RS7_PHOTOGRAPHY

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, Berlin, 13th September 2018

October 9, 2018
Written by: Rob Slusar

Once again I apologise for being sporadic with my posting. After having had issues with Lightroom, I have had to retouch all of the pictures I had done. As such this has held back some reports.

I also have thought hard about whether or not I should share this report. Given the site’s dark history, I wondered whether it would cause upset or discomfort for readers. I have decided that history needs to be told, to prevent us committing the same crimes again. The site in question is Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Sachsenhausen

Based on the outskirts of the town of Oranienberg, Sachsenhausen was one of the earliest concentration camps to be constructed (believed to be second only to Dachau).

When construction started in 1936, the site was designed around the idea of a triangle. Each boundary wall was to be 600m in length covered by a single guard tower (Tower A) which could monitor all areas of the compound. The initial site covered around 18 hectares. By the end of the war, it covered over 400.

Sachsenhausen was proposed as an internment camp for mainly political prisoners. Some of the notable figures held within its walls were Martin Niem√∂ller, Georg Elser and also Stalin’s son. As with other campes, the entrance gate was adorned with the words “Arbeit macht frei” or “Work sets you free”. For the early part of the camp’s life, this was to an extent true.

As the oppression of the Nazi regime increased, the size of the camp increased, with all the work being carried out by the inmates. Eventually the triangle had to be extended making the monitoring of the site more difficult. By 1945, it is believed that site and it’s satellite locations contained around 70,000 inmates (not including those murdered). Among these numbers were political prisoners, women, Jews and Soviet prisoners of war.

Initially, the camp was not set up for mass murder, and as such this wasn’t carried out for the first period of its life. This all changed in September of 1941 when the systematic murder of 10,000 Soviet soldiers took place over a two week period. As the camp went on it was expanded to include a firing trench and a gas chamber, although it is not clear if the chamber was used.

Towards the end of 1944, the SS began the process of more mass extermination in preparation for evacuation of the camp. This involved the killing of another several thousand inmates. The camp was “evacuated in April 1945, with those fit to walk “death marched” towards other camps (or as some believed to no end goal), those elderly or unwell were left behind. On the 22nd/23rd April, the camp was liberated by the Soviet army where they found around 3,400 inmates in various forms of suffering. Those who survived the death march were liberated by other allied forces in the first week of May.

After the war ended, the Soviets occupied the camp until 1950, and held around 60,000 prisoners in the camp over that period.

Of the roughly 200,000 prisoners who passed through Sachsenhausen, some 100,000 died there, mainly from disease, executions, and overwork.

After closure, the Soviets preserved the camp as a monument to their fallen comrades. Since 2001 the camp operates as a museum, as a tribute to those who died there, and at other camps around Europe.

The Pictures

I won’t lie, I had reservations about taking pictures here. You are allowed to of course, but I didn’t want to trivialise the history by filling the internet with lots of pictures. In the end I took pictures to hopefully tell an accurate story of the site. Out of respect for the victims, I decided not to take any pictures around the firing trench, gas chamber or around the mass graves dotted around the site.

At the entrance to the museum there is a large visual representation of the site layout. This included the properties (which still exist) outside the camp which housed the SS officers. Some of the SS barracks are still used by the police training centre.

Inmates would enter the site through Tower A. In the original layout, machine gunners would have a full view of the camp. The layout was designed to prevent hidden meetings. The clock is now set at the time the Soviets liberated the site (although this can’t be verified).

As well as the high walls, there was a “neutral zone” around the camp. The neutral zone was more of a kill zone.

The first death recorded at Sachsenhausen occurred in this neutral zone. An SS officer knocked the hat of an inmate into the neutral zone, instructing the inmate to retrieve it. Upon entering the zone the officer had him killed. The official cause of death was “shot whilst escaping”.

Some of the inmates huts still remain. 140 inmates were expected to live in each barrack. Sleeping on 3 tier high bunks, they would be expected to eat, sleep, and wash within their unit.

As you can see. There was not a lot of space for 140 people. Sadly, when these units were restored for the museum, some vandals believed to be Neo Nazi’s entered the site and set fire to them. Although badly damaged, they were repaired. In both these units the charred beams are protected by glass, to remind people¬†hate still exists.

As well as Tower A, additional towers were located at each point of the original triangle.

Even the high walls had even more barbed wire on top to prevent escapes.

This is the demolished part of the prison, which was mainly reserved for important prisoners. They were kept in small cells until execution, for torture or to use as potential prisoner trades with opposing forces. Stalin’s own son was here, and when offered as trade, Stalin refused to negotiate. He is thought to have killed himself in 1943 by throwing himself on the electrified fencing.

These columns would have been used as torture points. Prisoners would have been hooked from the arms before a chair supporting them was kicked away. This would cause dislocations or major muscle damage.

Throughout all the suffering, there is signs that the inmates made the best of what they could.

Within the kitchen basement (now the museum room) a number of wall paintings can be found. A number of these date from the Soviet occupation of the camp.

There would have been around 30 inmate dorms when the site originally opened, although this was extended. These stone rectangles are based around the outlines of the old buildings.

These towers along the length of the main walls were added later as the camp expanded.

This column, statue and parade yard were built in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when the site was designated as a Soviet memorial to the approximately 15,000 Soviet POWs executed here.

In typical Soviet fashion, the monuments were a celebration of socialism and were in essence propaganda. This statue shows prisoners being liberated. Inmates are shown walking with the soldier, the real truth is those left at the camp were unable to walk out.

This angle shows better the corner towers around the triangle.

These towers would have been equipped with search lights. You couldn’t go in them.

The final corner tower.

As there was a lot of disease in the site, a medical block was needed.

Depending on your status in the camp it depended on what treatment you got. British POWs had fairly good care, Soviet soldiers not so much.

Like other camps, the medical wing also carried out inhumane experiments on the inmates. At this site, inmates were injected with diseases such as Hepatitis and were forcefully cut and injured to get gangrene and infections so treatment could be found for the front line troops.

This was pretty much the last photo I took and possibly the most uncomfortable. This was the morgue. The medical wing, whether by design or just chance still smell like hospital and death. I wanted to post this in order to show that this is not just a museum, this is a place where thousands of people died.

Finale

Hopefully this tells you some of the story of Sachsenhausen, and I hope my pictures have done it justice.

It is a sombre place and at times it is harrowing to see. I reached my limit by the time we got to the medical block, and at this point I stopped taking pictures.

Some wartime sites can come off as just a museum, but here, you could really feel the oppressive atmosphere of what happened here all those years ago. Sites like this are important. It makes you realise how far hate can go. It’s beyond all comprehension how evil the people who ordered these sites and the actions that went on in them are.

Even if you are not into war history, this is the kind of site you need to see in your lifetime. If we don’t take time to remember what happened at places like this, it can happen all over again.

It’s worth noting at this point, that as with my tour of Berlin, I took this tour with Original Berlin Walking Tours. I am in no way endorsed by them, but their presentation of the tours, especially this one was top notch. Should you be in Berlin look them up.

Thanks for looking.

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