April 26, 2011

Berlin Day 3 - Sachsenhausen concentration camp

On day 3 in Berlin we toured the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Be warned, this post contains some grisly details, so skip it if you're not up for that today.

The camp is outside of Oranienburg, which is a small town a short train ride from Berlin. We arrived at the same train station that prisoners arrived at from Berlin.

The camp is a 15-minute walk through town.

Our guide said that it's not known how much the townspeople of Oranienburg knew about what was going on at the camp. 

We arrived at the following sign. I don't know what it says. Something about the Russians who died in the camp and during the death march afterward, as they were the largest group of prisoners, and the Russians took over this camp after World War II, so they built the original memorial. Oranienburg was in Soviet occupied territory, and they used it as a prison for political prisoners, whose treatment was much the same as it was under the Nazi's.

Sachsenhausen was a "work camp," not a "death camp," which means that people were not sent there to be killed like at other camps, such as Dachau. However, 50,000 of the 200,000 people who came to this camp died here, and many of the rest where ultimately sent to death camps, where they were killed. 

This is a guard tower:

This is the entrance:

This sign on the gate at the entrance translates to "work will make you free." Quite the opposite was true in these camps. Most prisoners had only one pair of thin pajamas to wear through all seasons, were starving and overworked, and many of them who weren't killed outright died from starvation and disease.

This is the wall around the camp:

After the Russians left, most of the camp had been left to decay, so there are not many original structures left to see today. Below are two reconstructed buildings where the Jewish prisoners were housed. Each was build to hold 30 people, but ended up holding over 300 men.

This is inside the building, where the men ate:

These are the toilets shared by over 300 men, who had 45 minutes in the morning to get up and washed and fed:

These are the "baths." Men would stand in these while water shot up. To the right are shallow basins for washing feet. Men were drowned in those by Nazi soldiers.

The tall structure in the middle of the picture below is a chimney. Our guide told us that the Nazi soldiers joked that prisoners came in through the gate and left through the chimney.While this was not a "death camp," there was a small room in the chimney building where several groups of incoming prisoners were told that they would be showering before entering the camp, and were gassed instead, and then their bodies burned. 

Other prisoners were told to stand up against a wall in another small room in the chimney building so that their height could be measured. There was a small hole in the wall, and a man with a gun sitting in a room on the other side. When the prisoner stood with his back against the wall, the soldier with the gun would shoot him in the back of the head through the hole. This method was worked out for the sake of "efficiency." This way the prisoner would not be scared and try to fight or flee, somehow this method of killing would not leave a big mess, the soldier with the gun would not have to face the people he was killing, and the room was conveniently located down the hall from the ovens. Our guide said that the Nazis prized "efficiency."

In the picture below is a memorial the Russians made to commemorate their people who were killed here, who made up the largest number of prisoners. Sachsenhausen is currently undergoing an update to properly commemorate all of the people who were killed here, including Jews, Roma ("gypsies"), political prisoners, and homosexuals.

Below is a a more recently installed memorial:


  1. You did a good job of "memorializing" the victims, Julie. Very thoughtful. Mom C.

  2. Oh wow... I think it would be so amazing to visit those places. So much to think about.