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.
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 Niemöller, 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.
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.
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.