A LETTER TO THE EDITOR FROM BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP…The following was written as a report to Sgt. Merle Miller, managing editor of YANK’s Continental Edition, by Cpl. Howard Katzander, YANK Staff Correspondent, and was not intended for publication. YANK feels, however, that this highly personal description and Katzander’s reaction to what he saw is the real story of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp at Weimar, Germany.

Dear Merle:

Today I toured the Buchenwald Concentration Camp and if Nuremberg holds off a couple of days, I think I’d better write a piece on it. I can’t begin to describe it, not in any way that will make it seem real. All I’ll be able to do will be to give the statistics and the layout and how the people look after four years of starvation and cruelty.

Remember the bake ovens I described in the Marseilles piece–the part about the German prison camp? Their counterpart is here, but instead of baking bread in them they were used to destroy people. It was most efficient, with a heavily-barred gate opening directly on to a cellar door equipped with a sliding board down which the victims could be slid into the deep cellar.



There are various stories about how they were rendered unconscious. I saw a club which undoubtedly was used for that purpose. And the table where the gold fillings were removed from the teeth. And the shaft through which they were raised to the oven room. And the long steel stretchers on which they were rolled, often still alive, into the stinking heat. I don’t know yet how far German efficiency went, but I’m sure that the heat from so much good coke and so many tons of sizzling flesh could not have been wasted. Doubtless the electric blowers also served to circulate the heat by means of asbestos-insulated pipes to the quarters of the SS guards.

But they were not complete beasts about it. They have a finer side to their nature, as attested by a four-line verse painted on a sign board that hangs above the ovens and is decorated with a glowing flame. The verse is to the effect that man does not want his body to be eaten by worms and insects. He prefers the purifying oblivion of the flame.

And there is a practical touch, too–the name of the manufacturer of the ovens on a steel plate fixed in the face of each of the two banks of ovens–in case you, too, should want a crematorium for your basement.

Do you remember the brief description of the sleeping quarters for the German prisoners in the Marseilles submarine pen? Well, they have something similar here. Similar that is in that they were sleeping quarters. You take a barracks about 200 feet long. Down each side of it you build four layers of shelves about five or five -and-a-half feet deep. The lower shelves will be about three feet apart. The top shelf will be about two feet from the roof. Two by fours placed about five feet apart cut these shelves up into compartments, each about five feet wide, five to five-and-a-half feet deep, two or three feet high. Then in each of these compartments you put six men, normally seven, when the camp is crowded. And remarkably enough there is room for them. After all, a man whose thighs are no bigger around than my forearm doesn’t take up much room. The stench of such a place becomes something to dread on a hot spring afternoon, the nauseating stench of vomit and urine and feces and foul breath and rotting, scabrous bodies. Fifteen hundred men in a single room perhaps half again or at the most twice as long as our model barracks back home–the ones where we doubtless are housing many German PWs today, lucky fellows.

The Japs are sissies, Merle. They lack the imagination of these people. You wrote in your editorial about all the other editorials and the books and movies and newsreels. But this is a thing that is not to be fully believed but only accepted by the surface of the mind until it is seen. And even then the charred skulls and ribs and pelvic bones in the furnaces seem too enormous a monstrosity to be given full credence. It can’t mean that they actually put human beings, dead and alive, into these furnaces and destroyed them in this manner.

But you know that it does mean just that.



I’m cured now, Merle. I’m no longer plagued by contradictions. I have no further sympathy for the Germans as a nation or a race. Some people talk about differentiating between Hitlerites and the people of Germany. There is no difference. Even the woman from Weimar who was one of the crowd  of sightseers going through the place today, who wept when I asked her how it was that she had known nothing of this when all the world outside knew of it. Even she should be exterminated because she has the power of life in her belly and what comes out of that belly no one can predict.

Besides, although this place was well-guarded to keep the townspeople away, many of the prisoners worked in Weimar factories. They collapsed of hunger at their benches and no one asked why. They died along the road on the long way back to the camp and no one expressed surprise. They shut their eyes and their ears and their nostrils to the sights and sounds and smells that came from this.

The individual stories are the same ones you’ve been reading and hearing since 1935. But the impact is in the mass, the 50,000 people comprising a small city living in such horror, in the four-year-old Polish Jewish boy who was brought to the camp hidden under his father’s coat and has lived most of his life behind barbed wire.

I’ll save the descriptions of the mad SS guard who looks like Hitler and stands at attention all day beside his bunk in his little cell. And the story of the other guards who committed suicide.

Regards, Howard



buchenwald concentration camp

Two pictures taken in the court yard of the concentration camp at Ohrdruf and typical of similar camps throughout Germany, including Buchenwald. Here are 34 bodies, all emaciated from malnutrition.

buchenwald concentration camp



For Further Reading Check Out:

The Beasts of Buchenwald: Karl & Ilse Koch, Human-Skin Lampshades, and the War-Crimes Trial of the Century (The Buchenwald Trilogy, Vol. 1)


Beyond the Last Path: A Buchenwald Survivor’s Story




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One thought on “A LETTER TO THE EDITOR FROM BUCHENWALD CONCENTRATION CAMP…The following was written as a report to Sgt. Merle Miller, managing editor of YANK’s Continental Edition, by Cpl. Howard Katzander, YANK Staff Correspondent, and was not intended for publication. YANK feels, however, that this highly personal description and Katzander’s reaction to what he saw is the real story of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp at Weimar, Germany.

  • Bill Getz says:

    The most outstanding article to date! We should never forget the horrors perpetrated by the German people, yes, the German people upon millions of Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and anyone the Germans considered “undesirables.” My brother was an MD in Patton’s Third Army and his unit was first into one of the German concentration camps. His pictures tell the same story and can be seen online (copy and paste link): http://www.ericringsby.com/getz/3rdusarmy.htm

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