Number of deaths in Buchenwald

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The Buchenwald concentration camp was established in 1937, 10 kilometers from Weimar. The prisoners of the camp were Jews, political prisoners, religious prisoners and prisoners of war. They came from Russia, Poland, France, Germany, Austria and other countries.

The American army came to Buchenwald on 11 April 1945. In the days before, thousands of the prisoners were forced to join the evacuation marches.

Causes of death in Buchenwald[edit]

One cause of the deaths in the concentration camp Buchenwald was illness due to the harsh conditions in the camp. Furthermore, many were murdered. The two primary methods of execution were shooting in the back of the head or hanging.

The SS accounts of prisoners coming to and leaving the camp provide one source for the estimate of the number of deaths in Buchenwald. These numbers were divided into three categories: releases, transfers and deaths. According to this material, 33,462 died in Buchenwald. There are flaws, however, in these accounts. For example, people executed before 1944 were listed as ”transferred to Gestapo”. Newly arrived prisoners who were sent for immediate execution were not listed in the camp register. From 1941 mass killings of Soviet prisoners of war went unrecorded.[1]

One former prisoner of Buchenwald, Armin Walter, made a calculation of the number of executions by shooting in the back of the head. While incarcerated he was instructed to set up and maintain a radio installation in the facility where the executions took place. He counted the numbers, which came via telex, and hid this information. He says that 8,483 Soviet prisoners of war were shot in this manner.[1]

In "Buchenwald : Mahnung und Verpflichtung : Dokumente und Berichte" by Walter Bartel the number of deaths in Buchenwald is estimated at 56,545.[2] This number is the sum of:

  • The number of deaths according to material left behind by SS: 33,462.[3]
  • Executions by shooting: 8,483.
  • Executions by hanging (estimate): 1,100.
  • Deaths during evacuation transports: 13,500.[4]

This total (56,545) corresponds to a death rate of 24 percent assuming that the number of persons passing through the camp according to documents left by the SS, 238,979 prisoners, is accurate.

Allied airmen[edit]

Main article: Phil Lamason

On 20 August 1944, 168 captured Allied airmen classified as "Terrorflieger" (terror flier) by the Gestapo, arrived at Buchenwald. The most common act for allied airmen to be classified a terror flier was to be captured in civilian clothing and/or without their dog tags. The German Foreign Office decided that these captured enemy airmen should not be given the legal status of prisoner of war (POWs) but should instead be treated as criminals and spies and were sent to Buchenwald.

Unknown to all airmen except Lamason, their execution had been scheduled for 26 October, had they remained at Buchenwald. However, on the night of 19 October, seven days before their scheduled execution, 156 of the 168 airmen, including Lamason, were transferred from Buchenwald to Stalag Luft III by the Luftwaffe. Eleven airmen were left behind in Buchenwald (British pilot P.D. Hemmens had already died), as they were too ill to be moved. US pilot L.C. Beck subsequently died, but the other ten airmen were transported to Stalag Luft III, in small groups, over a period of several weeks.

Deaths among the deported Danish policemen[edit]

Of the 1960 deported Danish policemen who came to Buchenwald in late September and early October 1944, 62 (3%) died in Buchenwald. One reason for the lower death rate was the help these policemen received in the form of packets provided by the Danish Red Cross. Furthermore, their length of the stay was relatively short. On 16 December 1944, 1604 of the policemen were transferred to Mühlberg after their status was changed to prisoners of war.[5]


  • Walter Bartel: "Buchenwald : Mahnung und Verpflichtung : Dokumente und Berichte", published 1960.


  1. ^ a b Walter Bartel: "Buchenwald : Mahnung und Verpflichtung : Dokumente und Berichte", published 1960.
  2. ^ Podcast with one of 2,000 Danish policemen in Buchenwald. Episode 6 is about statistics for the number of deaths in Buchenwald.
  3. ^ In this number are included dead in the satellite commands with the exception of women.
  4. ^ According to Bartel somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 prisoners died on the evacuation transports in March and April 1945.
  5. ^ "Helvede har mange navne." by Jørgen Barfod.

See also[edit]