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ITS staff visited Buchenwald Memorial Site

Last Thursday 33 members of the ITS (International Tracing Service) staff visited a place of horror whose documents they analyze on a daily basis. Staff members took a guided tour of the Buchenwald Memorial site, visited the exhibition and learned about the foundation´s new projects. “It is a singular experience to be at the scene of the atrocities,” said Manfred Kesting, head of the analysis and documentation department.

Rikola-Gunnar Lüttgenau, deputy director of the Buchenwald memorial, welcomed the guests from Bad Arolsen, and Rosmarie Hofman and Helmut Rook showed the ITS group around the area. Using a model of the concentration camp, the guides explained the history of the site, focusing on the construction of the camp, its occupancy, the division of the SS and the camp´s liberation. A quarter of a million people from every European country were imprisoned in Buchenwald from July 1937 to April 1945. The estimated number of victims is 56,000.

As the ITS group entered the crematorium there was absolute silence. “It is a specific place of remembrance and memory,” according to Kesting. “The cold-bloodedness of the Nazi death machine, which showed itself in dealing with the dead, is not new to ITS staff, but seeing it shocks anew every time.” These sentiments also held for the adjacent execution site, which the Nazis disguised as a doctor´s office.

The events at Buchenwald are well-documented at the ITS, as the concentration camp was liberated by the Americans and the SS had no time to destroy their records. In 1945 Buchenwald was the largest existing concentration camp. “We are very familiar with the documents. We have been analyzing them for the victims and their relatives for many years,” reported Kesting.

Presentations of the memorial´s projects on educational work and the work of remembrance were therefore of special interest, as was a virtual photography exhibition recently made available on the website. It shows the first pictorial history of a concentration camp. More than 300 historical photographs, films, short biographies and factual texts in the virtual exhibition can be downloaded.

Finally, the ITS staff had an opportunity to visit the exhibition. Encompassing 1600 square meters on two floors of a former “movable properties room” (warehouse where the Nazis stored valuables taken from inmates), it is the largest exhibition on the memorial´s grounds and was opened in 1995. “Time was tight,” said Kesting. “But it was worth it to be able to experience the memorial´s impressive work.”