Sachsenhausen Concentration camp – Oranienburg, Germany


Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

History

Sachsenhausen concentration camp, established in 1936 by the SS, at orders from Heinrich Himler himself, was one of the pivotal centers of Nazi oppression during World War II. Located near Berlin, Germany, Sachsenhausen was designed with a dual purpose: as a model camp for the SS and as a site for forced labor, incarceration, and extermination.

The camp’s layout was meticulously planned, featuring a triangular shape with watchtowers at each corner, a design that facilitated efficient surveillance and control over the prisoners. Barbed wire fences, guard towers, and a moat further fortified the perimeter, making escape virtually impossible. Sachsenhausen’s infrastructure comprised barracks, administrative buildings, workshops, and a wide array of facilities designed to facilitate the regime’s objectives. The camp’s capacity expanded over time, reaching a peak population of over 30,000 prisoners at its height.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen concentration camp, prisoners in front of the camp gate – Bundesarchiv Bild 183-78612-0002
Entrance to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Arbeit Macht Frei – Work sets you free, gate to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (9)
Entree house seen from the inside – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Life within Sachsenhausen was characterized by unbearable conditions. Prisoners endured overcrowded barracks, inadequate food, and brutal treatment by SS guards. The camp’s strict hierarchy subjected inmates to a regime of terror and violence, with punishment inflicted for the slightest infraction of the rules.Forced labor was a central component of Sachsenhausen’s operations. Prisoners toiled in workshops, factories, and construction sites, producing goods for the Nazi war effort. The grueling labor, coupled with malnutrition and disease, claimed the lives of countless inmates.

Sachsenhausen also served as a site for medical experimentation and extermination. The camp’s infirmary was used for heinous medical procedures, including sterilization experiments and testing of infectious diseases. Additionally, the camp’s gas chamber and crematorium were used to systematically murder thousands of prisoners, primarily Jews, Soviet prisoners of war, and other perceived enemies of the regime.

Resistance within Sachsenhausen was met with swift and brutal reprisals. Despite the risks, prisoners organized underground networks, disseminated anti-Nazi literature, and engaged in acts of sabotage and defiance.

Barbed wire fence and wall – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Gallows spot – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Barrack locations – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

SS Guards training camp

Due to its proximity to Berlin and therefore also to the Gestapo headquarters on Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, the Sachsenhausen concentration camp had a special role in the concentration camp system. A large SS contingent was stationed here. The “training camp” attached to the camp also served as a training site for future concentration camp commanders and guard personnel throughout the Nazi sphere of influence (similar to the Dachau concentration camp). In total, around 200000 prisoners were deported to Sachsenhausen, only around 140000 of them were registered. In August 1941, a neck firing range was built in which around 13000 to 18000 Soviet prisoners of war were murdered. In total, tens of thousands of prisoners are said to have been murdered.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen concentration camp, prisoners at roll call Feb 1941 – Bundesarchiv Bild 183-78612-0003
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Forced Labor in the Clinker factory and Bread Factory

Most forced labor in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp or its subcamps were for the German armed forces. In the vicinity of the camp a Clinker factory and a SS bread factory were set up. The bread factory supplied the SS guards with bread. The clinker factory produced bricks for Albert Speer and Adolf Hitlers major construction project Germania in Berlin. The prisoners had to build the factory, a harbor and subcamp themselves. From July to September 1942 almost all Pink Angle Prisoners – homosexuals – fell victim to targeted SS murder operations, the clinker factory was nicknamed murder factory by the prisoners.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Photograph of Sachsenhausen – 20 May 1943 by 542 RAF Squadron courtesy Wikipedia – NCAP-000-000-008-616
Crematorium – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Memorial at the Crematorium – Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Liberation of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp

When the Russian forces neared the SS started the evacuation of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in the early hours of April 21, 1945, when the Red Army was only a few kilometers away. 33000 of the remaining 36000 prisoners were sent northwest in groups of 500 prisoners. Only the first columns received some food. Many prisoners who had to march between 20 and 40 kilometers a day died of exhaustion in the cold, wet weather or were shot by the SS. Employees of the International Committee of the Red Cross distributed food packages to the prisoners on the marches, saving many from starvation. Nevertheless, thousands of prisoners died on the death marches after the camp was evacuated in April 1945.

From April 23, 1945, around 18,000 prisoners were gathered in the Below Forest, the urban forest of Wittstock – Dosse, and were camped there until April 29. The surviving prisoners then reached the area between Parchim and Schwerin Germany via different routes , where, now abandoned by their SS guards before they met units of the Red Army and the US Army.

On April 22nd and 23rd, Soviet and Polish troops reached the main camp. Around 3,000 sick people, doctors and nurses were freed. In the following weeks, at least 300 former prisoners died as a result of their concentration camp imprisonment. They were buried in six mass graves on the camp wall in the infirmary area. The liberation of Sachsenhausen by Soviet forces in April 1945 marked the end of the camp’s reign of terror. However, the horrors perpetrated within its walls left an indelible mark on history.

Today, Sachsenhausen stands as a somber memorial to the millions of lives lost during the Holocaust. Visiting the site offers a sobering reminder of the consequences of unchecked hatred and prejudice, underscoring the importance of remembrance and vigilance in safeguarding human rights.

Barracks in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Visit

A car park is nearby and entry is free, as is with most concentration camps in Germany. Check the website for the opening times. Visiting the concentration camp will take you a good part of the day. 3 to 4 hours are easily spent, there is much to see and read, the distance between buildings is large so wear comfortable walking shoes and bring something to eat and drink.


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