Eisleben, Weimar, and Buchenwald Concentration Camp

It has been a few days since I’ve blogged- we’ve been busy and tired!

We’ve done a lot since my last entry!

On our way to Erfurt, we stopped at a place called Stotternheim.  This is where Luther was caught in a thunderstorm and prayed to St. Anne that if he survived the storm, he would become a monk.  There is a monument there, but it’s pretty much out in the middle of nowhere.  It was still really cool to see the place that started Luther’s journey to the Reformation.

After that, we went to Erfurt where we got a tour of the town as well as a tour of the Augustinian monastery where Luther became a monk. His life as a monk was very ordered and structured, as he worshiped 6 times a day, studied the Bible in its entirety for the first time (but only at prescribed times) and constantly worried about his eternal fate. He was grieved with guilt over his sins and went to confession incessantly.

We saw what many believe was Luther’s cell as a monk.  He eventually took vows and became a priest, and continued to live at the monastery as a priest.  We saw the chapel that he did his first mass in.

It is also here in the chapel where Luther spent a lot of time as a monk where many think that the stain glass windows in the chapel inspired his design for the Luther Rose symbol.

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Also interesting to note was that some of the scenes from the Luther movie staring Joseph Finnes as Luther were filmed at the Monastery in Erfurt. Our guide said she had been there when they were filming the movie, but after filming the same scene multiple times, she and the others they were with got bored and left.

The next day we traveled to Weimar, which is a cultural center in Germany.  Many writers, artists, and poets lived there.   Luther was there a few times, and throughout the city there were “Luther shadows” on the ground, signifying that the places we were at had some significance to Luther.  I wasn’t quite clear as to how they were related.  By that time, I was tired and it was a little hard to hear our guide with such a big group.

In the afternoon, we traveled to Buchenwald concentration camp for a tour.  This is an intense place to visit, as it is such an ugly part of history.  But it is important to see these sites and remember the absolute evil that humanity is capable of, and learn from it so that we don’t continue the cycle of hate and violence towards our fellow humans.

I hadn’t realized that Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent some time at Buchenwald before he was transferred to Flossenberg, where he was killed.  There was a separate part of the camp where they kept high profile prisoners.  Bonhoeffer had been part of a movement called “The Confessing Church,” and they actively opposed Hitler and the Nazis.  Bonhoeffer had been part of an assassination plot against Hitler, and he was captured and brought to Buchenwald for a few months. They made this part into a memorial to Bonhoeffer.

After the Bonhoeffer Memorial, we approached the gates to inside the camp.

The gate at Buchenwald had a message inscribed on it, which translated means “To each their own,” or “You get what you deserve.” It was a taunting message that was meant to be read from inside the camp- a “subtle” message to the prisoners that they “belonged” there.

The stories that were told there, as well as the pictures and things that we saw were devastating.  One of the most sobering rooms there was the crematorium.  The way in which the deceased were disposed of via ovens as if they were nothing is just so gruesome to contemplate.  There was also a room with several urns in it filled with ashes from many of the victims.  Certain families, after learning that their loved ones had been cremated there, had requested the ashes from the camp but there was no way to know whose ashes were whose, so for a fee, families were sent the supposed ashes of their loved ones, which in all likelihood, wasn’t them at all.

There was a room in the basement of the crematorium where they would keep the bodies, and then they’d shove them all in an elevator to the top floor, where there were 6 ovens in which they would be disposed of.

The last thing we saw was a memorial stone toward the front of the gate.  The stone commemorates the last “roll call” at the camp, which happened on April 19th, 1945 with the survivors of the camp.  Here, they took what is called the “Buchenwald Oath,” which was an oath that they would dedicate their lives to creating a better world for all to live in- one of freedom and peace.  In 1999, the artist of the stone wanted to write the word “life” in all the languages that the inhabitants of the camp spoke.  Instead, they named the countries where people were from.  The artist didn’t like that, as it was once again separating people by their nationalities, so he wanted something to signify the oneness of humans.  Below this stone is a heating mechanism that heats this stone to a constant 98.6 degrees- the human body temperature.  When I was here 10 years ago, it was cold, rainy, and windy so the heat of the stone was quite impressive.  Yesterday, however, it was incredibly hot outside, so the stone was actually hotter than 98.6 degrees!  It was a beautiful way to end a tour at such a devastating place.

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