A Tour in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

The Sachsenhausen concentration camp was first built to imprison political opponents, however, other kinds of prisoners were kept there too, many of whom the Nazis affirmed being “racial and biological inferior”.

As I said, the objective of this camp was to maintain prisoners, but later on, they began to exterminate inmates after high SS officials created the “final solution”, in other words, the extermination of Jews. We took a tour in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and even though it is a sorrowful place, as you have noticed by now, we didn’t regret going there at all.

green-barrack-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp

 

This concentration camp is located 35 km to the North of Berlin, easily reachable by train. We had an amazing guide who explained a lot about this place and its history. The visit wouldn’t be the same without all his knowledge about World War II and passionate explanation about how the war developed over the years.

This tour was intense, but it is undeniably a must-do in Berlin because the world needs to see what those people went through. I’ve written a bit of what I learned at the tour, read further to understand a little more of what life was like in a concentration camp in Germany.

 

Horrifying Conditions

Sachsenhausen was built to be the ideal concentration camp: according to Himmler, SS leader, this was a model of a “modern, up-to-date, ideal and easily expandable concentration camp”. The architecture of the camp has a symbolic representation, it’s a triangle of hierarchy where the SS administration is located at the center and the prisoners would be symbolically subjugated to their power.

In total, around 200.000 people were held as prisoners in Sachsenhausen. At some point, about 950 men were sleeping in one barrack. Sanitary conditions were very basic, and diseases would spread easily. Each barrack has a central washing area for all the prisoners, only with cold water, of course.

Winters in Germany can be severe and given the fact that they didn’t have much fat on their bodies or even warm clothes (many didn’t even have shoes), surviving was really a matter of being lucky and wanting to live! Because, to keep living in those conditions, you need to hold on to something. Maybe for a better future where all this suffering doesn’t exist, otherwise you let your body succumb.

The daily menu was a small cup of broth, in which rotten vegetables were very often used, and a piece of old bread.abandoned-washing-room-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp abandoned-toilet-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp

 

Ps: It was 0 degrees Celsius when we were there, I had a few layers of warm clothes and had had a decent warm meal, but I was still freezing. The barracks had no isolation and the washing area was in front of the door. I can’t imagine the pain of those people…

Cigarettes are nowadays considered a mean of payment in prisons. It wasn’t different in Sachsenhausen. Inmates would use contraband cigarettes in exchange for a little more food ration. They didn’t really smoke them, because if that would mean food, then they should trade for it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t make until the next day. However, if someone was seen smoking, it was a clear sign this person had given up and it was a matter of days before he would die…

 

Pleasure in Cruelty

Arbeit Macht Frei – work makes you free. This slogan is written in the gate of Sachsenhausen and that’s what many prisoners thought at first: they would work for the Nazis so they could pay for their debts (of being Jewish) and then they would go back home. Soon enough they realized they have been lied to. Prisoners were made slaves and were even treated as an object to be rented. The Nazi party would rent out many inmates to companies in the area as they were cheap labor.

gray-barrack-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp

 

A famous way to earn some money on the cost of the prisoners was to execute boot testing for shoe companies. They would select more than 100 prisoners who had to use new shoes and run 40 km a day over tracks made of sand, cement, broken stones, cinders, and gravels.

Later on, this was used as torture, but then they made a few adaptations: the inmates would use shoes 1 or 2 sizes smaller and had to run holding sacks filled with 20 kg of sand. The prisoners chosen for this torment would run every day until their bodies wouldn’t be able to keep going. One thing was for sure: if you were chosen, you knew you were going to die. Again, remember they didn’t have proper food.

Medical experiments were also performed at the camp, in an attempt to show that Jews and Gypsies had different blood from Germans.

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Nazi Selection

In 1941, the SS doctors would select prisoners to what they called euthanasia program, a clandestine murder plan. This procedure was executed to give continuation to the process of cleaning Germany of the “unworthy of life”. The people who had a physical or mental disability would be killed, inside and outside the camp.

It all started with children, they encouraged parents to take their kids with disabilities to pediatric clinics, in reality, they would murder those children by lethal doses of medication or starvation. It’s estimated that around 5.000 children lost their lives to the euthanasia program.

Back to the Sachsenhausen, there were execution trenches where prisoners would be shot dead. Next to these trenches lie the gas chamber and the crematorium. They died of exhaustion, hunger, illness, abuse, the cold, medical experiments, public executions or in mass murders. At some point, around 10.000 people would die every month. Some of the survivors say many of those who were brought to the crematorium were still alive…

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Crematory
gas-chamber-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp
Gas Chamber

 

Practical information

To read everything and visit all the places in the camp, reserve 4-6 hours for it. We did a very informative tour and it took 3 hours, we skipped a few exhibitions, but it was “enough”. We didn’t want to spend a day there, as you can imagine the place has a heavy energy giving all the things that happened there.

Take water and snacks with you for during the tour. There is a cafe at the entrance, but it’s not like you’ll cross the camp to get something to eat and then go back to your tour.

We booked the Sachsenhausen tour in English, they also offer it in Spanish. Our guide, Rob Shaw, was fantastic and told us passionately about this concentration camp’s history.

board-neutral-zone-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp
Neutral zone: we will immediately shoot without a warning

victims-photos-Sachsenhausen-concentration-camp

 

How to get there?

We went there by train with the guide, departing from the Brandenburg Gate, S-Bahn S1 line to Oranienburg station (around 50 minutes). From there we walked 20 minutes to the camp (there are buses available, but we didn’t want to wait for them: line 804 to Malz and line 821 to Tiergarten).

 

Opening times:

March 15th until October 14th: daily between 8:30 – 18:00
October 15th until March 14th: daily between 8:30 – 16:30

During the winter season, the museums are closed on Mondays. The Visitor Information Centre, the open-air exhibition, “Murder and Mass Murder in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp” and the site of commemoration “Station Z”, are open to the public every day.

Entrance is free, they charge €3 for an audio guide (German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, French and Portuguese) if you’re going on your own, but I highly recommend taking the tour, because only a person can explain in detail the shocking events and answer your questions. You won’t regret it! When you do, come back here and tell me how your tour was! I’m curious about your impressions.

Have you ever been to a concentration camp in Europe or visited any war sites? Drop a comment below and tell me how it was!

 

*The prices here mentioned might have changed when you read this.

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8 thoughts on “A Tour in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

  1. Sue Davies says:

    This is am important history that we need to keep remembering. I have been to Auschwitz and have friends who’s families were murdered there. Never Again for me means never again for all people. There is much to do to create a better world.

  2. Mayuri says:

    It is very important that we understand our history! Germany did a good job in allowing people/others to come in and understand the history and share the grief, rather then not talk about it! Germany has my highest respect for this!
    I have visited the concentration now memorial camp In Dachau – pretty similar to your experience here

    Thanks for sharing your experience

    • Bruna Venturinelli says:

      Yes, I think that’s their way to show that Germany no longer has anything to do with those who tortured innocent people during the war. There are war monuments everywhere. They really did a good job!
      The next ones I want to visit are the Dachau and Auschwitz. Also very moving places…

  3. April says:

    What a moving article. I, too, had an opportunity to visit a concentration camp when I was in Munich. I knew it would be a downer of a day. But, as a member of the human race, I felt I owed it to humanity to visit to see what horrors occurred. This way, hopefully, the more who visit, the more likely this will never occur again. I also visited on a very cold December day when it was in the low 20s F and even with my layers, I was freezing. All I could think of was what was it like for the prisoners. To hold onto to something so strong to survive……..thankfully many did.

  4. Frank says:

    Visiting this camp was really intense. It is horrible to hear what the people went through, but even after seeing the place with my own eyes, I can not imagine what it was like back in WW2.
    I saw a lot of people doing a self guided audio tour, but I am sure the guided tour is way more interesting and educative. The fact that the tour starts in the centre of Berlin is nice, so you don’t have to search for trains/buses yourself.

    • Bruna Venturinelli says:

      Hi Frank, it really is, but from everyone who went there I heard unanimously “I’m glad I visited it”. Such a moving place!
      And yeah, the fact that you don’t have to look for it, the guide just takes you there from Berlin, is a big plus.

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