Atop the main watchtower at the Buchenwald concentration camp, a small clock sits at the highest spot, eternally set at the time 3:15 pm.
It’s an easy detail to miss, but one that holds significant historical meaning.
On April 4, 1945, US troops took over Ohrdruf, a Buchenwald sub camp, making it the first camp liberated from the Nazis. Nearby at Buchenwald, Nazis began evacuating prisoners forcing the majority on death marches in hopes of outrunning the Americans.
A group of underground resistance fighters imprisoned at Buchenwald used a secret transmitter to send a Morse code message to the allies on April 8, writing in German, English and Russian.
“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.”
Minutes later, a message was received: “KZ Bu. Hold out. Rushing to your aid. Staff of Third Army.”
On April 11, troops arrived at Buchenwald. The time was 3:15 pm.
Reporters arrived the next day to document the horrors found behind the camp gates, realities that until then many in America had never heard in full detail. One reporter, Edward R. Murrow, radio transmitted to CBS his first person account:
“I asked to see one of the barracks. It happened to be occupied by Czechoslovaks. When I entered, men crowded around, tried to lift me to their shoulders. They were too weak. Many of them could not get out of bed. I was told that this building had once stabled 80 horses. There were 1,200 men in it, five to a bunk. The stink was beyond all description.”
“They called the doctor. We inspected his records. There were only names in the little black book, nothing more. Nothing about who these men were, what they had done, or hoped. Behind the names of those who had died, there was a cross. I counted them. They totaled 242. 242 out of 1,200, in one month.”
“As we walked out into the courtyard, a man fell dead. Two others, they must have been over 60, were crawling toward the latrine. I saw it, but will not describe it.”
Much of the camp was demolished following the war, but some structures still stand, including the watchtower. Its clock stands frozen in time, reminding visitors that while those imprisoned within its walls suffered immeasurably, help was on the way.