In Black and White
The Camp as Evidence

The Camp as Evidence

“I saw it and I smelled it. Yes, it was a building built specially for murder. You walk into a room and there is a row of ovens that look like heating boilers you see in large apartment houses.”
John Edwin Thierman, U.S. Signal Corps
The Camp as Evidence

The Gathering of Evidence

The first U.S. Army photographers reached the camp three days after the liberation of Buchenwald on 11 April 1945. The pictures they took were published all over the world and have continued to shape the public’s image of the concentration and extermination camps to this day. They also came to serve as evidence of the National Socialist crimes.

The war correspondents were as shocked as the American soldiers by the conditions they discovered in Buchenwald. Margaret Bourke-White, who worked for Life Magazine, later recalled: “I kept telling myself that I would believe the indescribably horrible sight in the courtyard before me only when I had a chance to look at my own photographs. Using the camera was almost a relief; it interposed a slight barrier between myself and the white horror in front of me.”

In addition to press photographers, army photographers from the 166th Signal Photo Company were at work in Buchenwald. The pictures taken by the latter were the first to pass military censorship and be telegraphed to all the countries of the world. As early as 19 April, the first photo of the Buchenwald crematorium courtyard – taken during the Weimar citizens’ tour of the camp on 16 April 1945 – was published in the London Times.

The military photographers’ most important task was to document the German crimes. Their photographs served as evidence for all persons not present in the camp as direct eyewitnesses, and were used in preparation for the war crimes trials. In 1947, the photographer Adrian J. Robertson was required to confirm the authenticity of the pictures he had taken in Buchenwald, which played a significant role in the Buchenwald Trial held in Dachau.

British and American parliamentary/congressional delegations toured the liberated camp. In addition to the appalling physical condition of the liberated inmates, it was primarily the heaps of corpses found on the camp grounds, the crematory ovens, and the mountains of bone ash that were seen as evidence of the “nazi horror mills” and thus became a symbol of the NS crimes and the Holocaust in general.

Margaret Bourke-White working with a light metre in the crematorium courtyard. She called the view from below – a typical feature of her work – the “caterpillar perspective”.
Parke O. Yingst, U.S. Army, 16 April 1945
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington
The Camp as Evidence

On Behalf of the Camp Committee

Not only American soldiers and war correspondents took pictures in Buchenwald, but the survivors also documented the former concentration camp. They photographed parts of the camp whose significance as the scenes of crimes committed at Buchenwald is not immediately apparent.

Alfred Stüber and Heinrich Albrecht were Jehovah’s Witnesses who worked in the photo department. On 20 April, the International Camp Committee commissioned them to document the Buchenwald concentration camp. Their work resulted in a series of more than seventy photos providing a well-differentiated view of the camp.

The crematorium, the corpses in the crematorium courtyard, and the suffering of the inmates in the Little Camp were likewise of central significance for Alfred Stüber and Heinrich Albrecht. They documented the former stable in which SS men had shot more than seven thousand Soviet prisoners of war to death, and the operating room II of the inmates’ infirmary, where SS physicians had killed hundreds of inmates. Stüber and Albrecht thus secured impressions of places outsiders could not possibly know about. Their pictures also recorded the world of their tormentors – the camp commander’s mansion and the SS falcon yard. They photographed the gate building and its cast-iron entrance gate with the inscription “Jedem das Seine” (To Each His Own). The words faced the inside so that the inmates could read them from the muster ground.

In April and May 1945, this photo series was reproduced and distributed to several hundred survivors in the liberated camp. When they returned home, they were to report on the crimes committed at the Buchenwald concentration camp and use the photos to provide evidence of the conditions in the camp. The pictures appeared in countless publications by former inmates all over the world.
Alfred Stüber drew from these photos to compile a slide show and lecture which he held primarily in Southern Germany beginning in July 1945. He began his talk with the words: “In the pictures now to be shown, you may see for yourselves what kinds of places these camps really were.”

Former inmates reproducing the camp committee series in the photo department. At the centre Karl Siebeneichler, at front left Alfred Stüber, at the right Heinz Mehnert.
Alfred Stüber, former inmate, after 20 April 1945
Private collection

Alfred Stüber: The Endless Path

Beginning in July 1945, the former inmate Alfred Stüber held slide lectures in various cities to inform the public about the Buchenwald concentration camp.
At these well-attended lectures, the first few pictures were accompanied by Beethoven music; then Albrecht Stüber began to talk in a quiet voice. A newspaper article reported on the “breathless suspense” among the members of the audience, and the “murmur of horror and outrage”. On July 14, while the lecture was being held in Reutlingen, an SS man from Buchenwald was presented to the audience. He confirmed the truth of Stüber’s descriptions and the authenticity of the pictures shown. Here you see an abridged and reconstructed version of the lecture in which the photos are combined with the texts of the original manuscript.

  • Buchenwald Concentration Camp is located some 9 km to the north of Weimar on Ettersberg Mountain, elev. approx. 400 m. The photo shows the private home of the camp commander, “Haus Buchenwald”, which was furnished with a winter garden and magnificent interiors, all designed and built from the ground up by inmates – like everything that was created in the camp.
  • Command zone
    In the foreground, from the left, the camp road, referred to as CARACHOWEG [Caracho Path]. Completely destroyed by bombing on Aug. 24, 1944. In front of it, to the right, the kitchen and lounges of the SS officer in command, the non-commissioned officers, and, in general, the entire command staff. Then the garage, main guard, political department, photo department, and commander’s office building ...
    During the air raid, not a single bomb fell in the camp itself!
  • The “protective custody” camp
    generally referred to as the “Tor” [gate]. The TOR was a place of horror for every inmate. If someone was called up to the gate, it almost always meant abuse of all kinds, especially in the earlier years. Above the entrance was an inscription: “RECHT oder UNRECHT – MEIN VATERLAND!” [Right or wrong, my fatherland!]
  • View of the camp from Tower 1
    23 watchtowers surrounded the camp. Manned day and night by SS men with machine guns. In the foreground the electric camp fence, enhanced by a barbed-wire obstacle and the “neutral zone”. Anyone who entered this zone was shot by the guard in the tower without warning. No count was made of the unfortunate persons whose last desperate steps took them into the electric fence.
  • View of the camp from south to north
    In the middle ground, the first rings of inmate barracks. All the way in the background the last beech trees of the “Buchenwald” [beech forest].
  • Muster ground
    for approximately 25,000 persons. In the background the left-hand section of the camp with wooden and stone barracks.
    Roll call: an agonizing procedure for the inmates who had returned to the camp from their places of work, exhausted and hungry, not having eaten anything all day. First they had to fall in for roll call, which often went on for hours, during which they had to stand at attention at all times. During the initial years of the camp’s operation, roll call was followed by the public beatings of 30, 40, 50 or more inmates, who received 25 or 50 blows with a stick in the presence of the entire camp. Or the inmates were forced to sing the same song for hours on end, when one or the other camp officer was in a bad mood, which was par for the course.
  • View of the gate from the inside,
    as seen by the inmates committed to the camp. The central section, equipped with huge loudspeakers audible from a distance of several kilometres, formed the actual gate. To the right the infamous detention cell building – the so-called Bunker – in which countless inmates were hanged or beaten to death in the course of the many years.
  • The Gate
    A passage of horror. This was the only way in and out of the camp. It will never be known how many atrocities the SS committed here! It was not at all unusual for the block officer to knock the inmates’ teeth in and box their ears to the point of deafness. Jews had to report to the block officer on duty at the gate as follows: “Sow Jew no. ... requests permission from Sir Scharführer to pass through the gate.”
  • A view of the gate from the camp
  • The “Little Camp”
    Place of detention for many tens of thousands. Completely contaminated by disease and an indescribable quagmire due to drastically inadequate hygiene and the absence of sanitary facilities. The danger of contagion was great due to inconceivable overcrowding and the lack of any means of protection. When someone died as a result of the barbarous demands made on people living on a starvation diet, the family consistently received the terse report: Cause of death: acute cardiac insufficiency.
  • In the “Little Camp”.
  • In the “Little Camp”.
  • Washing facilities for ten thousand
    The supply of water was completely inadequate. Often there was not a single drop of water for days! In 1938, the inmates had to wash themselves in water from dirty puddles – and sometimes even drink that water. In the “Little Camp” an average of eight men shared o n e towel!
  • The wooden barracks could accommodate 195 men if each inmate had a bed. But during the final phase, as many as 1,600 were crowded into one such barrack! The barracks served as both day rooms and dormitories! It is impossible to describe the atmosphere in a barrack of this kind! The stench of pestilence!
  • Wooden pallet
    Originally intended as a bunk bed for four men. In the end, sixteen had to share such a pallet. He who managed to “organize” a shabby pillow or a few old rags for himself somewhere was lucky, because they gave him a tiny bit of protection against the fierce cold!
  • Further views of the “Little Camp”.
  • Further views of the “Little Camp”.
  • As early as 12 April, the day after liberation, American doctors and medics began working tirelessly to move these poor souls from their inhumane housings to the abandoned caserns and homes of the SS. There they gained new courage to face life.
    Approximately 1 3/4 hours after the retreat of the SS in those hours of extreme tension following days and weeks of the greatest hardship, the loudspeakers rang out with the following words: “Attention, attention, this is an American officer speaking: Prisoners, we have come to liberate you! ...


    “... Every possible effort will be made to enable you to live like human beings again!

    America greets you,
    America admires you,
    America thanks you! ”
    At that moment we were all lying on our beds, prepared to march, prepared to be sent to our deaths, our scanty possessions at our sides. And when we heard these words like a message from another world, we wept, moved by the great moment which had finally come after so many years of humiliation and degradation, abuse and defilement!!
  • This photo was taken 4 weeks after the arrival of the Americans. During this period, the young people – Yugoslavs, Hungarians, Poles, 17 to 21 years of age – had received excellent fare from the Americans. The young body overcomes even grave malnutrition quickly: But the sins committed on the bodies of tens of thousands had already reached such an extent that even a four-week fattening-up diet had hardly made a dent. The boy in the middle, for example, had to be carried to the photo shooting.
  • The caserns and living quarters of the SS.
    It was here that the poor victims of the SS’s starvation policies were brought and given the best possible care.
  • 800 children
    ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 11 1/2, whose parents had been gassed to death and burned at Auschwitz Concentration Camp! The older inmates had done everything in their power to supply these children with food. The photo shows a 3-year-old boy of Polish-Jewish descent whose parents and 4 brothers and sisters had been liquidated in Auschwitz.
  • The quarry
    In the course of the eight years, thousands were driven to their deaths here. From early in the morning until late in the evening, goaded by the SS – and inmates appointed by the SS to serve as capos and foremen –, the prisoners assigned to the “quarry” detachment had to perform the heaviest labour at breakneck speed, for example push 2-ton lorries uphill and empty ones downhill at a run, lug stones weighing a hundredweight, etc.
  • The quarry
    In the course of the eight years, thousands were driven to their deaths here. From early in the morning until late in the evening, goaded by the SS – and inmates appointed by the SS to serve as capos and foremen –, the prisoners assigned to the “quarry” detachment had to perform the heaviest labour at breakneck speed, for example push 2-ton lorries uphill and empty ones downhill at a run, lug stones weighing a hundredweight, etc.
  • The flogging stand
    In all concentration camps, inmates received 25, 50, 75 and more blows with a 3–4-cm thick pizzle for committing the slightest offences. Often there were intervals between the individual blows in order to prolong the torment. While being beaten, the inmate had to keep count. If he failed to do so or – on account of the pain – to speak loudly or clearly enough, the count began anew with a blow determined by the SS. This bestial torture was so inhumane that many already lost consciousness after the 4th or 5th blow.
  • “Post-hanging”
    For the same minor offences, the inmates were hung from their wrists – their arms raised over their heads backwards – from a tree, their feet dangling one metre above the ground. The length of the punishment was at least a 1/2 hour, in “severe” cases as many as 3 or 3 1/2 hours. Already after 3–5 minutes the condemned person could no longer bear the brutish pain and began howling like an animal. To this very day, I can still hear the horrible cries of 58 adult men, among them several elderly! They were punished on the suspicion that one of them had smoked during labour duty.
  • In Block 50
    The photo shows the motto of this barrack. Head of operations: SS Sturmbannführer Dr. Ding, later also Dr. Hoven. Serum was tested on inmates because that was more practical and effective than testing it on rats, guinea pigs, and mice! And human lives didn’t cost anything, and they were poured out like water!
  • Op.II
    The operating room for inmates. A lot of good was performed here, and there were SS doctors who really did their best. But there were many among them who didn’t. In the X-ray room seen in this photo, many inmates were sent to the netherworld by means of intravenous injections.
  • Inmates’ infirmary
    For many, this was an oasis of rest and recovery. If you were admitted to the infirmary, you could finally have a break from the merciless provocations, harassments, and abuses, and the unbelievably hard work! Then the cursed everyday life began again and everyone longed for evening and a few hours in which to close one’s eyes before the new day dawned, bringing new torments and brutalities one hardly had the strength to endure. Concentration camp operations were the most outrageous and humiliating ever invented by the human brain – of people who had claimed they were the most cultivated of all nations and the elite of the racially pure! ...
  • The stable
    Here, in an isolated cell, 7,200 Russian prisoners of war were liquidated by the SS by means of shooting in the back of the neck. The naked corpses were transported to the crematorium in a ...
  • ... crate,
    zinc-plated on the inside to keep blood from dripping out along the way. The shootings were carried out exclusively at night by the voluntary so-called. Kommando 99 (SS). Before that, certain designated inmates were called to the gate in the middle of the night to remove the spots of blood with water and brooms.
  • The crematorium
    “Go to the wood yard immediately, request an armload of wood from the capo and then report to the crematorium!” That was how the SS Scharführers scared many a prisoner not yet familiar with camp operations. When the camp was toured by committees or army groups, the crematorium was never on the agenda. And visitors who asked about the building’s function were told: “That’s the camp bakery. That’s where we bake bread for the inmates.” In reality, however, particularly in the final phase, 100, 200, 300, and more corpses were burned here every day.
  • In the crematorium courtyard
    Dozens of unfortunate souls were hanged here every week.
  • Crematorium cellar.
    On the wall, you can still see some of the holes from the forty-eight hooks used to hang inmates. Two of these hooks are still there today. Incidentally, the execution was not carried out in the usual manner, where death – caused by the breaking of the neck vertebra – occurs immediately. Rather, the condemned person was lifted up by two inmates (professional criminals) assigned to labour in the crematorium, a Scharführer put the noose around his neck and the victim had to kick and struggle his way to death for several minutes.
  • The crematorium oven.
  • Close-up view
    Charred human remains in every oven.
  • The toll of one night from one single barrack. After liberation by the American troops. Starved to death! Starved to death!
  • Corpses, corpses!!
  • Corpses, corpses!!
  • Corpses, corpses!!
  • Corpses, corpses!!
  • Funeral ceremony
    Before committal to the camp, when you saw a hearse passing by on the street bearing a coffin decorated with flowers, you would often pause for a minute and think about death and the transience of all flesh. In the concentration camp, a lorry overloaded with naked corpses passed you by several times a day, and hardly anyone turned to watch the last journey of hundreds of unfortunate persons finally relieved of all pain, now such a familiar spectacle.
  • In the final phase of the camp’s operation, there was no longer any fuel for the crematorium ovens. The camp commander therefore ordered mass graves dug by Bismarck Tower, the landmark of Ettersberg Mountain, not far from the camp. There were days on which 2, even 3 lorries – of the kind shown here – full of corpses were buried.
  • The Monument to the Dead of Buchenwald Concentration Camp: 51,000!
    They were beaten to death, hanged, drowned, shot to death, liquidated by order of the Gestapo. They died of contagious diseases brought about by the culpably inadequate sanitary facilities, and not least of all they died of hunger! Nevertheless, these 51,000 are only a small number in comparison to the death tolls of the concentration camps in Belsen, Hanover, or Auschwitz, Upper Silesia, to name just two examples.
The Camp as Evidence

Buchenwald in Colour

A series of thirteen colour slides of the liberated camp has survived. They were taken by Ardean R. Miller, one of the U.S. Army’s total of only four colour photographers in the European theatre of war. He was at Buchenwald on 18 April 1945.

Ardean R. Miller was the American army’s most experienced colour photographer. He had already been working with the colour films developed by Kodak since the late 1930s. Miller later said that the order to photograph Buchenwald was the worst he received. The images haunted him his whole life long.
For the U.S. Army, the employment of colour photography in 1945 was an experiment to which not much significance was attached. The pictures taken by Ardean R. Miller were not put to use for many years. It was not until the 1990s that they were rediscovered and published.

Today, the series grants the spectator special visual access to the liberated camp. Whereas in the black-and-white photos a sense of temporal distance and a documentary character are prevalent, the colour photos create a surprising closeness to reality, making Ardean R. Miller’s slides unique images of the days following the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Ardean R. Miller III during his military service in Europe.
U.S. Signal Corps, U.S. Signal Corps, 1944/45
Private collection