I have visited many countries in the world, but few invoke mixed emotions like Germany.
the Mark Chavunduka Column
On every visit I plan an excursion, not to the Alps Mountains or boat cruise along Rhine River, but to Buchenwald and Dachau Memorial sites.
My next research project is to visit Auschwitz- Birkenau Concentration camp in Poland. Although the extermination of six million Jews took place more than 50 years ago, the pain and agony is still as excruciating as ever.
I have seen people weeping during the tours, it’s not an easy walk, it still rekindles sad and sordid memories. It reminds me of the infamy of Zimbabwe.
Where was the world when Hitler committed these heinous crimes? Were the leading nations and religious institutions of the world ignorant of goings on or just indifferent to human suffering? The gas chambers are a sad reminder of the terrible things which have gone wrong in this world.
The ill-treatment of Jews was inhuman, degrading and callous. The scale of human suffering was beyond comprehension and unprecedented. This prompted Allied Forces at the end of the Second World War to speak with one voice and give an undertaking to prevent future genocide. Never again!
According to Jean Paul Satre the word “genocide” is said to have been coined by jurist Lemkin between the two world wars. The thing is as old as mankind and so far no society has existed whose structure has prevented it from committing this crime. The question is, “Do we learn from history?” Sadly, history has been repeating itself again and again in several countries including Africa.
The world looked aside as the Zanu PF government of President Robert Mugabe subjected some of the citizens to similar horrible abuse.
The hatred and anger was directed at those perceived or suspected to be loyal supporters of Zapu and its leader Dr Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo, they were isolated, tortured and butchered.
The deployment of Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland and some parts of Midlands provinces brought so much pain and suffering to an otherwise law-abiding and God-fearing people.
It is estimated that 20 000 Zimbabweans were brutally massacred by government forces. This was a gross human rights violation and those responsible for the heinous act must be brought to book.
The most notorious concentration camps were established in Bhalagwe near Nkomo’s rural homestead and at Stezi Rest Camp in Gwanda, not far from Nkomo’s farm.
The locations of slaughter camps in the vicinity of Zapu leader’s properties was definitely not coincidental, but a calculated political decision to subdue and demoralise local communities.
The aim was to humiliate and emasculate Nkomo by any means possible.
Tales abound of Gestapo style torture to which members of the DDT, as the brigade had come to be known, added sadistic dimensions: castration, exposure to hornets, forced intake of poison and head-butting trees until one lost consciousness.
Few, the villagers claim, saw the insides of the fortified bunks and lived to tell the tales.
There is an ordeal of an old man who suffered immeasurably under the hands of the notorious brigade.
There is a harrowing story of a village alderman: “They tied my hands and feet with a rope and then suspended me on a pole between two trees and started beating me with large sticks and rifle butts for a long time, until I could no longer feel the pain. I am told that they used a bayonet to cut off my testicles. To drown out my screams and those of my wife, they ordered the others to sing loudly. Its obvious the fat one who had the bayonet was enjoying it, because he would spit in my face and ask why I was crying.”
I have learned that the first concentration camps in Germany were built after the mass arrests which accompanied Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933.
While these camps did not last for a long time in many cases, the number of new and large camps started to rise continuously during the second half of the 1930s.
They formed a network which covered Germany and was extended subsequently to every occupied country.
The names of these camps became synonymous with the traumatic experience such as hunger, cold, torture, and rape of women and the murder of millions of men, women and children.
The concentration camp on Ettersberg Hill near Weimar was founded in 1937. Its first name was “Ettersberg Concentration Camp”.
The decision to select this site was made because it was close to Weimar, the capital of Thuringia, because of its proximity to exploitable clay and stone deposits and finally, because Suckle, the regional chief of the Nazi party, wanted to have a large contingent of SS troops stationed near Weimar.
Buchenwald concentration camp saw the biggest increase among all concentration camps existing in the German Reich with the arrival of 8 463 persons during the weeks of September and October 1939.
Transport came from Poland, from occupied Austria, from the Gestapo offices in central Germany and from the concentration camp of Dachau near Munich.
This mass arrival led to the eruption of the largest dysentery epidemic up to this time. It broke out in a tent adjoining the mustering ground.
The SS isolated this provisional camp which was overcrowded with Austrian Jews and Poles and allowed the majority of the inmates to die from hunger and cold.
The first crematorium in the camp was built in the context of this mass killing.
Every year of the war took more Austrians, Czechs, Poles, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Belgians, Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Sinti and Roman Gypsies, and finally people from almost every European country to the concentration camp of Buchenwald.
The genocide of Jews, Sinti and Roman Gypsies started in the extermination camps established on occupied Polish territory after the attack on Soviet Union. The prisoners regained their freedom in 1945, following the defeat of Hitler by Allied Forces, subsequently a funeral was held to mourn the 51 000 victims of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
A declaration of survivors written by political prisoners was read in Russian, Polish, Czech, English, French and German during this ceremony. It went round the world as The Oath of Buchenwald and reads as follows:
“Comrades, we anti-fascists of Buchenwald have come together today in order to honour the 51 000 prisoners murdered by the Nazi beasts and their accomplices in Buchenwald and its external commandos. 51 000 people have been shot, hanged, trampled on and beaten to death, suffocated, drowned, poisoned, killed by injections.
“A total of 51 000 fathers, brothers and sons died in agony because they were fighters against the murderous fascist regime. 51 000 mothers and wives and hundreds of thousands of children accuse the murderers.
“We survivors have witnessed the atrocities committed by the Nazis. We were powerless and full of rage as our comrade’s fell. If anything kept us alive, it was the idea that the day of revenge would come!
“Today, we are free! We thank the Allied American, British, and Soviet armies and all armies of freedom who fought for our lives and for the welfare of the whole world. We now remember FD Roosevelt, the great friend of anti-fascists in all countries, an organiser and initiator of the fight for a new democratic and peaceful world. Let us honour his memory.
“We Soviets, Frenchmen,Poles,Czechs,Slovaks,Germans,Spaniards, Italians,Austrians,Belgians,Dutch,Englishmen,Luxemburgers,Romanians,Yugoslavs and Hungarians of Buchenwald fought together against the SS, against the Nazi criminals and for our own liberation. We are inspired by one idea: Ours is a just cause and victory must be on our side.
“Speaking many is not over. Our sadistic tormentors are still free. For this reason, we swear at this place of fascist atrocities and by the whole world that we only give up the struggle when the last of the culprits has been sentenced by the court of all nations.
“Our slogan is to smash Nazism once and for all. Our ideal is to build a world of peace and liberty. That is what we owe to our murdered comrades and their families. To show that you are for this fight, lift your hand and take this oath.”
Taking a leaf from German, I hope during our lifetime we will witness the survivors of Gukurahundi genocide cry in unison proclaiming The Oath of Bhalagwe:
The murderers of our families are still alive
Our sadistic tormentors are still free
For this reason, we swear at this place……….
Tamsanqa Mlilo is a director at Mediation for Peace Centre, human rights activist and social commentator
*As The Standard celebrates 20 years, it pays tribute to the late Mark Chavunduka, the founding editor of the paper.