Commemorative stone for the 1938 special camp for Jews
Visitors often place a stone on this monument in memory of someone – or everyone – who died here.
As an American Jew from the South who has lived in Berlin for decades – Susan Neiman, author of this article – I’ve been asked whether Americans, in contemplating a plantation home, Confederate statue, or some other monument to our nation’s slave past, should emulate the way Germans treat Nazi memorials. To which I respond: There aren’t any. Germany has no monuments that celebrate the Nazi armed forces, however many grandfathers fought or fell for them. Instead, it has a dizzying number and variety of monuments to the victims of its murderous racism.
There are no Nazi sites in Germany in the sense that there are plantation sites in the United States. The only equivalent sites that now exist in Germany are concentration camps. On the site of Buchenwald, where as many as a quarter of a million inmates were held, a museum dispels any notion that the citizens of the nearby cultural capital Weimar were unaware of what was happening in their midst during World War II. The idea that tourists would visit such a place seeking smiling women in dirndls—much as some visit American plantations looking for ladies in hoop skirts—is obscene. Not even members of Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany party would suggest glorifying that part of the past.
A tradition found throughout the lands subjugated by Nazi Germany, placing a stone on a monument, for all the reasons you might imagine. My closest friend was grievously wounded twice in the battle to liberate Buchenwald at the end of WW2. He survived for many years afterward.
I’ve never been to Buchenwald. I left a stone at Auschwitz.