Authentic traces from camp time or decorations of post-war use? This question had to be answered in 2011, when the great barn - former main accommodation for hundreds of prisoners - was to become the main focus of the exhibition. With the help of a renowned team of conservators the answers were found.
Restoration research: traces of coloration in the former prisoners' accommodation
During refurbishing of the memorial the district administration commissioned a restoratory study of the great barn. The study included the examination of wall decorations as well as recommendations for their preservation. The project was funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture.
The restorators Dana Weinberg and Wulf Stehr produced a comprehensive survey of historic traces in the barn that provided new and exciting insights about the wall decorations. They not only confirmed the authenticity of the colour layers but also some particularities. They discovered that two different types of decorations originated in the 18 months the camp existed. Based on the age and the style of the different layers conclusions about the former room arrangement are possible.
Together with sketches from former prisoners these new insights allowed more concrete assertions about the rooms. For example the dormitories of the prisoners had a simple white coating, whereas other areas were elaborately decorated with coloured bases, lines, bandings and stencilled ornaments (eg flowers). These areas presumably were common rooms. Especially the rooms for the Kapos (prisoner guards) were richly ornamented.
The painting with two different layers can most likely be ascribed to a change in the occupancy of the camp. A final layer that includes almost the entire interior of the barn dates back to after 1945, when the barn was once again agriculturally used.
The study also included the protection of a mural in the southern Kapo room. It shows a nude female portrait. The mural was presumably painted directly onto the plaster with water colours and chalk. Punched tin sheetings served as reinforcement for the plaster.
Large parts of the mural were lost in the course of the years. It must have been deliberately destroyed.
During camp time the floors in the rooms for the Kapos were covered with floorboards which is not entirely preserved. Only since 2012 the Kapo room in the northwestern corner of the barn is accessible for visitors. It also contains coloured wall decorations.
Furthermore electrical installations such as cables, switches and junction boxes are preserved. Above the northwestern Kapo room a bottom plate of an oven is still visible.
Most parts of the original wall decorations such as the flower are still covered by a white layer of paint. It is planned to reveal them step by step.
Original inscriptions: „Lerne leiden ohne zu klagen!“
The inscription above the northwestern Kapo room means "learn to suffer without wailing!". It traces back to a quote that is accredited to the German Emperor Friedrich the Third. When he ascended the throne on 9th March 1888, he was already incurably sick with laryngeal cancer. He olny reigned three months. He is quoted to having said to his son, the later Emperor Wilhelm the Second: "Learn to suffer without wailing, that is the only thing that I can teach you."
This adage become part of the canon of values of Prussian Virtues. It represented courage without self-pitying. The quote was particularly used by military, sometimes ironically, and often published on coins and postcards. The use by military continues until present. Today "learn to suffer without wailing" is the motto of the commando frogmen of the German navy.
The inscription in the prisoners' accommodation probably results from an order by SS staff, that often used these mottoes in a cynical way. Another example would be Jedem das Seine (To each his own) at the camp gate in Buchenwald, or Arbeit macht frei (Work brings freedom) as in Auschwitz.
Camp routine: „Doch stets ein frohes Lied erklingt“
This inscription meaning "Yet always a happy song is raised" dates back to the time between 1943 and 1945. It is a line from the camp song of the concentration camp Esterwegen in Lower Saxony. In the early years of the Third Reich Esterwegen was Germanys second biggest concentration camp after Dachau near Munich. The song presumably originates from an adaptation of the soldiers song Ich bin ein Bub vom Elstertal in the concentration camp Lichtenburg and dates back to 1934. In Esterwegen it became the official camp song with slightly adapted lyrics. The inmates later spread the song to other camps when Esterwegen was closed in 1936.
In 1939 it was one of three songs that the inmates of Buchenwald concentration camp were allowed to sing. It was also known in Auschwitz. The same line of text was written on a sign at the Carachoweg at Buchenwald, a path that prisoners had to pass in running while they were beaten by guards. The addition of the word Caracho at the inscription in Laura probably is a reference to this sign in Buchenwald. There are no reports, if the song was indeed sung by prisoners in Laura, but there is no doubt that at least the German inmates knew it.