On June 3, 1945, a group of Jewish survivors left the recently liberated Buchenwald concentration camp for a farm near the German town of Eggendorf. There they established an agricultural-training community they called Kibbutz Buchenwald, which was meant to prepare them for eventual immigration to Palestine.
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Kibbutz Buchenwald was one of what came to be 35 training farms set up in post-war Germany, with names like Kibbutz Nili and Kibbutz Lochamei Hageta’ot al Shem Tosia Altman. In many cases, the displaced persons directed to them had been active in Zionist movements in the period before the war, whereas for others, it was simply the most attractive option available to them, and one that seemed like it could lead to a certificate that would allow them to immigrate to the Land of Israel.
When World War II ended in Europe, in the spring of 1945, there were some 200,000 Jewish survivors in Germany and Austria, nearly half of whom were under 25. Many had been driven westward in death marches from Nazi camps in Poland and other parts east as the Germans saw their impending defeat. Some of the inmates in Buchenwald, a large concentration camp near Weimar, Germany — both religious and secular, with youth-movement backgrounds — had talked well before liberation about establishing a training farm.
With the help of two U.S. army chaplains, rabbis Herschel Schacter and Robert Marcus, they were given the use of an abandoned German farm in Eggensdorf. A short time later, as this part of Germany was transferred to Soviet control, it was decided to move the training farm deeper into the American zone, to Geringshof, outside Fulda, where there had been a Zionist hakhshara (training) farm before the war. Schacter and Marcus were instrumental in acquiring clothing, food, tools and eventually immigration certificates for the young Zionists.
According to historian Avinoam Patt, coeditor of a 2010 book, “We Are Here,” on displaced persons in Germany, the readiness of large numbers of young Jewish DPs to move to such farms “was vital in informing the diplomatic decisions that led to the creation of the State of Israel as international observers representing the United States, Britain, and the United Nations weighed the desires of the large refugee population in Europe.”
Kibbutz Nili was established in September 1945, on the grounds, near Pleikersdorf, of what had been the estate of Julius Streicher, publisher of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer.
Kibbutz Buchenwald was in operation until the summer of 1948, although a first group left for Palestine as early as August 1945. Former residents of the farm were among the founding members of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, which was established in 1948 in central Israel.
In her 1997 book “Kibbutz Buchenwald: Survivors and Pioneers,” historian Judith Tydor Baumel (her father was one of the survivors who founded the farm) quotes Itka Cheresh, one of the young residents of the kibbutz, describing the high level of motivation among these survivors: “We spoke for hours about every topic in the world, and for me, as a girl of thirteen and a half, who lost seven brothers and sisters and was left alone in the world, those idealists appeared to me as the ultimate example of perfection.”
When David Ben-Gurion visited DPs in the American zone, in October 1945, there were five “kibbutzim”; by the following June, there were 35.