Buchenwald’s subcamp „Schwalbe V“ in Berga/Elster

History of the grave site on Baderberg mountain

On April 16, 1945, at the instigation of Moritz Bastian von Zehmen auf Markersdorf (Berga), the city was handed over to the Americans without a fight and occupied by units of the 89th US Infantry Division. On June 1, the U.S. Army opened 26 graves in the Berga Cemetery. 22 exhumed corpses were identified as American prisoners of war and taken home. The remaining 4 dead were recognized as Eastern European prisoners of war and buried again. The Americans had the mass graves on the Baderberg mountain opened by former NSDAP members. There were also suspected dead prisoners of war, which could not be confirmed. After the dead had been transferred into row graves, the occupying authorities ordered the erection of a high white cross with the Star of David.
Before the US forces left Berga on June 12 and before the Red Army entered Thuringia in early July, a commemoration ceremony for the victims of the Nazi dictatorship took place on the market square.
According to the mayor of Berga, Mr. Grimm, in February 1946 the dead were mostly still in mass graves. He had a list made up of names and prisoner numbers. On the basis of a general order from the Soviet military administration in Germany and in preparation for the construction of a memorial planned for September 1946, the graves were levelled and surrounded with a hedge. The grave site was marked with a Star of David and 2 large wooden crosses. Up to this point the commemoration was initiated by the occupying powers and referred to the Jewish background of the majority of the dead.

Apparently, the cemetery was neglected in the following years - like many of those places in Germany. A January 1955 submission to the district council of the city of Greiz suggested giving the site a dignified appearance. Inquiries from abroad had contributed to this proposal. The newly erected memorial was opened to the public on September 11, 1955. In addition, the new memorial stone was encased with clinker brick walls in 1978. According to official language, the site was now dedicated to political prisoners, although the majority of them were victims of racial persecution.
During the existence of the GDR, the facility was used for state-organized commemorative events at which the East German state presented and legitimized itself as the heir to the anti-fascist (communist) resistance struggle.

With the political change in 1990, the view of the memorial changed.
While it had been a place of ritualized remembrance by decree for decades, it was now temporarily side-lined.
The annual commemorative events - with a significantly reduced number of participants - increasingly started to take place at the death march memorial stone, which was erected in the 1990s at the so-called Brandplatz in the city.
The burial site however, once chosen as a corpse repository due to its peripheral location, became partly overgrown - despite sporadic foreign visitors.

The remodelling of the memorial on Baderberg mountain was discussed again from November 2016. In close cooperation with all responsible authorities, this project was prepared and implemented in 2019. It was particularly important to end the anonymity of the victims.
Since they are no longer anonymous due to the erection of inscribed tombstones, they can be remembered with dignity in the future. It is just as important to imprint what has happened in the public consciousness, even beyond fixed anniversaries.