The bus carryinng neatly dressed East German high school students moves slowly down "the street of blood."

It is the entrance to what was once an unspeakable killing ground - the Buchenwald concentratio camp.

The students, many carrying flowers, leave the bus and make their way through what remains of the camp, now a national memorial.

Some 56,545 people died here between 1937 and 1945, victims of Nazi terror.That horror is duly acknowledged here in the musuems and monuments.

But most of the flowers are laid under a plaque on the crematorium where Ernst Thaelmann died.

Thaelmann was the head of the then-outlawed German Communist Party, and veneratiin of him and other Communists among the inmates had enabled the Communist goverment to turn Buchenwald into more than just a reminder of what once happened in Germany.

Indeed, the sophisticated and most important message which the government tries to get across at Buchenwald relates to the organization and resistance of the inmates - led, of course, by anti-Nazi German Communists.

The inmates' "pledge of Buchenwald" - to do everything possible to uproot fascism, to punish those responsible for it and to build a new peaceful and humane world - has been honored in the German Democratic Republic, according to the camp guidebooks.

The political exploitation of what happened here explains why it is compulsory that East German children visit here at some point in their school years.

For foreigners as well as East Germans, the message also seems to be that most of the Nazis - and especially the unpunished ones - came from what has been, since 1945, non-Communist West Germany, which contains about two-thirds of pre-war German territory.

The SS murderers of Thaelmann, the guidebooks claim, "are known. Their bloodstained track leads to Bonn. No West German court has sentenced them up to this day."

In this museum, the former disinfecting rooms now contain prominent displays of the names of former German arms manufacturers "who used slave labor from the concentration camps. Most of those firms have risen to new positions of economic and political power in West Germany," visitors are told.

The names would be well known to anybody living in the West today. "Krupp, Thyssen, I.G. Farben, Siemens, Aeg" are on the roll here.

During the Nuremberg trials, the guidebooks say, "These magnates of Hitler's war industry were found guilty of war crimes and sentenced to long years of imprisonment. However, they were soon amnestied in West Germany and returned to positions of power."

Mirror Image

IN WEST Germany, the former prison camp at Dachau, outside Munich, is also maintained as a memorial. Dachau was the first of what became hundreds of Hitler's camps, run by SS-Fuehrer Heinrich Himmler, where millions of Jews and countless thousands of gypsies, Poles, Soviet POWS and others died.

As the visitor leaves Dachau's museum of Nazi horrors, what he sees last is a line by the American philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat."

Dachau in its own way is reflective of West German attitudes toward the question of dealing with the Nazi era.

For example, at Dachau there is no mention of the participation of German industry in the use of slave-camp labor. "It is a guilt never acknowledged here and rarely spoken about in our history books," says Barbara Distel, the Dachau museum director.

Unlike the Pankow regime, West Germany does not require its youngsters, even local ones, to visit Dachau. Some 60-70 per cent of the almost half-million visitors who go there annually are foreigners.

Distel says more children and teachers are coming to Dachau now than in the past, but she relates that more to a newer genereation of teachers, untouched personally by the Nazi era, less ashamed personally and more able to cope with students.

Still, she says, "The general attitude really is not to talk about it, to forget about it if possible."

"The Dachau memorial present s an objective view and it is possible to inform yourself about what happened. But if you really look at what's taught in the schools and what youngsters know about the period, then it is sometimes frightening. It is simply not enough."

And she adds, "It is getting more difficult to explain the whole history to young people because it is so incredible to believe the history of extermination."

Also unlkike the East, the preservation of the camp - where 31,951 inmates died - is not supported by money from the federal government.

"The memorial is a fact. It cannot disappear, even though there was a strong desire to make it disappear before it was restored," Distel says. "But if it hadn't been for the committee of former prisoners, the memorial would nerver have been built." Later, the state of Bavaria provided some financial assistance.

While Dachau is the only camp left in the West, the East Germans also preserve the notorious Ravensbrueck camp for women and the Sachsenhausen camp near the Berlin as memorials.

Though outwardly Buchenwald and Dachau look alike - the same crematoriums and pits where prisoners were shot in the neck into open graves - the subtle differences in the way the camps are preserved and presented to visitors reflect the ironies of the post-war years.

West Germany, with 62 million people, has become a booming, prosperous, open and democratic society with, as Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said recently, "the greatest degree of freedom in German history."

East Germany's 17 million people have also achieved a semblance of prosperity, measured by Communist terms. But it is dull, ggray prospeirity, overshadowed by the fact that the citizens are walled in by borders fortified with automatically-triggered guns and minefields.

Yet the East - undoubtled with some Soviet insistence - seems to have succeeded in getting rid of the Nazi image better than the West.

"Repression and dissent" in the East "are another problem," Distel says. "And of course, politics are included" in the way the regime uses Buchenwald.

"But I think they have succeeded in East Germany, maybe not completely but much more than here in West German, in really clearing the former Nazi from public positions. Of course, there were as many Nazis [proportionately] in the East as in the West. But they don't play the role they do here or have the positions.

"That's just my opinion," says Distel, who is German. But it is not uncommon opinion among many Europeans, even those who admire West Germany prosperity and openess.

Indeed, historians express wide agreement that the extent of denazification within a divided Germany was determined largely by the differing post-war needs of the Americans in the West and the Russians in the East.

In the Soviet zone, subjugation of all non-Communist political parties was harsh and the dismantling of the arms and related industry was complete. Some 1,400 factories were taken apart and shipped back to Russia.

"You start from the idea that to change East German society you [the Soviets] had to change the roots of political and economic power completely," says professor Alfred Grosser, the German-born, French -educated author who is among the most respected authorities on Germany's post-war years.

"On the Western side, you had, nearly immediately, the new definition of democracy - not only to be anti-Nazi but also to resist Eastern totalitarianism.

"The American authorities very quickly thought it would be useful to have the Germans also fight communism, and among the people who could be most useful you had, of course, people who had at least some links with National Socialism."

Transferring the Guilt

BUT WHAT of the guilt? Do the big camp monuments in the East in comparison to the lower-key memorial at Dachau mean that West Germans harbor more guilt than the Easterners for the sins of the Nazis?

"In principle," says historian-author Golo Mann - son of Germany's renowned novelist, the last Thomas Mann - "the West Germans felt more guilt because they accepted that it was they - the Germans - who were responsible.

"For the East Germans, it was "the fascists, the imperialists, the capitalists, the Nazis' - but not the Germans. So at least in theory, and I think also in reality, there was a stronger sense of identity in the West rather than in the East with those guilty.

"Who paid those hundreds of millions of Deutschmarks to the Jews for reparations? he asks. "East Germany of West? The Federal Republic assumed full responsibility. In the East, they never did pay because they told themselves, "It was not us, it was the fascists."

It is quite possible that the private view at the family dinner table in the post-war West, Mann says, "may have been: Why the hell do we pay all that money and the other side pays nothing? But they accepted it and they didn't dare to challenge [former Chancellor Konrad] Adenauer over it."

Grosser makes a similar point.

Germans generally prefer to forget now, he says, and it has never been easy to clarify any consensus of public consciousness on this question of division of guilt on either post-war side.

"But you have to make a clear separation between guilt and liability," the professor warns.

"With all that Buchenwald commemoration, East Germany had never accepted any liability for what was done by Hitler. Everytime there are reparations paid, the West Germans do it.

"Adenauer's treaty with Israel, Willy Brandt's falling to his knees in front of the Warsaw Ghetto memorial, showed a continuity of accepting liability for what was done in Germany's name."

"But on the Eastern side, it is as if Hitler had somehow been outside the German people. They speak about crimes, but of course the crimes are limited only to a few people and only they are guilty. And so we, the German people, have nothing to do with the crimes of Hitlers."

The East German theory, he continues, referring to a famous post-war East German film, is that there were the Krupps and the Krauses.

"The Krupps - the industrialists - were guilty. The Krauses - simple, hard-working people, virtous, progressive, humanistic and socialistic - were innocent."

"Of course, in West Germany thoughtful people know that it was more complex and that many workers were Nazis and that a certain times nine-tenths of the whole population were Nazis.

It was not just the shame of certain professions . . . not the industrialists who put Hitler into power. It was essentially the voters. Without those 20 million voters, he would never have come to power."

The role of the industrialists, Grosser adds, "was by far smaller that what is said in East Germany and greater than what is accepted in the West. Their role mainly was that some of them helped Hitler come to power. But to help him come to power is not to accept the war, to accept Auschwitz. In East Germany, the way of writing history is as if people who helped Hitler come to power knew exactly that he would kill millions of people, and I don't think that is verytrue."

In Eastern Europe, he adds, nobody asks the Communists what they did when the Gulag wa especially active. "It is a question you are not supposed to ask in East Germany," where history books are written as though the period of cooperation between Stalin and Hitler in 1939-41 never existed.

"Whose fault was it?" West Germany's current president, Walter Scheed, asked in a remarkable speech on May 8, 1975, 30 years after the Third Reich fell.

"Let every German who at that time had a sense of responsiblity settle with his own conscience whether he is guilty, whether he has reason to feel ashamed," he said.

More than half of Germany's population today was born since the war began. Scheel said: "I know there is a growing number of people who do not want to hear of this theme anymore . . . who are tired of going about is sackcloth and ashes because crimes were commited in which they had no part."

But Scheel added: "We do not forget that the liberation came from outside - that we Germans were not capable of shaking the yoke off ourselves; that half the world had to be destroyed before Adolf Hitler was removed from the stage of history."

No such speeched are made in East Germany, where the government apparently decided years ago that, by encouraging the people to identify with anti-Nazi communism, it might relieve the burden of citizens dealing on a personal basis with their individual relationship to the Third Reich.

To Grosser, the speech caught the ambiguity in German minds about May 8, 1945. It was a national catastrophe, a day of liberation, and the beginnig of a divided Germany, he says.

"But if you go to East Berlin, to the huge Soviet soldier memorial, you will see that whole classes of East German school children are led there daily to be told that it was purely, and only a liberation in May, 1945.

"I am quite certain," he says, "that the East German people do not accept this interpretation either. It is impossible that the East Germans remember that the Russian troops came only to liberate them."

"But that was 32 years ago," Mann notes. "The world and the country has changed profoundly, radically."

Both Mann and Grosser reflect the common view that time has wiped away much of the lingering guilt.

"It is simply too long ago. I mean how old must one be to feel any sense of shame or responsibility today," Mann says.

In the East, he adds, in the first two decades after the war, people were probably too poor and too worried to be greatly interested in that Nazi past.

In the West, the prevailing view today is that Germans on the allied side of the border have proven themselves for more than 30 years now to be both good allies and democrats and should no longer be constantly burdened with reminders of the Nazi past.

"You know," Mann mused, "that many West German school classes from Munich and Bavaria are taken to Dachau. And teachers of religion in the West take their duties very seriously.

"But as a teacher, I have my doubts. Of course, one has to touch on the Nazi past. But whether one should cultivate the sense of repentance in children who were born 20 years later - I don't know. It is quite a problem."

Culture and Cruelty

IT WAS at Buchenwald, with its ovens and medical experimnetation rooms for humans, that the wife of former camp commandant Karl Koch collected tattooed human skins and had a lampshade made of human skin. Those grisly mementos can be seen here.

Yet what makes Buchenwald even more bizarre than other camps is it location.

The place, representing perhaps, the ultimate in human cruelty, is carved out of a hilly plateau overlooking Weimar, once the seat of German humanism and the capital of Germany's most ambitious attempt at parliamentary democracy in the pre-Hitler years.

Here, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Bach and Liszt composed music and Schiller and Goethe wrote poetry.

Goethe frequently hiked to the thickly wooded Thuringen hills. Almost 200 years later, the famous oak tree he liked to rest under was uprooted by Buchenwald inmates forced to build their own death camp.

This juxtaposition of culture and cruelty has not escaped the East Germans, who use the humanist traditions of this area effectively to begin a 50-minure film which visitors are shown about Buchenwald.

From the time Buchenwald opened on July 16, 1937, 238,980 inmates were admitted. At first, most were political prisoners, Germans of every religious belief who opposed the Hitler regime. Then, after the "Crystal Night" of 1938, when synagogues around the country were burned, thousands of Jews were sent here. Then came thousands of captured Soviet prisoners of war, along with Czechs, Poles and, later, some French, British and Canadian prisoners.

There were both Communist and non-Communist underground organizations in the camp. But as in Dachau and many other places, the largest and best-organized groups were the Communists, according to accounts by survivors in both East and West.

The current East German government exploits this in its message about Buchenwald's contemporary value.

"The German anti-fascists," the literature given out here says, "did not abandon their struggle. They embodied the better Germany.They salvaged the honor of the German nation."

A former British prisoner at Buchenwald, Christopher Burney, saw it differently in his book "The Dungeon Democracy," written in 1946.

"The Communists were merely Nazis painted red, neither better or worse, pawning their souls and their fellow's lives for a mock abstract power" within the camp, he wrote.

Day of Liberation

THIRTY-TWO years ago, on April 11, 1945, American tanks, the spearhead of Gen. George Patton's corps, rumbled up to Buchenwald.

Over the entrance gate, lettered in iron, was the camp's murky slogan: Jedem Das Seine - "To Each His Due."

Although Soviet armies were putting intense pressure on what was left on Hitler's Wehrmacht in the east at the time, the fact that Americans got the Buchenwald first is clearly a source of annonyance to the Pankow regime.

The Americans' arrival receives one line in the vast documentation displayed in the museum. The visual theme for the visitor is a drawing of a Soviet prisoner rifle in hand, batting down the barbed wire. The East German film and guidebooks describe a fear of mass annihilation at the end and a call for help over an underground radio at Patton's nearby army that went unanswered. So, using hidden weapons, the inmates overcome the remaining SS guards.

The clock over the entrance is permanently fixed at 3:15 p.m., the time on April 11 when "the liberation banner was flying over the camp gate . . . and the international [Communist] camp committee took charge."

Burney's account of that day is different. The commandant and much of the guard had already left, he wrote.

"At about midday, the SS sentries left their posts and disappeared. Two hours later, when the coast was well clear, daring prisoners hoisted the white flag from the main mast." Others took hidden weapons from the secret dump.

"They were very childish, forming bands of different nationalities and marching about looking as if they had defeated te entire Wehrmacht . . . At 5, the first American tank came to the camp and I went up to touch it to make sure that it was true. But in that atmosphere it was hard to appreciate what had happened."