Breaking

A concentration camp victim identifies a SS guard, 1945


The photograph shows a freed Russian prisoner pointing an identifying and accusing finger at a Nazi guard who was particularly cruel to prisoners at the Buchenwald camp. There is something really fascinating about this picture. That's all we can see of the prisoner's gesture here, but that finger means a lot.

Days, perhaps even hours earlier, that prisoner was too afraid to cross paths or even make eye contact with this man. Now he is putting an accusatory finger pointing a gun at the back of the man's head, and the defeated look on his face is acutely aware of this.

That medal on the guard's chest resembles a World War I Imperial Wound Badge, meaning that this guard fought for the German Imperial Army during the Great War. The badge is the black version (representing the third square, iron) and was given once or twice to people injured by hostile action (including air raids), or frostbite in the line of duty.

After the outbreak of World War II, Buchenwald continued to house political prisoners and, later, Poles and Russians. Most of the prisoners worked as slave laborers at nearby workplaces in round-the-clock shifts.



Kristallnacht was followed by some 18,000 prisoners, 11,000 on the eve of the war, 63,000 by the end of 1944, and 86,000 in February 1945, when Buchenwald became the destination for some of the prisoners forcibly evacuated from Auschwitz.

Although there were no gas chambers, hundreds of people died each month from disease, malnutrition, exhaustion, beatings and hanging. Records from the camp indicate that around 240,000 prisoners from at least 30 countries were confined in Buchenwald throughout its existence. At least 10,000 people were sent to extermination camps, and about 43,000 people died in the camp.

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