My Grandfather at Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Favourite Find: Week # 2 (2022)

I would like to share with you my most recent favourite discovery that I’ve found. I struggle with using the word favourite in this post because this photograph is representative of something so dark and sad, but also, this photo is something that I have been searching for and hoping to find for quite a few years now. It brings with it a lot of mixed emotions. Once again, this year I’m participating in Amy Johnson-Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, FAVOURITE FIND is the writing prompt for this second week of 2022.


The below photo was taken on April 20th, 1945 in Weimer, Germany at the infamous Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Over the last week, while researching this post, I’ve seen many photos of concentration camps. The Holocaust (the Shoah) is such a deeply disturbing, infuriating and incredibly sad part of our collective history, but we do need to remember. We need to continue to educate ourselves about Holocaust and what led to it so that we NEVER let anything like this happen again.

Buchenwald was established in July of 1937 and officially liberated on April 11, 1945. The number of prisoners held is estimated at 238,000 over its eight-year existence. The number of deaths murders at Buchenwald is estimated at over 56,000.


In this photo below, the man standing second from the right is my Grandfather, Dr.Thomas Lockwood Perry Sr. He was 28 at the time of the picture being taken. At the time, he had only been married for (not quite) 4 years and was already away from his new bride for 2 full years. I can’t imagine the things he would have seen in that time.

From what I can tell, doing some research online, this photo was taken in front of the SS Barracks building at Buchenwald. My Grandfather served in WW2 for the Medical Corps under Patton’s 3rd Army. I already knew that he was there as the Buchenwald Camp was liberated and witnessed so many atrocities, which of course, changed him forever. How could it not? After the war, he became a lifelong pacifist. I knew about this because I’ve had in my possession for a few decades now, a photocopy of a very detailed, descriptive letter written by my Grandfather to his new wife Claire, dated April 20th, 1945. The very same day as this photo was taken.

When we were old enough, my Grandma wanted to make sure that we all had copies of the letter, but had always told us not to publish it anywhere with their names attached. I think that the online copy has been edited ever so slightly, but I recommend reading it and viewing the other photographs he took, with of course a strong warning of the graphic nature. In all of the time I’ve had a copy, I’ve only been able to read it fully a couple of times. It’s not a piece of fiction, it’s real and it’s painful. I hurt when I read it thinking of all of the lives and families that were so horribly affected, treated and murdered at the hands the Nazis.

(You can now read the letter yourself here – as it has been published online at the VHEC)

Even more poignant to this family history story of ours, is that his wife (my Grandmother) Claire Lippman’s family were of Russian Jewish descent. You’ll perhaps recall the post I did a while back about finding out the name of the Shtetl that the Lippman family originally came from. I think about how that affected my Grandfather’s thoughts of the tragedy he witnessed at Buchenwald.

It’s difficult to even put into words the way that really taking the time to think about all of this affects me, affects all of us. It’s incredibly tragic and sad.


So how did I come to find this photo after all of these years?

Well, several years ago an Uncle sent an email to my Mom, who then forwarded it to me…informing us of a display at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. The information online at the time was limited. I knew that there was a copy of the letter and also some of the photographs taken by Grandpa, but none were available online. All of the items were donated by my Grammie in 1994.

Pre-covid I had on my Genealogy Bucket List to make it down to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in person. I still plan to go there at some point. However, upon returning to the website recently I see that they have updated their online collection! I am now able to view online all of the photographs that Grandpa took while visiting the Buchenwald Concentration camp over 75 years ago. Finding this and all of the photos online also teaches me a lesson that if you go back and check all of your sources at least semi-frequently, you might just find more than you did the first time you looked. Keep checking back.


The bio of my Grandfather on the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre’s website reads…

Dr. Tom Perry Sr. was born in Asheville, North Carolina. He graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1942 and later worked as a pediatrician and professor in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics at UBC. Perry served in the 174th Medical Battalion, US Third Army under General Patton in the Second World War. He entered Buchenwald nine days after liberation. He moved from Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC, in 1962. In Vancouver, Perry became interested in peace and anti-nuclear movements. Perry received BC’s Citizen Peace Award in 1990. He and his wife Claire Joan Lippman Perry had four children. Perry passed away at the age of 74 in 1991.”

bio on VHEC website

Source: Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre page on TLP


Additional Research

I’ve never really been able to find much information online about my Grandfather’s time overseas, other than his Draft Card (below) which I had found on Ancestry. Searches on Fold3 (on their free weekends) so far have turned up with nothing, unfortunately. I do know that on the date of his registration, October 16th, 1940, he was a medical student at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts.

Source: Ancestry – World War II Draft Cards Young Men

One of the more famous survivors of Buchenwald was Elie Wiesel, author of Night. If you’ve not yet read this personal memoir of a Holocaust survivor, again, I highly recommend it. Elie Wiesel is pictured below laying on the second row of bunks, seventh from the left. Buchenwald, Germany, April 16, 1945.

Photo Source: Holocaust Encyclopedia

  6 comments for “My Grandfather at Buchenwald Concentration Camp

  1. January 14, 2022 at 8:01 pm

    I read his entire letter and it really is horrific – and he was seeing it from a medical doctor’s perspective, too. Incredible details.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. January 15, 2022 at 9:13 am

    You are right, it is important to remember the Holocaust. Thank you for sharing your grandfather’s letter of his experience of the events he witnessed. BTW, if you have his service number you may find a unit history that will tell you more, at least about his medical unit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 17, 2022 at 5:59 pm

      Thank you, Barb. I’ll have a look through my records to see if I can find his service number…I don’t remember seeing it. (I know I have my other Grandfather’s though…) I’ve tried searching online for that particular medical corps unit and haven’t been able to find a thing as of yet.

      Like

  3. January 17, 2022 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is amazing that your grandfather wrote such a detailed account of his experiences to his wife. It is very important that eye-witness accounts such as these are preserved so the truth is never forgotten or amended. I found it incredibly moving.

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 17, 2022 at 6:01 pm

      Thank you for reading, I’m very glad that my Grandma decided to donate the letter and photographs to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. I think it was the right call because we do need to remember and continue to educate. Agreed.

      Liked by 1 person

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