At the beginning of March, I visited Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Oranienburg, Germany.
“More than 200,000 people were imprisoned here by the Nazis and some 50,000 were brutally murdered. Sachsenhausen was initially used to imprison political opponents. Later the camp was used as a training ground for the Holocaust once certain groups had been defined as racially or biologically inferior.”
– Insider Tour, Berlin
I was a part of a tour group and was shown around various parts of the camp, which I have documented with my own photographs and information relayed to me by the tour guide.
‘Work sets you free’
As you go through what would have been the prisoners’ entrance into the camp, the first thing you notice is that on the gate it says ‘Work sets you free.’ Undoubtedly, a cruel taunt by the Nazis to it’s prisoners who’s only way to be free was to die through exhaustion, starvation, exposure, abuse, and lack of medical care.
Along the perimeter are signs that roughly translates to: ‘You will be immediately shot without warning, upon entering this zone’. Many prisoners would enter as a form of suicide.
There were 50 barracks on the site where the prisoners would stay. Each barrack was made to house around 100 prisoners each, but 500 people were crammed inside each one.
There are only a few of the barracks left standing, the rest are commemorated by plaques such as the above.
The Singing Posts
These posts were used as a torture device on prisoners. Prisoners had their wrists bound behind their backs and then hung by their wrists at varying heights. My tour guide explained how the human body can get used to pain and dull it out. However, this procedure would continuously strain / pull / break all kinds of ligaments / tissue / bones, so their bodies would have been put through never ending agony and new pains. They would be left here for up to 3 days and was used as a form of punishment and to get information.
Through here are the buildings where Jewish women were ‘given the option’ to work as prostitutes instead of in the clay fields. They were promised better treatment, but for most of them it meant constant rape, vicious STI’s and continuous pregnancy where their newborns were taken from them and exterminated along with others who were not deemed ‘fit to work’.
The Execution Trench
In this trench several prisoners at a time were executed by gunshot. It was expanded to included gallows which could hang three prisoners at the same time and, due to the increase of executions, its own mortary was also installed.
Station Z / The Extermination Building
It was Sachsenhausen where the Nazis first started experimenting with extermination via gas of their prisoners. It was within these walls – now just the foundations – that they experimented with finding out what they believed were the most ‘humane way’ of mass killing. It was also a way to stop ‘wasting’ bullets.
“Foundation of the crematorium built in 1942, with 4 incinerator gas chambers and Genickschussanlage”
The ‘Genickschussanlage’ mentioned here were rooms where victims thought they were having their photographs and measurements taken. They were placed in a chair and moved up to a certain height. Behind them was a hole in a wall that allowed a soldier of the SS to secretly place his hand into the room with a gun at a specific angle, so the bullet would hit directly into the back of the skull. The victims had no idea this was going to happen.
Below is the gas chamber where the experimentation of extermination by gas took place. Victims were lead into the room on the right and were told to take off all of their clothes, thinking they were going to take a shower. They were lead into the gas chamber, which had a fake drain (shown below) to prevent any panicking.
This is what is left of the four ovens. The Nazis were very careful about when they used the ovens as they didn’t want to raise suspicion of what they were doing. They waited until the wind direction was moving away from the local town so they couldn’t smell anything. The ash that is still left on the doors and grates, etc. are that of the victims that were incinerated.
Photos from the rest of camp
The most striking thing to me about Sachsenhausen and in fact Germany itself, is how they haven’t tried to bury and lose all evidence of what happened here. Instead, they decided to keep it all as a memorial to not only those who suffered under the Nazi regime, but also as a reminder that the atrocities that happened, should never happen again.
It’s very different experiencing a place of such horror in person to reading it in a history book. In a book, you can write it off as just something that happened a long time ago. But when you are standing in the exact same place that one of the victims would have stood and see the rooms for yourself, it’s impossible to ignore it and brings a stark realisation that these horrible atrocities actually happened and not that long ago either. I don’t think it should be just on the German school syllabus that every child should learn the history and visit these camps, it should be in everyone’s eduction to do so. I would highly recommend to everyone to visit Saschenhausen.