. men knew how to make people forget who they were, and soon their presence was ignored. In addition to the dancing, there were night-club acts. The ice was broken between the Jews and the S.S. This did not prevent the S.S. from killing the Jews during the day, but the prospect of having to part company soon mellowed them a little.

[…]

The high point of these festivities was unquestionably Arthur Gold’s birthday. An immense buffet was laid out in the tailor shop, which the S.S. officers decorated themselves. Hand written invitations were sent to every member of the camp aristocracy. It was to be the great social event of the season and everyone was eager to wear his finest clothes. […] The women had done each other’s hair and had put on the finest dresses in the store, simple for the girls and decollete for the women. […] Arthur Gold outdid himself in the toasts that preceded the festivities. He insisted on thanking the Germans for the way they treated the Jews.

[…]

One evening a Ukrainian brought an accordion and the others began to dance. The scene attracted some Jews, who with the onset of Summer, were more and more uncomfortable in their “cabaret.” The nights were soft and starry, and if it were not for the perpetual fire which suffused the sky with its long flames, you would have thought that you were on the square of some Ukrainian village on Midsummer Eve. Everything was there: the campfire, the dancing, the multicolored skirts and the freshness of the night. Friendships sprang up. Just because men were going to kill each tomorrow was no reason to sulk.

Does the photo in the Yad Vashem museum show the Treblinka zoo or the Buchenwald zoo?  I will leave it up to the readers of my blog to decide.