Rick Langer and Todd Pickett contribute to our Sacred Space series with reflections on “The Importance of Place in Worship and Remembrance.” Todd will consider the importance of place and solitude in our spiritual lives. Rick will discuss his own experience with a place of remembrance: Buchenwald—a Nazi concentration camp. This camp figured prominently in his own family history, as a place his Grandmother was taken on Kristallnacht, as a place he visited with his Aunt in 1978, and as a place he took his children in their early teens.
We will consider how places help us remember, how they confront us unbidden, how they attach us to reality, and how they resist our denial.
A brief history of the Buchenwald is given in the brochure for the Buchenwald Memorial, excerpted below:
Buchenwald Concentration Camp was established on Ettersberg Hill near Weimar, in July 1937. It was intended for political opponents of the Nazi regime, social misfits, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and homosexuals. After the start of World War ll, more and more people were sent to the camp from other countries. At the time of the camp’s liberation, 95 per cent of the inmates were not Germans.
Especially from 1943 on, concentration camp inmates were being ruthlessly exploited for the armament industry in Buchenwald and at the camp’s 136 external sites. Although it was not a place of planned genocide in itself, mass killings of prisoners of war took place in the camp, and many inmates died because of medical experiments, or fell victim to arbitrary acts perpetrated by the SS.
Early in 1945, the camp became the final destination of evacuation transports from Auschwitz and Gross-Rosen. In an attempt to clear the camp a short time before its liberation, the SS sent approximately 28,000 prisoners on death marches. But around 21,000 prisoners, including 900 children and young people, remained in the camp.
On 11th April 1945, units of the 3rd US Army reached Ettersberg Hill.
The SS fled and the prisoners who were part of the clandestine resistance organization opened the camp from within. Between 1937 and 1945, more than 250,000 people were held captive in the camp and more than 50,000 of them died during this time.