09 September 2011

Berlin Trip - Sachsenhausen

Sachsenhausen was a work camp that was opened in the 1930's. The propaganda was that the undesirables were going to work and be trained to reenter society. From the train station they were marched through town to the camp - which was the same route that we took. When they brought the Jews to this camp they were snuck in by train at night.

Paublo, our tour guide, explained very well how this camp was not a death camp but a work camp, but there were still executions in this camp. And as the Nazi's campaigns changed (basically as they built death camps and ordered more executions) this camp changed. Toward the end Building Z was built. Building Z was needed due to accomplish all the executions that were ordered. I've tried to include enough pictures to explain and show what I mean.

As we walk around the camp walls to the entrance we pass a building, this building was the SS training building and they were the ones in charge of running Sachsenhausen. So basically you have young 19 / 20 / 23 year old boys guarding you. The building is now the police academy. Our guide had explained that there was controversy over that due to what the building was before, but the police cadets are required to give tours of Sachsenhausen as a reminder of what happened with the horrors of absolute power.

Once inside the gate you enter a courtyard, this was the courtyard where registration and humiliation was done. All the prisoners were stripped and shaved, etc.

During the registration process they were given a badge which signified why they were there. Political prisoners, Jews, Homosexuals, etc. I had always wondered why the prisoners didn't work together and uprise because there were SO many of them. Paublo answered my question as he explained these badges. These badges served to separate the camp into groups and then the soldiers treated each group differently. This created contention and resentment for the groups that were getting better treatment, so there were a lot of prisoners but they didn't unite and uprise because they weren't united.

As they enter the camp the gate tells them "Work will set you free" - such a lie.

It may look like an open field but it wasn't. See those two buildings that are still standing? Well the open area was filled with them. These two buildings serve as a Jewish Museum and a chance to see how cramped the barracks were. Back in the mid-90s they were set on fire by Neo-Nazis, instead of replacing the burnt wood it's still there as a reminder that there is still hate in the world.

There are rectangle slabs with a number engraved on them throughout the area. These are markers representing a barrack that is now gone. If you have a relative that was in that barrack you come visit and leave a rock to symbolize them.

If you entered the neutral zone the guards shot you. At first they killed on sight, but then they started wounded them. Wounding was much worse then death because you were experimented on by the doctors. Gangrene was a big problem for their soldiers and finding a cure was one of the experiments. No one knows why the change in tactics, but our guide guesses it was a way for the soldiers to take back control. For the prisoners to enter the neutral zone they're taking control of their life, and by wounding instead of killing the guards are taking that control away from them - again. I think it's a very interesting theory.

I can't remember what this building / area was called, but you did not want to go there and it was not part of Sachsenhausen. This was were they took special prisoners to make them talk. The young SS soldiers did not guard this area, the more seasoned soldiers were in control here. Do you get my drift?

The building was much larger than what's here, the foundations are still visible. See those poles next to the foundations? They were used to hang these prisoners on them for torture.

Executions were originally done by firing squad in this trench. But this had problems. These young soldiers were having issues from so many firing squads and there started to be more and more execution orders. This is not a death camp so there is no morgue, the dead bodies were piled in a small room down in the trench.

There solution to this problem was to have the prisoners build a "hospital." This "hospital" was Building Z and it was no hospital. They had music playing loudly so the prisoners weren't hearing the gun fire inside. One prisoner would escort another prisoner into an "examination" room and measure their height. One the measuring tool was in place he would knock and a soldier would open a small window at the back of the head / neck area and fire. Another room had prisoners undress and "shower" which was really a gas chamber. There's still a red stain in the drain of this room from the blood.

Building Z also had a crematorium so the bodies no longer needed to pile up in a room.

There are two memorials for the prisoners at the camp. The first was done built in the '50s and was used as propaganda. This memorial is only for the Communist political prisoners and shows the Russians liberating a worker. (At the top of the memorial is the badge used for Communist political prisoners) But this isn't anything new, how many times have governments taken an event and used it for their own means? It's done today. But when the Russians arrived they didn't liberate anything because the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were on forced marches northward.

Another memorial was created and placed in Building Z to remember ALL prisoners that suffered and were killed at the camp.

After the evacuation the camp was used by the Soviets until the 50s. In the late 90's there were mass graves discovered from the Soviet period.

I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to visit Sachsenhausen, it was a somber experience but one that I'll never forget.

To be continued - My final post on my Berlin trip will be next.....


Nancy said...

This makes me so sad to read, but it's something we all need to know and remember. When we went to Eastern Europe I felt very somber as well. So much history of the era and all so sad. It's hard to believe Gods children can do this to our brothers and sisters.

Ivon said...

You have documented your visit in a way that reminds us all of the horrors of thy world. Love you.

Laura said...

Wow, what a place. So sad. I'm glad they are not letting people forget. You did a great post, Steph.