In the north of berlin in the suburb of Oranienburg you find the Sachsenhausen concentration camp which was established in 1936 to house political prisoners until the down fall of the Third Reich. Oranienburg became the headquarter of the entire concentration camp system and Sachsenhausen were used as the training ground of the SS guards who would later be send off to other camps around Germany and the occupied territories to the east.
The camp wasn’t originally built as an extermination camp and when the decision of the holocaust was made the Jewish prisoners were not killed inside the camp instead they were deported to the east to be killed in Auschwitz in 1942. In 1943 the camp commandant decided to add a gas chamber and a cremation oven to make it possible to kill a larger number of prisoners.
Today you can go and visit the camp and the on location museum. It is about 2 kilometers from the station in Oranienburg so you might want to take a bus – just be warned there is a limited number of bus only one every hour or second hour and not a huge amount of taxis standing by. So I decided just to walk the 2 kilometers to the entrance. It is free to visit the complex and you can get a small guide book for 0.5 € or an audio guide for 3 € to let you have some of the history of the camp.
You reach the camp by walking through a long walkway with a wall on the one side and some buildings on the other side I guess some of these buildings is where the camp personnel used to have their daily life. On the wall are some displays telling some of the history of the camp.
When you enter the camp you walk through a large building and gate with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (work make you free) the letters here are smaller than the more famous sign with these words in Auschwitz.
After you have passed the gate you get into the main area of the camp where the barracks housing the prisoners used to be. The area is enclosed by a wall with several guard tower placed in the wall. There are only a few barracks left and you can go into one of them to see the building which has been transformed into a museum of the history of the camp and the era.
Behind the barracks is a big soviet memorial for the liberation of the camp and it dominates the open area behind the few remaining barracks.
Behind the memorial is a corner watch tower which you can enter and see a bit of an exhibition I went in thinking you would get a good overview of the area from the top – but you can’t actually see out from the tower you can only go up the stair inside and look at the displays.
Behind the wall which encloses the barracks is another area. This is the most sinister part of the camp. Out here is an area where soviet prisoners of war were executed and it is also the location of the gas chamber and the crematorium which were built here in 1943.
In total the Nazi regime imprisoned a total of 200,000 people in the camp during its time of operation and an estimated 30,000 people died during this time from malnutrition, sickness and execution.
You would think the atrocities would stop when the war finished and the Soviets liberated the camp. But this wasn’t really the case. The Soviets political arm of the army the NKVD decided to open their special camp number one at Sachsenhausen it was later renamed camp number 7. You can visit some of the buildings from this era outside the wall of the original Nazi concentration camp. Out here you can see how inmates slept on a piece of wood on the floor closely together. The soviets operated the camp from August 1945 till the spring of 1950 and a total of 60,000 were imprisoned in the camp – some might have connections to the old regime while other had not. An estimated 12,500 died during the soviet rule of the camp.
I walk from the soviet camp out back towards the entrance of the camp. Close to the entrance is a little open area where there is some tracks with different sorts of rough surface. These were made so prisoners could be forced to walk across the different rough surface for hours to investigate how different materials for the sole of the shoes would handle the surface.
Right next to the entrance is a neutral zone. This was a kill zone for the prisoners. If any inmate would set foot at this area they would be shot without any warning.
It is a sunny day during my visit so the area today look peaceful and there are a lot of people living right next to the camp – I am not sure what kind of ghost might hunt the people living just outside the wall of the town.