Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Why Go To Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp?

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “I’m backpacking in Europe, here to have some fun, so why would I go to a concentration camp to think about death, murder, and Hitler?” Okay, this is a fair point – you are probably backpacking to have fun. If you can spare one day, however, it is well worth the effort and emotional trauma to visit the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

Granted, it is not the most cheerful place to go in Europe. Setting that aside though, it is one of the more important Holocaust sites in Europe. Plus, since so few backpackers go to concentration camps, this is an incredibly unique experience. If that does not persuade you, Sachsenhausen is the only concentration camp that was ever built in Germany, since Hitler liked to keep these things a bit further away from where he lived.

A Macabre Historical Site for Tourists

Sachsenhausen was considered to be the model for all subsequent concentration camps. The Nazis experimented here with architecture, science and gas chambers. Again, not exactly cheerful stuff, but genuine places of interest are not always light of heart during a backpacking tour.

Sachsenhausen Gates Berlin

History of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Sachsenhausen is located in Oranienburg, just 35 kilometres outside of Berlin. Sachsenhausen was built during World War II by the Nazis as a prison and work camp for everyone who opposed the Nazi army. Not everyone placed here was Jewish – lots were political opponents, Romani, and homosexuals. Later in the war, though, the majority were Jewish.

According to the camp records, more than 200,000 people were held in the camp, over nearly 10 years. Most of these people were murdered; the elements of the camp were incredibly harsh. Morning roll calls would take hours, and the prisoners were often left out in the cold for seemingly sadistic reasons. Prisoners were worked to the bone, testing shoes for the Nazi army, and crowded bunk houses spread disease. More prisoners, particularly later in the war, were killed during mass shootings and in the gas chamber.

The Nazi’s believed that they were quite clever. They named the entrance to the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 'Station A.' And the area where they burned the dead bodies 'Station Z.' There were a few noted prisoners in Sachsenhausen, though most people that were deported here were on their way to one of the Central and Eastern European Concentration Camps.

The family of the Crown Prince of Bavaria were briefly held here. Georg Elser, who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1938, was held here for a short time too.

One rather intriguing fact about Sachsenhausen is that it was used to counterfeit American and British money. Of course, this was done with prison labour.

Memorial Sachsenhausen Berlin

The Grim Gas Chamber

One not-so-great fact about Sachsenhausen was that it was the home of the gas chamber. Although the gas chamber at Sachsenhausen was tiny, this is where experimentation on the structure of the gas chamber took place – its use, on a poor group of Russians. After the method was 'perfected,' it was implemented in the Central and Eastern European camps.

Liberation: Post—war

Sachsenhausen was also, unfortunately, the site of medical experimentation. Thankfully this was not on the same scale as Auschwitz, but still quite significant.

The communists are responsible for liberating the concentration camp. They also erected several large statues depicting this historic event.

After the war, the concentration camp was run as a memorial site under the East Germans. The site was neglected and fell into ruin. The East Germans also had the unfortunate habit of not quite telling the whole truth about the site.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, though, the site was turned into the memorial it is now. The mass graves were unearthed and they started preserving the buildings. Finally, the truth about Sachsenhausen became apparent. Lucky for us, we can now wander around the site of murder and death.

Sachsenhausen Barbed Wire Camp

How to Get To Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp?

If you can get over the fact that this is an incredibly sad place, you'll find it is easy to get there from Berlin. Side note: take an umbrella. Every time I visit it is raining cats and dogs.

Berlin Tour Group

The best way to see Sachsenhausen is through a tour group. Although it is certainly easy enough to visit the site on your own, you will miss the stories and explanations of the guided tour when visiting the Memorial. I would recommend using Insider Tours, who also offer tours of Berlin city itself. For about 12-15 euros (less if booked online) it is well worth the cash to get a guided explanation of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. If you insist on being adventurous, however, you can take the 'S1' train from Berlin to the Oranienburg Central Station. You can follow the signs to the memorial site from the train station, which is about another 15-minute walk. If you’d prefer to take the bus, line '804' from Berlin takes you directly to Sachsenhausen.