The Buchenwald Bracelet

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Made with WWII Army and Navy uniforms

Together with its many satellite camps, Buchenwald was one of the largest concentration camps established within the old German borders of 1937. The camp was constructed in 1937 in a wooded area on the northern slopes of the Ettersberg, about five miles northwest of Weimar in east-central Germany.

SS authorities opened Buchenwald for male prisoners in July 1937. Women were not part of the Buchenwald camp system until late 1943 or early 1944. Prisoners were confined in the northern part of the camp in an area known as the main camp, while SS guard barracks and the camp administration compound were located in the southern part. An electrified barbed-wire fence, watchtowers, and a chain of sentries outfitted with automatic machine guns, surrounded the main camp.The detention area, also known as the Bunker, was located at the entrance to the main camp. The SS often shot prisoners in the stables and hanged other prisoners in the crematorium area.

Most of the early inmates at Buchenwald were political prisoners. However, in 1938, in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, German SS and police sent almost 10,000 Jews to Buchenwald where the camp authorities subjected them to extraordinarily cruel treatment upon arrival. 255 of them died as a result of their initial mistreatment at the camp.

Jews and political prisoners were not the only groups within the Buchenwald prisoner population, although the “politicals,” given their long-term presence at the site, played an important role in the camp's prisoner infrastructure. The SS also interned recidivist criminals, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), and German military deserters at Buchenwald. Buchenwald was one of the only concentration camps that held so-called “work-shy” individuals, persons whom the regime incarcerated as “asocials” because they could not, or would not, find gainful employment. In the camp's later stages, the SS also incarcerated prisoners-of-war of various nations (including the United States), resistance fighters, prominent former government officials of German-occupied countries, and foreign forced laborers.

Beginning in 1941, a number of physicians and scientists carried out a varied program of medical experimentation on prisoners at Buchenwald in special barracks in the northern part of the main camp. Medical experiments aimed at testing the efficacy of vaccines and treatments against contagious diseases such as typhus, typhoid, cholera, and diphtheria resulted in hundreds of deaths. In 1944, Danish physician Dr. Carl Vaernet began a series of experiments that he claimed would "cure" homosexual inmates through hormonal transplants. Source: United States Holocaust Museum