by John Grinvalds
(This blog is the third and final part of a multiple-part series written in response to The Lutheran Center’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Germany in March of 2018.)
In Revelation, John stands in the resplendence and glory of God’s coming kingdom. Christ is referenced several times throughout the sometimes inscrutable book of the Bible, but nowhere quite manages to conjure the whole of Christian theology like John’s description of the Lamb of God in Revelation 5: “I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…”
Christ’s power is his powerlessness. His hands, rather then adorned by royal jewels and rings, are pierced by nails. His side, not covered by a golden or purple robe, is marred by a gash of death. Yet, he is all powerful.
Buchenwald is like the wounded Christ—forever it stands triumphant over the foes that subdued it, but forever, it bears immedicable wounds.
But how did it triumph? How was the chain strangling Buchenwald broken?
As Allied forces pushed eastward, the fields and forests around Buchenwald became a battleground. For the first time in the long night of the Holocaust, the grim sound of gunfire brought hope to the prisoners.
By April, 6, 1945, the Germans began evacuating Buchenwald—leaving a sparse group of guards to contain the remaining prisoners. Gwidon Damazyn, a Polish engineer and inmate of the camp since 1941, had secretly installed a short-wave transmitter and small generator into the prisoners’ movie room from which he sent the following message in Morse code on April 9: “To the Allies. To the army of General Patton. This is the Buchenwald concentration camp. SOS. We request help. They want to evacuate us. The SS wants to destroy us.”
Quickly after sending the transmission, they received the following reply: “KZ Bu. Hold out. Rushing to your aid. Staff of Third Army.”
Encouraged by the assurance of their liberation, the prisoners rebelled, killed the remaining guards, and took control of the camp. But that time of rebellion is not immortalized on the clock above Buchenwald’s gate. They liberated themselves; yet, they did not consider themselves liberated. Instead, the clock reads 3:15 p.m., when a detachment of troops from the United States 9th Armored Infantry Battalion arrived on April 11, 1945.
This reminds us that ultimate liberation must come externally. We cannot save ourselves.
In the end, Buchenwald is a place of tragedy and triumph, a place of Law and Gospel. It is the edge of the world—where human depravity is laid bare but where the ultimate victory of God is manifest. The camp will forever stand as a testament to that imperishable truth: Evil may enslave and immiserate, but it is running out of time. 3:15 p.m. Freedom is eternal.