Donald Key: Classroom Discussions

Donald Key (21 minutes)


Historical notes:


Buchenwald is located near one of Germany’s great cultural centers, Weimar.  About 65,000 inmates died there during the war, out of 250,000.  Like Dachau, it was originally intended for political prisoners, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and other “undesirables.”  It was established in July 1937, and was the scene of medical experiments (on children and adults) carried out under the aegis of the once-respectable Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics.  The inmates were used for forced labor in armaments factories, and after the war Buchenwald was a displaced-persons camp and then a prison for Nazi war criminals.  The noted Holocaust activist Elie Wiesel was an inmate there.  During the war many prisoners from other countries were sent there, and at the time of liberation only 5% of the 21,000 inmates were German.  Many had been evacuated from Auschwitz and other camps liberated by the Russians. Buchenwald became a national memorial in 1958.


Questions for discussion


1.  How would an experience like Donald’s change you?


2.  Put yourself in the place of a young a soldier, 18 or 19 years old, coming into a concentration camp at the end of the war.  How would it make you feel about the Germans?


3.  Why do you suppose Donald became so interested in Jewish life and culture?


4.  In your own life, have you had the experience of discovering something painful and shocking?  Was it something you might have prevented, had you known about it?  Did you feel guilty, or angry, or both?


5.  If you had been a US government official during the war, and had known about the camps, would you have made the information public?  Why or why not?

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