How It Really Was at Buchenwald

Buchenwald film dpa picture alliance
A scene from the new film about Buchenwald concentration camp.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The book became an instant anti-fascist classic in the former East Germany when it was first published. But that version didn’t tell the whole story.

  • Facts


    • Bruno Apitz, the book’s author, spent eight years at Buchenwald concentration camp.
    • The book was earlier made into a 1963 film that starred Erwin Geschonneck and the young Armin Mueller-Stahl.
    • Of 56,000 people killed at Buchenwald, only 72 were German communists.
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The 1958 novel “Naked Among Wolves,” about life in the Buchenwald concentration camp, sold three million copies and was translated into more than 30 languages. But for years it was hardly known outside the former East Germany, where it was an anti-fascist classic and mandatory reading in school.

The author, Bruno Apitz, had to omit or tone down parts of the novel when it was first published. But a new version, with previously unrevealed details, was recently shown at prime time on German public TV.

It tells the heroic story of German communists in their struggle against the Nazis.

But the new version also details how a secret communist organization inside the camp worked to get special bread rations,  medicine or easier work – and even influenced death lists of prisoners marked for transport to extermination camps.

Ultimately, “Naked Among Wolves” is a human drama about a three-year-old Jewish boy from Poland, called Stefan, who is hidden from the SS by communist prisoners in the last weeks before the camp was liberated – even though it puts the illegal organization of prisoners in grave danger before their planned revolt.

Communist humanity triumphs over dogmatic party discipline: That was Mr. Apitz’s message and East German leaders used it as propaganda. Later, the myth seemed to be sensationally authenticated when the “real” Buchenwald child, Stefan Jerzy Zweig, turned up.

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