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Jerry Klinger
Shaping the Future by Remembering the Past

Buchenwald, the Decline of American Prestige, and Memory

American Memorial, adjacent to former SS Barracks. Courtesy of Bernd Schmidt

Weimar, Germany

Sunday, April 16, 2023, the 78th annual memorial ceremony remembering the liberation of the infamous Buchenwald Concentration Camp took place.  The weather, foggy, with cold rain, pelted the 500-plus attendees.

Before the ceremony in the main Camp, a tiny memorial was dedicated outside, adjacent to a former SS barracks.  The small table interpretive memorial was the first ever erected in Buchenwald to acknowledge the role of the Americans at Buchenwald.  The memorial is titled:

“In Memory of the Soldiers of the XX Corps of the US 3rd Army.”

Buchenwald marker, courtesy of Bernd Schmidt.

The marker’s wording is in four languages, German, English, French, and Russian. The text is specifically crafted not to recognize the Americans as liberators.

“On 11 April 1945, units of the 3rd US Army’s XXth Corps reached the Buchenwald concentration Camp. The SS fled. Political inmates of the International Camp Committee took control of the grounds. Buchenwald was liberated. In the days and weeks that followed, US Army doctors and medical orderlies were primarily responsible for rescuing and caring for the survivors. The Americans also recorded inmate testimonies, opened the Camp to international delegations, and informed the world public about the crimes committed there.”

Recognizing the obvious, that the Americans were the cause of Buchenwald’s liberation is a political minefield in Germany.  Using the words, American liberators is strictly verboten. JASHP had unknowingly stepped on the third rail.

1200 SS Troops guarded Buchenwald before the arrival of American forces. As the Americans approached, the SS fled, leaving only a tiny handful of SS holdouts. With the weakened SS presence, the semi-organized political prisoners in the Camp grabbed the opportunity to rise in revolt using a few weapons they had secreted and took control. The Camp was turned over to the Americans by the former prisoners of Buchenwald a few hours later.

The German narrative of Buchenwald’s liberation is one of self-liberation. It is in direct opposition to the American view of Buchenwald’s liberation. The American view is if the US armed forces had not been approaching, the SS would never have fled. The SS was in the process of forcibly removing the prisoners and preparing to execute those who could not be moved or were ill.

Buchenwald and Germany have consistently refused to recognize the US army as the liberators of Buchenwald. The German Communist Party and its supporters are adamant about not recognizing the Americans.

JASHP had marshaled support for the American liberator’s memorial from the American German Ambassador, the American Counsel General, American Veteran Organizations, members of the Eisenhower family, American veterans, and even Germans for the 2020 dedication.

Three years, Covid and a change of American presidential leadership; the decline of American prestige was very evident.

Courtesy of Bernd Schmidt

The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation (JASHP) first led the initiative for a modest American liberator’s interpretive memorial in 2019. It was to be dedicated during the 75th anniversary of the Camp’s liberation. JASHP knew that there was nothing honoring the Americans who liberated Buchenwald.

JASHP had marshaled support for the American liberator’s memorial from the American German Ambassador, Rick Grenell, the American Counsel General, American Veteran Organizations, members of the Eisenhower family, American veterans, and even Germans for the 2020 dedication.

After extensive review, the Camp’s administrators, the Buchenwald Memorial Foundation, declined the proposal bowing to strong internal German pushback.  JASHP was singled out for a special mention by the German Communist Party.

Because of the agitation, Buchenwald approved what had never been done before, a small table interpretive memorial.

The memorial was to be dedicated on April 5, 2020. The dedication was canceled due to Covid.

On April 16, 2023, the memorial was dedicated. JASHP was not invited or informed.  American Diplomatic representation, American Military representation, American Veteran organizations, and American Jewish and American Survivors organizations were noticeably absent. The memorial was sited next to a former SS barracks, not behind the entrance flag poles as originally promised. The text was truncated.

Three years, Covid and a change of American presidential leadership, the decline of American prestige was very evident.

Five months earlier, the thumb of American displeasure pushed hard on Israel.

1947 U.N. Partition Resolution Memorial

November 29, 2022, was the 75th anniversary of the U.N. Partition Resolution birthing Israel. The U.S. was central to pushing the positive vote for Israel in 1948.

In honor and recognition of Israel’s 75th, JASHP conceived and funded Israel’s first Partition Resolution Memorial, with support from the Jewish Agency and the City of Netanya.  The very large memorial is sited on a hill overlooking Rt. 1 in N. Netanya.

The Ambassadors from the signatory countries supporting Israel’s birth were invited. Fifteen came to the dedication.  The Russian Ambassador came with a full delegation.

When it was learned the American Ambassador declined to come or send a second, JASHP asked to help.  We contacted the U.S. State Department and reached the Israeli American Ambassador’s office.  We explained the deep embarrassment it would be for America if the American Ambassador did not come while the Russian Ambassador was coming with a full delegation.

The American Embassy confirmed the Ambassador was most likely busy, but a representative would attend.

On the day of the dedication, the Russian Ambassador stood proudly on the stage of honor with the other Ambassadors.  The American Ambassador or his representative did not show.

The Americans demonstrated their prestige with Israel and the Germans with the Americans.

Where are the Jews?  In the middle, of course.

Jerry Klinger is the president of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.

www.JASHP.or

About the Author
Jerry is the president and founder of the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation, www.JASHP.org. He is the son of Survivors of Buchenwald and Bergen Belsen. He is a former Yeshivah student and served with the IDF in the Sinai. He is the author of over 100 articles in publications ranging from the Jerusalem Post to the Prairie Connection to the San Diego Jewish World. Jerry is frequently interviewed on T.V. and on Radio about the American Jewish experience. The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation has completed projects in 41 US. States and in 7 countries. Over 7,000,000 people annually benefit from one of JASHP's efforts. JASHP has completed 18 projects in and for Israel. November 29, 2022, Netanya: JASHP completed the first-ever historical memorial to the central birthing event for the modern state of Israel - the U.N. Partition Resolution. - -Jewish Agency Facebook Spot. - https://www.facebook.com/yaakov.hagoel/videos/475227947933251/
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