Friday, April 25, 2014

Guest Blogger Dr. Stan Goldberg Ph.D.: His Personal Journey Through Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Christal Cooper  - 1,115 Words

Guest Blogger –
Dr. Stan Goldberg, PhD
Playing For Relatives:  Understanding Buchenwald
It took me fifty years to deal with the Holocaust at all.
And I did it in a literary way.
Leonard Baskin

I thought about my father’s family tree as I drove from Prague to Weimer. Thirty-three relatives had died in Auschwitz, three had been liberated from Dachau, but nothing was written about Buchenwald, the concentration camp I would visit the next day, November 11th, 2010.

It was Veterans Day in the United States and Armistice Day in Europe. I stood just inside the entrance and looked at the sign, which could only be read by prisoners after they entered single-file through an iron door, giving the SS an opportunity to formally “initiate” them into the culture of Buchenwald.
Jedem Das Seine.
The words were elegantly twisted with art nouveau flair. “To each his own,” means everybody gets what they deserve.

If I had relatives who were taken to Buchenwald, they would have been on my mother’s side. But all that I had was her Polish name before Ellis Island immigration officials changed it. My mother was Chaya Gutheiner from Chestakova, Poland. I couldn’t even rely on her birth date; since she changed it on her own accord, to make herself younger.

The Buchenwald archives listed three Gutheiners from the area surrounding Chestakova who died in the camp. One archivist told me that there were probably others, and since it wasn’t that common a name in Chestakova, most likely I was related. But it would take four months to get more definitive results. I left the office and entered the camp.

The camp (which is in the first chapter of a novel I’m writing), took a reality that was surreal. It was as if every object and even the ground I stood on contained within it a history of unimaginable brutality.

All of the 30 wooden barracks were torn down by the Soviets when they occupied East Germany after the war, leaving only the foundations. Within them were thousands of similarly colored stones, and occasionally a lone flower placed by a survivor or a survivor’s family. Only two of the 22 three-story guard towers remained. But the crematorium, with its 100-foot smokestack, was impeccably preserved.

On the morning I was there, a severe storm blew across Europe, forcing most visitors to seek shelter from the wind and rain. I stood on the muster grounds and looked to where the prisoners would gather daily to see who would work and who would die.

I was alone as visitors sought refuge under the roof overhang of the Cell Block, a small building in which Russian prisoners of war were routinely killed by injections of a “vitamin booster” after marching hundreds of miles.

With nobody near me, I unwrapped my shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). It’s an instrument that I play at memorials, sacred sites, and for my hospice patients in San Francisco. It allows me to express myself in a way not possible with words.

As I stood at the top of the muster grounds and looked down the slope to where the barracks had been, I struggled to make a sound. I don’t know if my failed attempts were caused by the emotions I was experiencing or the almost gale force winds that blew the notes apart before they became audible. I stood with my eyes closed and played as if notes were emerging from my flute.

      Eventually, the winds abated somewhat and I looked to my right and saw the chimney that must have emitted my relatives’ ashes onto nearby cities whose populations insisted they knew nothing of what was happening in Buchenwald.

The notes started to flow, not melodiously as I had envisioned when I was given permission to play before the trip, but with a great effort and an intonation that could only be described as wailing. I have no idea what I played or for how long. When I finished my last note, as if on cue, the wind and rain stopped.

I have repeatedly read that once you visit a concentration camp, you’ll understand how the experience changed the lives of survivors (the theme of my novel). It didn’t.

I spent eight hours in Buchenwald walking among the ruins, reverently touching the carts that hauled bodies to the crematorium, descended into a cellar those walls were lined with hooks where bodies were hung, and walked on paths leading to the factories and the stone quarry. I left understanding less than I did before I arrived. How can you understand what the deliberate juxtaposition of opposites does to a person’s mind?

It began when I turned onto the four-mile tree-lined road to Buchenwald, aptly named Blut Strasse (Blood Road) by the prisoners. Thirty thousand were sent from various camps to clear the forest and build a two-lane road and railroad bed in three months. Nobody is sure how many returned. If any of my relatives didn’t, the official records would have listed their death as a “heart attack,” or “natural causes.”

And as I walked down a bucolic tree-lined path to the quarry, I wondered what the prisoners thought the first time they emerged from the glen and saw bodies of those who were worked to death, as they eventually would be.

I looked at ledgers of names written in an elegant cursive style of more than 500 gay prisoners who were infected with typhus, and I couldn’t understand how physicians who graduated from the most prestigious universities in Germany could impassively chronicle the course of their deaths as if they were conducting important research.

I stood in the zoo enclosure just outside of the electrified fence, where, after children of the SS fed the bears chunks of meat, they glanced left and saw up to 30,000 prisoners in various stages of starvation, then turning right, saw and smelled the Thursday smoke rising from the crematorium’s chimney.

And even the name of the camp, “Buchenwald,” was based on the Nazi technique of calling something other than what it was. In English, “Buchenwald” means, “birch forest,” something that sounds like a wonderful place to vacation.

I have often read historical warnings that say we need to remember the Nazi holocaust, so it could never happen again.  But we do remember, yet holocausts continue.

Stalin’s Gulag
Mao’s cultural revolution
Pol Pot’s killing fields
Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing
The Hutu’s and Tutsi’s genocide of each other.

And there are others too numerous to list. It appears remembering doesn’t work. Maybe we need to do something else—like trying to understand how a children’s zoo can be built within sight of a crematorium.

Photograph Description & Copyright Info
Photo 1M
Auschwitz 1 entrance
Attributed to Uri Yanover
Photograph taken in mid-March 2002
GNU Free Documentation License Version
CCASA 3.0 Unported License

Photo 2N
American soldiers and liberated prisoners at the main entrance of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
May 1945
Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Buchenwald’s main gate with the moto “Jedem das Seine)
Attributed to Emile Victor
Photograph taken on April 29, 2007
GNU Free Documentation License

These Jewish children are on their way to Palestine after having been released from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.  The girl on the left is from Poland, the boy in the center from Latvia, and the girl on right from Hungary.
Photograph taken on June 5, 1945

Stan Goldberg
Copyright granted by Stan Goldberg

Memorial for the concentration camp Buchnwald
Attributed to Stefan Kuhn
Photo taken on January 24, 2003
GNU Free Documentation License

Inside the Buchenwald crematorium
Attributed to Stephen Bell
Photo taken on June 2006
Public Domain

Disinfection of inmates of the Polish-Jewish special camp on the muster ground.
Autumn of 1939
Courtesy to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A Russian survivor, liberated by the 3rd Armored Division of the U.S. First Army, identifies a former camp guard who brutally beat priosners on April 14, 1945, at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Thuringia, Germany.
AP photo
Public Domain

A shakuhachi showing its utaguchi (blowing edge) and inlay
Attributed to the Library of Congress
Public Domain

Stan Goldberg playing the flute.
Copyright granted by Stan Goldberg

Creamtorium building with it’s chimney at Buchenwald Concentraton Camp.  This photograph was taken before the Nazis added a fence around the inner courtyard. 
Photograph taken on October of 1942

Watchtower at the Buchenwald Memorial it.
Photograph taken on August 25, 1983
Attributed to Jurgen Ludwig
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1983-0825-303/CC-BY-SA

Stan Goldberg
Copyright granted by Stan Goldberg

Bones of anti-Nazi German women still are in the crematoriums in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Date of photograph is April 14, 1945
Photograph taken by 3rd U.S. Army  Pfc. W. Chichersk
Source:  The U.S> National Achives and Records Administrtion, Archival Research Catalog, identifier 531260j
Public Domain

Prisoners construct “The Road of Blood” to the camp.

Returning from work in a stone quarry, forced laborers carry stones more htan six miles to the Buchenwald concentration camp.
Date is uncertain
Courtesy of the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum

Homosexual priosners during a roll call in Buchenwald concentration camp.
USHMM courtesy of Robert A Schmuhl

Buchenwald zoo.
Photograph taken by an American solier after the camp as liberated.
It shows the gatehouse on the far right and on the left, is the house where the bears were kept.

Graveyard of the Soviet NKVD special camp. Nr. 2 (1945-1950) in Buchenwald.
Each silver pole represents an unmarked grave.
Photograph taken in June of 2006
Attributed to Stephen Bell
Public Domain

Location map of Soviet Gulag system concentration camps.
Asssembled on August 16, 2001
Attributed to Antonu
CCASA 3.0 Unported license
GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is the great school of Mao Zedong Thought.
A 1960 poster from the Cultural Revolution, featuring an image of Chairman Mao, and published by the People’s Republic of China.
Soure:  Stefan R Landsberger Collecton on Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages
Fair Use Image

Tuol Sieng Musuem: Photos of the victims of the Khmer Rouge.
Public Oomain

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic attending a meeting in Belgrade.
September 9, 1996
Attributed to SSGT Lance Cheung, USAF on behalf of the United States Federal Government.
Public Domain.

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