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Commemoration of the death march of April 11, 1945


In the afternoon hours of April 11, 1945, around 4,000 maltreated people were driven across Jena on the last death march by prisoners of the Buchenwald concentration camp. To commemorate this dark day in Jena's history and the victims of the march, up to 40 people gathered today at four central memorial stations. The "Speaking Past" working group organized a bicycle excursion for this purpose and read out impressive quotes from the prisoners who were herded through Jena. The stations were:

  • Stele on the west side of the Camsdorf Bridge
  • The junction of Schlippenstraße
  • Stele at the Angergymnasium
  • Gembdenbachbrücke/ terminus of streetcar line 2

The speech by Lord Mayor Dr. Thomas Nitzsche:

"Dear Mr. Noack, dear Dr. Rug, dear Dr. Horn, dear members of the Jena "Speaking Past" working group, dear representatives of Jena city politics, dear ladies and gentlemen,

Three years ago, we came together at this location for the inauguration of the stele, back then in September, because the coronavirus pandemic did not allow us to meet in April. I am very pleased that we can gather here today with greater ease.

I am also pleased that what was planned at the time, to bring the commemoration of the death march through Jena on April 11, 1945 back into the public consciousness of the city, has been so successful. This is particularly thanks to you, dear Working Group Speaking Past, dear Dr. Rug, dear Dr. Horn.

This is the result of years of work, on the one hand researching the content, on the other hand repeatedly drawing people's attention to their history with public campaigns, shaking people up a little and perhaps making some of them cross the bridges more consciously past this stele.

Together with the stele, we also inaugurated the small memorial beech tree here on the riverbank, a mosaic stone in the inclusive memorial project "1,000 beeches" in memory of the victims of the National Socialist "euthanasia" program to eliminate "unworthy life". The beech tree has grown well and is thriving - and the commemoration has become part of our municipal canon of remembrance.

The beautiful and, for me, particularly welcome thing here is that the commemoration is supported by civil society, especially by the Working Group Speaking Past, from which it constantly receives new impetus. The bicycle parade along the path of suffering following the event here is a good example of this. It's great that so many people came to take part.

On April 11, 1945, 79 years ago, two days before the liberation of Jena by American troops, a never-ending procession of maltreated people dragged itself through Jena in the afternoon, "(a) procession of suffering that cannot be described badly enough", described one contemporary witness. The last death march of prisoners from Buchenwald concentration camp was driven right through Jena, guarded by armed SS men with dog squads.

14 people died on the way through Jena, 14 people were murdered because they could no longer cope or because they tried to escape. They found their final resting place in the East Cemetery, buried anonymously because their names are not known.

Two years ago, we inaugurated the newly renovated gravesite for the death march prisoners who died in Jena's Ostfriedhof cemetery. Last year, in Wenigenjena on the route of the death march, we were not only able to dedicate another stele, which commemorates the survivor Robert Büchler in particular. On this occasion, we were even able to welcome his daughter Ruth Buchler-Chanach, who told us about her father.

The terrible, unimaginable tortures inflicted on the prisoners at that time drove thousands to their deaths. Robert Büchler survived, but his life was scarred by his terrible experiences. The fact that he came to Germany and Thuringia so often afterwards to talk to young people in particular, so that the crimes of the Nazi regime would not be repeated, cannot be appreciated enough.

There are now a large number of memorials in our city. In addition to the steles and monuments, it is above all the more than 50 stumbling blocks that commemorate the victims of the National Socialists. It is important that we research the crimes in their entirety and preserve them in our consciousness. Not least, the large number illustrates how permeated urban society was by National Socialist ideas and the victims that have to be mourned here too.

Even if the number of active perpetrators may be manageable, the crimes were largely accepted and many became passive perpetrators. This is illustrated not least by the death march through our town. There were isolated small acts of help and, above all, there was a lot of looking the other way, there were derogatory remarks and insults directed at the people who had already been maltreated in the worst possible way.

People who helped the prisoners, perhaps with water, with some bread, they risked their own lives. I don't know if I would have had the courage to help in that situation, how I would have behaved. I can only hope that I would have had the courage to act humanely.

But what this means for me is that we have to make sure it doesn't happen again. History does not simply repeat itself. But misanthropy and contempt for humanity still exist today and we have to take a clear stand against it. Including those who speak out against misanthropy and contempt for humanity in a populist manner, by distorting facts and using false information.

Our pluralistic democratic system of government is the best guarantee for respecting the dignity of the individual. We must be aware of this, especially in this year with very decisive elections that will determine what happens in our city, in our country and in Europe and which current will set the tone.

The commemoration of April 11, 1945, the demonstration of the criminal and absurd inhumanity of the concentration camp on the Ettersberg - now in the middle of the streets of Jena - links our municipal culture of remembrance with the Buchenwald Memorial, just as the crimes there and here cannot be viewed separately.

The events of April 11, 1945 clearly marked the imminent end of Nazi tyranny in our city and, for the people, the end of the war. With science and the role of the university, with war technology, with Nazi party ideology, the system of forced labor and many other facets of the crime, Jena was jointly responsible for twelve years of Nazi tyranny and its consequences.

Fortunately for Jena, the terrible war and the Nazi dictatorship came to an end in mid-April with the invasion of the US army. Both the significance of April 11 - the special connection to Buchenwald and the final point after 12 years of despotism and terror - have an unmistakably audible tenor: consistent opposition to all forms of right-wing extremism and misanthropy, today and tomorrow!

Thank you for coming here today."