|Buchenwald Memorial by Fritz Cremer 1958. Photo: Wikipedia.|
Founded upon the ashes of Hitler’s Third Reich in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany, the German Democratic Republic (1949-1989) called itself an "antifascist" state. Much of its antifascist culture came from the many communist and social democratic survivors of Buchenwald concentration camp. The former camp became an antifascist Mecca, and a major focus of antifascist education in East Germany.
|Antifascist banner at liberated Buchenwald. It is written as a rhyme but it translates into English as, "We anti-fascists want to go home to eradicate the Nazi criminals."|
Video of Buchenwald taken recently showing what remains, and photos and bare ground and remains of buildings that were destroyed by the GDR in 1952.
Antifascism was the ideological and moral backbone of the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany). Its antifascism, however, was a complex, double-edged sword: it was an ideological tool needed for both a national identity and its anti-Western Cold War rhetoric, as well as a way to exonerate East Germans from guilt or responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis. Employing the concept of “Zero Hour” (Stunde Null), East Germans created a new identity based upon a clean break with the past and a complete rejection of Nazism. According to Alan Nothnagle, however, it was an antifascist "myth" that was developed and cultivated for 40 years.
|The first monument to commemorate Buchenwald, constructed by the survivors themselves, in 1945.|
Listen to the "Buchenwald-Lied" (The Buchenwald Song).
"Antifascist Myth" in GDR?
He writes that, "The 'antifascist myth' claims that the GDR was the direct product of a popular anti-Nazi resistance struggle carried out with tragic loss of life under the leadership of the KPD [Communist party of Germany]. The SED [Socialist Unity Party], as successor to the KPD, was a thoroughly antifascist party whose credentials in the German resistance movement provided it with the legitimacy it needed to assume the leadership of German society. Antifascism legitimated the GDR's leaders and their policies."
Antifascism was real and many people suffered under the Nazis. And yes, there was a resistance movement, but it was deep underground and not a popular mass movement. The reality is that the GDR was not founded by resistance fighters, but by the exiled KPD leadership who were living comfortably in Stalin's shadow in Moscow.
One view of antifascism is presented by Benita Blessing, who writes, “[East] German antifascism … as a political, ideological, and educational program, was an ongoing process of rebuilding the German nation and national consciousness around a new political and cultural idea.”
|The antifascist education of the FDJ (Free German Youth, the official GDR youth movement) included visits to Buchenwald. This visit was in 1969.|
|Liberated Buchenwald prisoners demonstrate to Gen. Eisenhower the torture methods used against them.|
Holocaust "disappears" from the history of the GDRIronically, fighting anti-Semitism, a major ideological theme of Nazism, was not part of the development of the antifascist GDR. Anti-Semitism, however, became taboo: dangerous and illegal to practice, but also left out of the history and cultural development of East Germany. Jews in the GDR began to fade from history: unique elements of the Holocaust disappeared and Jews were lumped together with other persecuted minorities as “victims of fascism.” Claudia Koonz explains why: “In the East, politicians rallied against Nazi terror and analyzed it within a Marxist-Leninist scheme that had no place for genocide.” The East German dictatorship destroyed Communist memories of past solidarity with the Jews, as well as support of Jewish Holocaust survivors. Herf writes that “at one time, solidarity with the Jews had something to do with the fight against Nazi Germany."
|Jewish survivors of Buchenwald attend Passover services in camp in 1945.|
Anetta Kahane writes, "the Jews as a specific group of victims disappeared....For example, whereas the first monument set up in Buchenwald by the former inmates themselves explicitly mentions Jews among the victims, neither the word 'Jewish' nor any reference to Jewish inmates is to be found in the East German monument."
Communists and Social Democrats in BuchenwaldWhat makes Buchenwald unique among Nazi concentration camps is that many political prisoners--primarily Communists and Social Democrats--were imprisoned there and survived. This fact greatly influenced the reconstruction and interpretation of the Buchenwald camp history since its liberation in 1945, as well as the overall development of the GDR until its collapse in 1989.
A resolution passed by the Secretariat of the SED on October 9, 1950, stated that, "On the basis of preparations carried out by former inmates...it was decided that the entire [Buchenwald] camp, along with all of its barracks, was to be torn down." What was to remain standing? The crematorium, the entrance gate building, and the eastern and western watchtowers.
|This is what Buchenwald looked like before a good part of it was destroyed by the GDR.|