Sachsenhausen concentration camp is located just outside Berlin and offers a 6 hour guided tour. The camp was built by slave laborers in 1936 and became the model for all other camps during World War II. They used this site to train guards for positions at other camps so it was referred to as a ‘school of brutality’. It wasn’t originally intended to be a death camp, but rather a workers camp. However, the installation of a gas chamber and shooting yard and crematorium changed this in 1942. By the end of the war over 50,000 people had died there. Sachsenhausen continued to be used by the Communist occupiers from 1945 to 1950 who secretly used the camp to detain political enemies. Thousands more perished during this time.
If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you know that in my Amsterdam post, I talked about the importance of visiting historical sites such as these, even though it’s emotional devastating. It’s important that we remember the worst times of our world’s history. With that said, this post has specifics about the camp and the lives that were lost there. It should not be easy to read.
Map of the camp layout:
Clock that is stopped at the time of liberation:
Original barrack where soldiers had dances and nice dinners. They were served by the inmates at the camp:
The grounds where the barracks used to be. They were torn down by the Soviets:
The barbed wire fences. This was called the ‘death zone’ because it was impossible to escape, those who tried would always be killed:
Original barracks, this was an extra zone for the Jews because they had to expand because there wasn’t enough room in the original camp:
The places where barracks used to be are now marked by stone:
Inside original barracks; the washroom and toilets:
A ‘generous’ replica: they didn’t really have bunks in these specific barracks because there were too many people. They were forced to lie on top of each other on the floor:
Remnants of items found when liberated:
Monument created by the Soviets. The red triangle represents the communists. Originally this monument was only for communist victims:
Foundations of the cells:
Stakes to hang people-they cuffed their hands behind their back and hung them from their wrists which would dislocate their shoulders:
Solitary confinement-would drop prisoners in a well-type hole for weeks at a time as punishment:
Track where prisoners were forced to try out boots for soldiers. They had to run 8 km (~5 miles) at the beginning until they decided it wasn’t enough so they were forced to run 24 km (~15 miles) in each pair of new boots to see how well they were made:
Walls of photos/bios:
Mound where bodies were found during liberation. It’s now a memorial where visitors place rocks for those that lost their lives:
Memorial of Liberation:
Gas chamber foundations-they also used to kill people by having them sit in a chair for a ‘medical exam’ and then would shoot them in the back of the head:
Original furnace to burn bodies:
Original building for autopsies. People weren’t trained to do the autopsy. They only made a few incisions and then stitched them:
Original autopsy tables:
Memorial: at the end of the war there were 36,000 people in this camp. 6,000 were left in the camp too weak to leave, while the other 30,000 were forced to march to ships so that they could be drowned. This memorial is for those who died either along the way or during liberation – 3,000 in total. Many died from their first meal because their bodied couldn’t handle the food:
This was my first experience at a Concentration Camp. Standing in the ‘death zone’, seeing the track and the stakes that were used to hang people are things that I will never forget. It’s so hard to imagine people living in those circumstances. The idea of being trapped against your will and wanting so desperately to get free that you would try almost anything, including an impossible escape: it makes me very grateful for everything that I have and the life that I’ve been able to live.
After my time at Sachsenhausen, I decided to change my travel plans. Getting to Greece was turning out to be an issue with transportation and time (I had to get back to the United States 6 weeks before my job started so that I could get my visa and get back to Spain. (I will do another post on the amazing process of moving overseas later.) Being at the workers camp made me realize that I really wanted to visit a death camp while I was in Europe, so I decided to cut Greece from my itinerary and make a stop in Munich later in my trip so that I could also visit Dachau.