September 23, 2011

Student Blog by Josh Brumfield: Flossenbuerg Concentration Camp Memorial

If you are tempted to skip this post because you don’t want to face the reality of these camps, I implore you to read it anyways.  The least we can do is be educated about the atrocities committed on  millions of innocent people for the ideals of one insane man.  There are those who believe the Holocaust never happened. After being on the ground where these actions took place, I cannot describe the “righteous indignation” that overtook me towards these people.  How dare they have the audacity to disregard so much suffering and death.  I urge you to read out of respect for the dead.
Hello everyone!  This will be my only post about concentration camps.  I thought long and hard about posting anything at all, since I feel I can’t describe the camps accurately enough verbally, let alone with only typed words.  However, I am compelled to do my best to describe to you what it was like, out of respect for the thousands of innocent people who died there.  Even though we visited Buchenwald as well, I will not be posting on it, as it was even harder to take than this camp.  I am preparing a narrated slide show of Buchenwald while my memory is still fresh, to be shared in person when I get home.
Before I begin, it is important to note that concentration camps are different from extermination camps.  The concentration camps were meant for forced labor, and if that resulted in death, no one cared.  The extermination camps were purely for killing large amounts of people.  I have not seen and probably won’t see any extermination camps during this trip, mainly because none are located in Germany. The nazi's built these camps in remote locations in Eastern Europe to keep them a secret from the general population.
Flossenburg is built-in the “ice box of Germany.”  The area receives both hot and cold temperature extremes.  This camp had the highest mortality rate per capita of any concentration camp in Germany.  Out of the 100,000 inmates to pass through, 30,000 died.  Most inmates of this camp were Russian and Polish Prisoners of War (POW).

This book records all inmates that were in Flossenburg. There are at least 50 names on each page.

As this was a work camp, most inmates worked in the quarry nearby, where they mined granite blocks by hand  for Hitler’s grandiose buildings. Due to the demanding physical nature of the work, only men were kept here.  The women were kept at subsidiary camp, where they carried out less demanding work. The conditions were still abhorrent.
When prisoners arrived, they were stripped naked and made to stand in the sun to be counted.  They were then assigned a number and sent to
the decontamination area.  Here, their heads and bodies were shaved and they were dipped in an iodine solution.  Most were covered in cuts from the hasty job with the razor.  They were then lined up and blasted with water, usually freezing cold or scalding hot, as a shower.  Each was given one pair of work clothes and shoes, and then the living hell began.

The room where the inmates received their iodine baths and high-pressure showers.

Each morning and night, roll call was taken for all the inmates.  They were forced to stand outside in the rain, beating sun, or snow for hours while everyone was counted.  Falling out of line was grounds for being shot.  The inmates then marched about 1/2 mile out to the quarry and worked for 12-16 hours with one break for meager rations.  Thousands died from exhaustion and falling rocks in the quarry.

Looking towards the gate and the roll call ground beyond. All of the housing blocks (barracks were the inmates slept) were destroyed after the war.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a famous German pastor who resisted Hitler, spent the last two weeks of his life at this camp.  He was held in a tiny cell with other political prisoners, separated from the rest of the inmates.  Several days before the U.S. forces liberated the camp, Hitler personally ordered Bonhoeffer and the others executed.  He did not want them to go free.  They were hung right outside their cell.  Today a memorial stone stands on the spot where they died.

Memorial on the site of Bonhoeffer's execution.

Winding steps down the hill lead to a shallow valley below the main camp.  This is where the crematorium and mass killing/burning fields lay.  Since the crematorium only had one oven, the bodies of inmates, who died from the intense labor conditions by the thousands, were eventually piled and burned en masse.  The Nazis placed these facilities in the valley so the sounds of gunfire and screams of the dying would not be heard in the town of Flossenbuerg.  Also, the location of the burn pile in the valley prevented the stench of burning corpses from reaching the city.  In addition to the generally horrible acts, on Christmas 1944, all the Christian and Jewish inmates residing in the camp at that time were lined up in front of a decorated Christmas tree and shot to death.  The brutality of the Nazis knew no bounds.

A "catch-all" attempt. The building in the background is the crematorium. The square farthest away is the mass shooting area. The pile in front of that is the mass burning pile, where the ashes of thousands still rest. The rectangle in the foreground is a memorial. Each stone slab is for one country; each bears the flag and the number of inmates who died from that country. Russia and Poland suffered the greatest losses here.

The camp was liberated in April 1945.  After the U.S. forces cleared the camp of SS officers, General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces at the time, ordered his troops to take the citizens of Flossenbuerg and march them through the camp.  Most of  them had no idea what was happening right outside of their own city.  Eisenhower also ordered the citizens to exhume the bodies of 5,500 inmates who were in a mass grave and give them a proper burial.
Today the camp is a memorial and a giant cemetery.  All 5,500 exhumed bodies were buried on the grounds of the camp.  Markers are everywhere, and a church was also built at the camp.  Visiting Flossenbuerg, I experienced feelings unlike any I have felt before.  I still
cannot describe the mixture of emotions I felt when walking through the camp.  Both concentration camps made a large impact on our whole group.  We are still processing the events of the weekend, both together and in our own minds.

A view of a few headstones with the church in the backdrop.

This camp, as opposed to the one in Buchenwald, is more like a cemetery and memorial now, which makes it, in a certain sense, beautiful, because here, on the very grounds where they suffered and died, the bodies of the dead finally have peace.  As for their souls, we can only hope and pray
that they reached out to the Father in their distress, and are now enjoying eternal rest in His presence.
I have done my best to pass on the true history of what happened during WWII in Germany; hopefully my feeble words conveyed at least some sense of the situation.  Thank you for taking the time to read this.

1 comment:

kLr said...

This post is very beautiful and conveyed well the feelings that I, too, felt while at Flossenburg! Perhaps even more so.

You did an excellent job portraying the camp in both its ugliness and, as you put at the end, its beauty.


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