A visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp

the infamous gate

While I love Germany, the country does have a really dark past that’s hard to ignore. Being a history buff, I wanted to visit a concentration camp at one point, however depressing as it may be. When the opportunity came up to go with Martin, my friend from Berlin, we decided to take it.

The Sachsenhausen concentration camp opens daily from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, and the visit ended up being an unusual one for us, because after sleeping in, and taking the train, we didn’t get there until 4pm. They still let us in, and we were able to stay until close to 5pm, although there were only a handful of people by then, and against the cold winter’s breeze, and the dark night sky that loomed during our visit, it ended up feeling even more creepy than I imagined. Luckily Martin was with me, or else I’d be freaking out!

Sachsenhausen was of course, a real life horror story. Here’s some facts about the place:
(caution: it’s not for the faint of heart!)

It’s located 35 km north of Berlin in a town called Oranienburg, and opened on July 12th, 1936. Between 1936 – 1945, more than 200,000 prisoners were kept, with an estimate of 30-35,000 victims.

The camp has 50 baracks for prisoners, a washroom, kitchen, infirmary, prison, crematorium, gas chamber, and morgues. It’s surrounded by a stone wall over eight feet high, fenced in by electric barbed wire. Around the perimeter, there’s also nine guard towers. There was also a death strip and anyone who ventured there should be shot by the guards without warning.

a memorial for the executed Soviet POW

The SS established this camp as the main camp in the Berlin area, and originally housed mainly political opponents. Soon after, it held Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Soviet prisoners of war. The SS shot many of the Soviet POW shortly after they arrived at the camp.

The SS forced the inmates to build a “Station Z”, used to exterminate prisoners, and 96 Jews were killed execution style. Later on, a gas chamber was added to “Station Z,” although the total number of gassed victims is unknown. In 1945, there was a death march of 33,000 inmates. Thousands died from exhaustion, or shot by the SS. A popular form of extermination involved the SS shooting at an inmate through a hole in the wall, as they are being measured for height.

Walking around the camp was frightening. Upon entering some of the building, I feel like you can immediately feel the horrors of what happened decades ago looming in the air. It’s terrifying to think that in almost every step you take, there was someone brutally murdered in that spot.

pathology building

pathology building dissection lab

The SS doctors also conducted 40 different experiments on the inmates, ranging from sterilizations, castrations, and testing the effects of different toxins in the body. Many died from these experiments.

Despite all this, Sachsenhausen wasn’t intended to be used as an extermination camp. In 1942, all of the Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

After visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I decided to reread Anne Frank’s Diary a few months ago. The thought of thousands of innocent people, including children being forced into these conditions is heartbreaking.

In the end, the camp was liberated by a unit of the 47th Soviet Army on April 22nd, 1945. There were only 3,000 survivors.

What I also find creepy was the fact that right outside the concentration camp, it is now a residential area. There’s literally houses that are about a few steps away from the camp entrance! I don’t think I’d ever be able to live somewhere so close to such a crime.

Sources:

http://www.jewishgen.org/forgottenCamps/Camps/SachsenhausenEng.html
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Sach.html
http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007775

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5 Comments

  1. January 10, 2013 / 8:17 pm

    Wow, I got chills looking through these images. I’m so glad though, that you treated this whole expedition with respect. I always like to read a bit of the locations I’m going to visit before getting there to in some way pay respect to those that were there before me.

    I really enjoyed this! I’m going to follow your blog to keep up with your travels, I hope you come by my blog every once in while.

    http://www.houseofhemingway.com

    Luce

    • Michelle
      Author
      January 14, 2013 / 2:54 pm

      Yea, I think I had goosebumps the whole time I was there!

      And thanks! I’ll definitely check out your blog! 🙂

  2. January 11, 2013 / 7:21 pm

    wow these photos are very chilling. I’ve always wanted to visit a concentration camp..I’m very interested in history as well.
    I didn’t know there were residential houses around there either..

    • Michelle
      Author
      January 14, 2013 / 2:56 pm

      I never really thought about visiting one before, but after visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it became something I was interested in seeing (although once is enough I think!)

      I was so surprised about the residential houses too! I’d be so creeped out living there!

  3. Stacy Phillips
    January 27, 2013 / 1:15 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful post and photos. I visited Sachenhausen in 1982, when I was 18, and East Germany was under Soviet control. I had been to Dachau a few months earlier (in West Germany). It was incredible to hear and read what the East Germans said about what happened at Sachenhausen — it was all about the Soviet soliders — ONLY. It was one totalitarian regime talking about another. Surreal. So glad the wall came down, and the truth came out.
    Like you, by the way, I visited the death camps in the winter. It really does add a dimension to the horrors, especially when you see what they were given to wear. Anyway, thank you for posting.

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