Starting on the early morning of 7 April 1945, the Buchenwald SS drove thousands of inmates out of the camp. In view of the advancing American troops, Commander Pister had ordered the camp’s clearance the previous day. With an inmate population of some 48,000, Buchenwald was severely overcrowded.
The memory of the clearance transports from the east still fresh in their minds, many of them feared the worst: “We knew that evacuation would mean the death of every second man among us”, the Social Democrat Ernst Thape had noted in his diary a few days earlier.
Some 3,000 primarily Jewish inmates were the first to be sent out from Buchenwald. The SS drove them on foot to the Flossenbürg concentration camp. Trains carrying thousands of inmates later left the Weimar goods station, headed for Leitmeritz and Bavaria. Inmate functionaries and the camp resistance delayed the process of assembling the marching columns. Nevertheless, further transports left the camp in the days that followed. Altogether 28,000 inmates departed from Buchenwald by train or on foot. Thousands lost their lives en route.
Katrin Greiser, Thüringen 1945 – Todesmärsche aus Buchenwald: Überblick, Namen, Orte, Weimar 2001.
Manfred Overesch, “Ernst Thapes Buchenwalder Tagebuch von 1945”, Vierteljahreshefte für Zeitgeschichte 29 (1981), pp. 631–72.