Up and ready by 6:30am, we grabbed food at a local bakery; got on the train and headed to Pariser Platz to met up with the tour guide. He takes us to the town of Oranienburg, where the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is located. The hour train ride to Oranienburg allowed everyone to get to know each other. Our guide, originally from Ohio, moved to Germany after college, and said he hasn’t regretted his decision. One of the people on the tour was studying abroad at the same university my 3 friends were. And the other person was from Canada traveling on his spring break. We talked about everything from our undergraduate careers, wind turbines, culture in Berlin and even Donald Trump.
The walk from Oranienburg station, to the Saschsenhausen concentration camp is the same walk prisoners took. It began raining at the concentration camp once we arrived; I’ve been to an extermination and concentration camp prior to this one, and each time it rained at some point. When passing the “Arbeit macht frei” gate, there’s acres of empty land. The Nazi’s forced prisoners to line-up in this open space for roll call every morning and night. For 3.5-4 hours we learned about the atrocities in this concentration camp; We got first-hand accounts of what Jewish, homosexuals, gypsies, criminals, blacks, and more went through.
Facts about the Sachsenhausen concentration camp
- The first camp built; it became the “model” for how all future concentration camps should look. Having this camp in the Oranienburg area was ideal; being in close proximity to the administrative center for all concentration camps. This camp had proximity to the Nazi’s headquarter location in Berlin.
- After 1945, Soviets used the camp for captured Nazi’s and political prisoners sentenced by Russia.
- In the 90’s, Neo-Nazi’s vandalized the camp a few times. Once they burned half of the barracks; this is were prisoners would sleep in bunkers, use the bathroom and take showers. After this, the German government placed steel around the building to avoid future arson attacks.
- Sachsenhausen was the training center for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers. It’s now a training academy for German police officers – which has caused controversy.
- One of the few camps that staffed women SS guards.
- Originally a concentration camp, Sachsenhausen became a death camp overtime. Gas chambers and overs were built.
- Sachsenhausen was one of the few camps that held political prisoners (including German & French resistance members). They used forms of torture to get information out of traders, American and/or Soviet prisoners of war (POW). Any POW not killed had to be held in solitary confinement, away from other prisoners.
- Prisoners assisted in cleaning up bodies. They appeared healthy and well-dressed to not scare incoming prisoners. These prisoners lived in a different area of the camp to isolate them from other prisoners.
- Sachsenhausen was one of the few camps that held Soviet POW and women.
- Over 9,000 captured Red Army POW got shipped over to Sachsenhausen towards the end of WWII. Nazi’s immediately killed these POW by luring them into a room; a Nazi soldier would shoot the POW in the back of the head through a secret hole in a wall. The Red Army POW thought they’d be getting measured for uniforms; their bodies were burned by prisoners.
- Joseph Stalin’s son was held, and mysteriously died, at Sachsenhausen.
Going to Dachau, Auchwitz and now Sachsenhausen concentration camp – I always leave feeling angry and sadness. Just knowing that millions of people weren’t able to leave like I could. I feel hopeful as well; Germany’s one of the few places in the world that’s trying to acknowledge and rectify their history. Which brings hope that other countries will follow suit. I would highly recommend that EVERYONE go to a concentration camp at some point in their life, if you can. Any concentration camp visit is an overwhelming, and emotional, experience. Seeing a concentration camp first-hand brings a different perspective.