Berlin: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and Memorial

 

I went to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and Memorial with a friend.  We met up at Alexanderplatz U-Bahn station, and the tour started at 10am.  This was not my first concentration camp.  The first concentration camp I had been to was Dachau in southern Germany.  Six years ago, I went there with a group and it was a very emotional experience.  I never even made it to see the barracks.

 

This is not an in depth description of my visit, and I left out a ton of horrible stories.  I tried to stick to a minimum.  It is very difficult to write about this, and it is not enjoyable to read.  I would recommend going on a tour to a concentration or extermination camp at least once in your life.  It is important to do so.

If you do not want to read about the Nazi concentration camp, please skip to the section after the liberation of the concentration camp by the Soviets.  It is really important.  (There is a heading so you can scroll down and see it.)

A little history…

 

This was the first purpose built concentration camp.  That means that although it was not the first camp, it was the first camp constructed with the intent to be a concentration camp.  Next to this camp, the T-building was the building that administered and oversaw the running of the concentration camps. What was learned from this concentration camp was implemented in concentration camps throughout Germany.  The SS, the organization in charge of the concentration camps also trained their staff here.  They were trained like dogs to dehumanize them.  For example, if one of them dropped a bullet during training, they would be forced to pick it up with their teeth.  New SS employees were housed in one of the Concentration Camp sub-camps.  This severe form of hazing dehumanized and brainwashed the SS personnel.  This does not mean that they are innocent.  It simply demonstrates the type of control at all levels that existed.

 

This camp was designed with total terror and control in mind.  At the base of the triangle, there is an entrance gate, called Tower A.  This is where the prisoners would enter the camp.  On the gate in wrought iron, it read:

 

3. The inscription on the gates of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp - 'Work makes you Free'
“Work will set you free.”

 

From this tower, one could see the entire camp.  The barracks were laid out so that the guards stationed on top with machine guns could see everywhere and had a clear line of sight to shoot anyone.   It was said that the range of the guns covered the entire plant.

 

The small camp not inside that triangle was built later, it was a sub-camp, and it housed Jews.

 

 

The map, showing the shapes of the buildings.  Note Tower A looming over the entire camp.

 

The semi circle of empty space around Tower A was where rollcall happened.  There were gallows that were occasionally erected.  Prisoners would be hung from them with everyone watching.  At Christmastime, they would put a christmas tree over the spot where the gallows were erected.

 

Outside the camp, the workers worked in factories.  When the war started, the factories started to produce bullets.

 

Two of the barracks remain to this day.  They were reconstructed using original materials.  Each one housed 300 men.  The conditions were terrible.  These were their bathrooms.  With only 45 minutes to get up, straighten up the straw beds, eat breakfast and go to the bathroom, people would have been trampled, and there would have been human waste all over the floor.  There were also stories of SS guards drowning several prisoners in the toilets.

 

 

 

 

To prevent people from escaping, this was the security:

 

 

The gravel would have been sand so that the guards could see if people set foot there.  The sign says that it is neutral ground and that you will be shot without warning.  Then, there was barbed wire.  If you made it past the machine guns on the towers, you had to get over that.  After that, there is an electric fence that will kill you.  If you manage to get past that, there is an 8 foot stone wall.  After that, you have a bit before you escape the entire camp area.  The factories and administration buildings were outside there.  If you did manage to escape them, you were in prison uniform, and you needed papers to get back inside Berlin.

 

At the end of the tour, we stopped at Building “Zed” or Building Z.  The SS personnel had a sick humor.  Remember Building or Tower A?  Well, once the “Final Solution” was implemented, a crematorium was built at this camp.  The people would enter a gassing chamber.  Then their bodies would be burned in the crematorium.  The building that this was done in was named, “Building Z.”  A prisoner would start at A and end at Z.  Seeing the brick and twisted metal remains of the three furnaces was probably the worst part.

 

I was there on a tour for about 5 and a half hours.  There is a lot to say, but it is very heavy, dark and emotionally difficult.  No one can really describe what it is like to go to one.  You just have to experience it.

 

In 1945, the concentration camp was liberated by the Russians.  

During the Nazi reign, there were 200,000 people who were housed in the camps.  About 50,000 died, not by purposeful extermination, but from disease, starvation and horrible conditions.

 

The Soviets built a memorial to the Anti-fascist political prisoners.  They did not commemorate anyone else.

 

Erected by the soviets just outside the concentration camp to commemorate the Anti-Fascist political prisoners that suffered in the Nazi concentration camp.

Three months after the liberation of this Nazi concentration camp by the soviets, the soviets started to use it as their own concentration camp to house political dissidents.

As we learned, some things were different during Nazi and Soviet rule.

 

During Nazi rule, inmates could write a letter once every one to two months.  These letters were highly censored, of course.  This was not allowed when it was a soviet concentration camp.

 

During Nazi rule, if you requested an urn of your deceased’s ashes, you could receive them.  Now it would probably be someone elses ashes, but you would get an urn.  This did not happen during Soviet rule.  Once people entered the concentration camp systems, relatives received no information and did not know if their loved ones were dead or alive.

 

Also, the security system was added to in Soviet times.  In between the electric fence and the 8 foot wall, dogs were added.

 

These are the only things I know that were different between the Soviet and Nazi use of this concentration camp.

I still cannot get over the fact that after the liberation of this camp, the Soviets honored some of the victims of the Nazi camp while they used the facilities for their own concentration camp.