From 1941 to 1944, a Gestapo labor re-education camp existed at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Labor re-education camps (Arbeitserziehungslager, AEL) served as punishment for civilian workers, especially foreign laborers, who were accused of refusing to work. The temporary “disciplinary labor” was intended to instill a work ethic.
Between April 1941 and March 1944, almost 2,000 boys and men were sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp as labor re-education prisoners. The SS released most of them after three to eight weeks. Some, however, did not survive the hard forced labor.
Beginning in November 1942, nearly all prisoners in the Buchenwald AEL were children and adolescents from the Soviet Union sent there by the Gestapo. The juvenile labor re-education prisoners were housed together in Block 8, later known as the Children’s Block. From mid-1943 onwards, no AEL prisoners were released. Almost all of them remained as concentration camp prisoners at Buchenwald.
On 13 August 1942, the Halle State Police delivered 12-year-old Wasil Sawtschuk (Sowtschuk in some documents) to the Buchenwald labor re-education camp. Ten weeks later he was released and transferred back to prison in Halle. Wasil Sawtschuk was one of the youngest labor re-education prisoners at Buchenwald.
The Gestapo sent Tadeusz Gaszewski, a schoolboy from Litzmannstadt (Łódź), to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp on 11 March 1944. He was the last person to be admitted as a labor re-education prisoner.
Tadeusz Gaszewski was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp as a labor re-education prisoner. However, the SS registered him as a prisoner in the category “political Pole – juvenile.” It is not known if Tadeusz Gaszewski survived.
In 1942, construction of the Gustloff Plant II began at Buchenwald. After its completion, the SS’s interest in labor re-education prisoners declined, since the plant used primarily concentration camp inmates for its workforce. In 1943, the Gestapo established a central AEL for Thuringia at Röhmhild in the Thuringian Forest. Almost all prisoners sent to the Buchenwald AEL were juveniles. They had to work in the particularly difficult excavation and construction details on the premises of the Gustloff Plant II or in railroad construction. Many of them died.
Unskilled juvenile AEL prisoners had to perform particularly hard forced labor. Ernst Plaschke was Kapo of Construction Detail I in Buchenwald. After his liberation, the former political prisoner described the conditions under which the young people had to haul bricks to the Gustloff Plant II construction site.
Lebendiges Museum Online: Arbeitserziehungslager im Deutschen Reich. Deutsches Historisches Museum
In July 1937, the first prisoners arrived at Ettersberg near Weimar. The SS forced them to build a concentration camp for 8,000 male prisoners. Both political opponents of the regime and…
In 1938, the number of prisoners in the concentration camps doubled. As part of the Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich (Operation Work-Shy Reich, two waves of arrests of purported “anti-social…
In the course of the November pogroms of 1938, the Gestapo sent 30,000 Jews, designated by the SS as “special operation Jews,” to concentration camps.
Under the pretext of training skilled workers for the German war effort, prisoner functionaries around Robert Siewert, a political prisoner and Kapo of the construction detail
Children were particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the camp. To protect them, political prisoner functionaries set up a children's block in Block 8 of the main camp in July 1943.
From 1941 to 1944, a Gestapo labor re-education camp existed at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
Children were particularly vulnerable to the dangers of the camp. To protect them, political prisoner functionaries set up a children’s block in Block 8 of the main camp in July 1943. In the Little Camp, Barracks 66 served as a children’s block from January 1945 onwards.
Most of the children in these blocks were between 14 and 17 years old. They did not have to work, but they received only half of the already meager food rations. Hunger was omnipresent, but until mid-1944 it was possible to organize secret classes and small cultural events.
Despite all the efforts of the political prisoner functionaries to prevent it, the SS repeatedly sent children on extermination transports to Auschwitz and other death camps. On 10 April 1945, the SS entered the Little Camp and dispatched many minors on death marches. When the camp was liberated on the next day, there were 900 children and adolescents still alive. At least 1600 had died.
Robert J. Büchler (1929-2009) was persecuted as a Jew, and the SS deported him from Auschwitz to Buchenwald in January 1945 at the age of 16. Fellow prisoners housed him in the Children’s Block 66 of the Little Camp. One day before liberation, the SS sent him on a death march from which he was able to flee.
(Robert J. Büchler, “Am Ende des Weges. Kinderblock 66 im Konzentrationslager Buchenwald,” in: Dachauer Hefte 6, 1994).
Beginning in late 1944, the Czech Communist Antonín Kalina (1902-1990) was the block elder responsible for the children and teenagers in Block 66. He used his contacts with the camp resistance and changed the names of Jewish children in early April 1945 to protect them from the death marches. Public recognition for the man deported to Buchenwald in 1939 did not come until after his death. In 2012, he was honored by the Yad Vashem memorial as a Righteous Among the Nations.
In 1944/45, the Little Camp, where conditions were even worse than in the main camp, housed a particularly large number of children and teenagers. They had come to Buchenwald with transports from the evacuated camps in the east, including Auschwitz.
Children’s Block 66, which was built by prisoner functionaries, saved many children and adolescents from deportation to forced labor in subcamps and certain death. In the children’s block, the young people were also better protected from being assaulted by fellow adult prisoners.
Children and adolescents were specifically transferred to the Children’s Blocks 8 and 66. However, there were limited rescue options; not all minors could be protected.
The primitive three-level wooden platforms used as beds were typical for the wooden barracks in the Little Camp. Shortly before liberation, the SS drove many prisoners on death marches. The barracks were searched and destroyed when they searched for Jewish prisoners.
(Photo: Alfred Stüber, Buchenwald Memorial)
Under the pretext of training skilled workers for the German war effort, prisoner functionaries around Robert Siewert, a political prisoner and Kapo of the construction detail, launched a rescue initiative for young Polish prisoners in the fall of 1939. They convinced the SS of the idea of an apprentice masonry detail. The bricklayers’ school was intended to protect the minors from the exhausting forced labor in other work details.
In the spring of 1942, other political prisoners who were prisoner functionaries succeeded in setting up the Poles’ School. Under the pretext of having to overcome language difficulties in the labor details, they organized German lessons for the boys. The Poles’ School was also meant to protect them from the exhausting forced labor.
The bricklayers’ and Poles’ schools increased the chances of survival in the camp, especially for Polish, and later also for Jewish, children and teenagers.
The German graphic artist, cartoonist, and resistance fighter Herbert Sandberg (1908-1991) endured ten years of imprisonment, the last seven in the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. In April 1944, while in Buchenwald, he drew a series of sketches recounting his journey since he was first incarcerated in July 1938. He worked with stove soot and whiting on paper and linen remnants. Sandberg was trained as a bricklayer in a group of Jewish prisoners in 1941 – this saved him, as a “useful worker,” from deportation to Auschwitz. After liberation, he published the drawings he made in Buchenwald in a collection of his works.
Polish Boy Scout Władysław Kożdoń (1922-2017) was sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in October 1939, shortly after his 17th birthday, and was sent to the bricklayers’ school.
(Władysław Kożdoń, „…ich kann dich nicht vergessen“. Erinnerungen an Buchenwald, Göttingen 2007)
Robert Siewert (1887-1973) used his position as Kapo of a construction detail to initiate the bricklaying school. In 1945 he became Minister of Interior Affairs in Saxony-Anhalt, but lost this post in 1950 as part of Stalinist purges within the SED. He later worked in the GDR’s Ministry of Construction.
(Photo: Friedrich Gahlbeck, Bundesarchiv)
Włodzimierz Kuliński was deported from Poland to Buchenwald when he was 15 years old. German lessons were given by two Polish prisoners. On 29 November 1941, the young Polish teacher Henryk Sokolak was appointed head of the Polish School with the support of the camp elder Ernst Busse. Due to the boys’ different levels of education, Sokolak divided them into two groups so that he could teach them better.
In the course of the November pogroms of 1938, the Gestapo sent 30,000 Jews, designated by the SS as “special operation Jews,” to concentration camps. Some of the nearly 10,000 men deported to Buchenwald were teenagers.
The camp was ill-prepared to receive 10,000 new prisoners. The Jewish prisoners were placed in improvised housing, and were subjected to humiliation, harassment and violence. Several prisoners were murdered by the SS or died as a result of prison conditions. Most of the survivors, including almost all of the young people, were released after a few weeks. The goal of the Nazi regime was still to convince German Jews to emigrate by using violence and terror.
Since there were only a few teenagers among them, they are not recognizable in this photo, that was taken by the SS.
In November 1938, the National Socialists burned down synagogues throughout the German Reich. They invaded the homes and businesses of Jews and mistreated the residents. In many cases, a mob of onlookers gathered in front of the synagogues.
The excuse for the pogroms was the attack by a German-Polish Jew on a German diplomat in Paris. The state-organized terror marked the transition from the rejection and exclusion of Jews to their systematic and violent persecution.
Among those arrested was the 18-year-old locksmith apprentice Hans Berberich and his father Sally.
The listing is crossed out with the notation that Berberich was released on December 10.
According to the document, Sally and Edith Berberich emigrated with their son Hans to Cochabamba in Bolivia. Even in this postwar document, the names Israel and Sara remain added to their actual names, a convention forced upon the Jews by the Nazis in 1938.
The November pogroms of 1938 triggered a wave of emigration. Between then and the beginning of the war, about 120,000 Jews left the German Reich. They had to leave their property behind.
In 1938, the number of prisoners in the concentration camps doubled. As part of the Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich (Operation Work-Shy Reich, two waves of arrests of purported “anti-social elements”), the police sent over 10,000 men and several hundred women to the camps – most of them were adults, but some were teenagers. About 4,000 men were sent to Buchenwald, including about 1,200 Jews. For a brief time, the majority of prisoners in the camp were those with a black triangle identification badge, which marked prisoners as “anti-social”.
All those who were not a part of the “national community”, such as the unemployed, beggars, vagrants and those persecuted as gypsies, were considered “anti-social” or “alien to the community.” The police worked closely with the labor and welfare offices during the waves of arrests.
It was not until 2020 that the Bundestag (German parliament) recognized those persecuted as anti-social as victims of the Nazi regime.
(Moritz Zahnwetzer: KZ Buchenwald. Erlebnisbericht Kassel 1946)
Kurt Ansin was arrested at age 16 for being a gypsy and sent to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in June 1938. His file was stamped by the SS with the abbreviation “A.S.R.” (Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich). Kurt Ansin had to wear the black triangle designating him as anti-social on his prison uniform.
More than half of the 7,658 camp inmates on that day were “ASR” prisoners.
The Volksgemeinschaft ideology was not only racist, but also included the idea of achievement. People without work were considered unworthy and seen as ballast, and were therefore to be disciplined through forced labor. The idea of “unfit for the community” was interpreted very broadly.
The incarceration of those arrested on grounds of being anti-social in concentration camps took place in two waves in 1938. The decree of 1 June 1938 propelled the second wave of arrests later that month.
In July 1937, the first prisoners arrived at Ettersberg near Weimar. The SS forced them to build a concentration camp for 8,000 male prisoners. Both political opponents of the regime and those persecuted for racial and social reasons were to be interned there.
By the end of the war, the Buchenwald Concentration Camp had developed into the center of a complex camp system with a total of 139 subcamps, where prisoners served as forced laborers for the armaments industry. In total, around 280,000 people were imprisoned at Buchenwald, and more than 56,000 died.
Not only men, but also women, teenagers and children were imprisoned in Buchenwald and its satellite camps. Children were in particular danger. Because they were unable to work, they had hardly any chance of survival. To protect them from forced labor and deportation to certain death, political prisoners built shelters for children and adolescents in selected barracks.
The prisoners were forced to clear the forest and build their own barracks.
(Photo: Kriminalpolizeistelle Weimar, Buchenwald Memorial).
Most of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp’s subcamps camps were established after 1942, the turning point of the war after the Battle of Stalingrad. Prisoners were used for cleanup work in the cities and for forced labor in the armaments industry.
(Studio IT’S ABOUT)
Before 1940, the deaths of prisoners from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp were registered and their bodies cremated at the municipal crematorium in Weimar. In order to conceal the increasing number of prisoners murdered at the camp, a separate crematorium was built on camp premises in the summer of 1940. The incinerators were made by the Erfurt company Topf & Sons, which also manufactured the incinerators for the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.
The photo is from an album that camp commandant Hermann Pister had created for representational purposes.
(Musée de la Résistance et de la Deportation)
A bus ran several times a day from Weimar to the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, connecting the two towns. Buchenwald and the city of Weimar were closely intertwined.
The SS barracks and housing estates were located only a few meters from the camp on the Ettersberg. SS officers and their families lived in the Führersiedlung.
(Photo: Georges Angéli, Buchenwald Memorial)
In the Little Camp, which was established in 1942 as a quarantine zone for prisoners arriving on the mass transports, conditions were catastrophic. From 1944 onwards it was permanently overcrowded; starvation and death were ever-present. Political prisoners managed to establish a place of refuge for children, most of them Jewish, in Block 66 of the Little Camp.
(Photo: Alfred Stüber, private property)
Jurek Kestenberg was born in Poland in 1929. He and his parents were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Majdanek in 1943. In August 1944 he was sent to Buchenwald. He survived thanks to the help of fellow prisoners. After liberation, he traveled to France on a children’s transport in June 1945, where Boder interviewed him in Yiddish.
(„Voices of the Holocaust“, Illinois Institute of Technology)
Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation, Historical Overview of the History of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1937-1945: buchenwald.de/en
Förderverein Buchenwald e.V.: „Buchenwald war überall – die Errichtung eines Netzwerkes der Außenlager“:
“Gedenksteine Buchenwaldbahn. Ein Projekt der Initiative “Gedenkweg Buchenwaldbahn”:
Thousands of children and young people died in the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camps. Because many records are missing, not all names are known. For many of the dead, there is very little information available other than their names, prison numbers and dates of death. Photos exist only in a few cases.