Tuesday was spent at the first of two concentration camps we will be visiting, Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. We traveled 50 minutes north by S-bahn (street train) to the small town of Oranienburg, the central headquarters for all Nazi concentration camps in Germany and the occupied territories (i.e. Poland, Austria, etc).
This camp was a model forced labor camp, designed in part by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. It housed political prisoners (e.g. Communists, Social Democrats), homosexual men, criminals, Roma, Sinti – that is, those who were deemed “socially undesirable” – and, after 1938, many Jews. After 1945, the camp was used by the Soviets to house and kill prisoners and POWs. We had a top rate 2-hour tour in English of the whole camp – the massive outdoor roll call area, the barracks where prisoners slept and ate, the infirmary where medical experiments and tortures took place, and, the small gas chamber and crematoria areas. It put it in perspective for all of us when we saw the charred ceiling in Barracks 38, where in 1992, Neo-Nazis attempted to burn down the barracks to erase this portion of the site. After the tour, we took some time to reflect on what we were seeing in the exhibition center and watched a short documentary on Sachsenhausen and the larger context of World-War II and Nazi Germany. We thoroughly thank our guide, as it was an immensely meaningful experience.