Vital Signs

Forgotten Voices: How Buchenwald Lived On

When I visited Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, in 1988, in what turned out to be the last year of German partition, the Soviet Union's use of the camp for five years after World War II was hardly to be spoken of inside what, with memorable irony, was still called the German Democratic Republic; my research on this forgotten episode had to be done on the other side of the barbed wire, in West Berlin (see "Buchenwald's Second Life," Chronicles, July 1989). By a happy chance that article appeared only a few weeks before the Wall came down in Europe. But it is now clear that it was based on inadequate sources. My research had failed to discover any survivors from former Nazi camps maintained by the Soviets between 1945 and 1950—there was no one, it seemed, to be interviewed—and I was forced to depend on a few sparse documentary sources.

Now, with the Wall down, the past is speaking and the forgotten voices are being heard. In the summer of 1991 a survivor of Soviet Sachsenhausen, a major Nazi camp near Berlin, published recollections of his arrest as a teenager in May 1946 and his detention in Torgau, Bautzen, Sachsenhausen, and Waldheim, as well as inside the Soviet Union itself. His name is Benno Priess, and his little book, Innocent in the NKVD Death-camps, which includes...

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