WEIMAR, Germany -- Survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp laid flowers yesterday and observed a moment of silence in the cold drizzle for victims of the Nazis, 60 years after US troops liberated the camp.
Flags from about 30 nations hung to symbolize the nations from which the camp's 240,000 prisoners came. About 56,000 died -- worked to death, shot, or killed in medical experiments -- in the camp, which operated from 1937 and 1945.
US veterans and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany came to the camp memorial outside Weimar for the commemoration, which kindled vivid memories for the survivors, most in their 70s and 80s.
Georg Sterner, a Hungarian Jew, recalled looking out from Barracks No. 37 when the first US tank crashed through the barbed-wire perimeter fence on the morning of April 11, 1945.
''We were hanging out of the windows," said Sterner, who was 17 then. ''It came slowly, slowly. It stopped between the trees. It revved the engine . . . made a lunge, and broke through."
Inside, shocked soldiers from the Third US Army found about 21,000 starving survivors and piles of corpses, some only partially burned in the crematorium ovens as the Nazi SS and their helpers fled the camp.
''It was so incredible -- stacks of bodies, the smell, the total shock and confusion, people walking around by the thousands," said Jerry Hontas, who arrived the next day as a 21-year-old Army medic.
''We were so shocked, we couldn't talk to each other for days," said Hontas, of Boca Raton, Fla. ''We had no concept of this kind of insane cruelty."
Yesterday, some survivors came in wheelchairs. Others wore replicas of their striped inmate uniforms and their prisoner numbers.
Schroeder recalled that Weimar embodies Germany's classical cultural heritage -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the most revered German author and playwright, had his home there -- and said the Nazis had turned it into ''coldness and cruelty."
''I bow before you, the victims and their families," he said at Weimar National Theater, addressing Buchenwald survivors in the audience.
Yesterday's ceremony was meant as a remembrance of victims of Germany's Nazi camps, which were liberated as Allied troops advanced before the Nazi surrender in May 1945.
Thuringia, the state in which Weimar is located, was a Nazi Party bastion even before Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, and he often visited the city.
With an eye on recent electoral successes by Germany's extreme-right fringe, Schroeder said the country must remain vigilant against racism and anti-Semitism.
''We must not forget," Dieter Althaus, Thuringia's governor, said at the theater. ''If we forget, we risk that it will repeat itself."
Buchenwald was part of the Nazi Holocaust in which 6 million European Jews died. But there also were non-Jewish victims -- political prisoners from Germany and other European countries, Soviet prisoners of war, and Jehovah's Witnesses, among them.
As Nazi control dissolved in April 1945, Buchenwald inmates rose up and took revenge on their captors just before the Americans came.