The Sachsenhausen concentration camp is roughly an hour away from Berlin by Regionalbahn. It sits in the middle of a small town, with its brick tower rising solemnly above all of the surrounding buildings. Sachsenhausen was originally designed as a work camp (Konzentrationslager) as opposed to the extermination camps (Vernichtungslager) of the East. Many German companies utilized the labor of KZ Sachsenhausen, primarily due to its proximity to Berlin. The nearby brick factory was used to satisfy the efforts in Berlin to build Albert Speer’s and Hitler’s dream city of Weltstadt Germania.
The camp’s grounds were encircled by a marching path where prisoners tested military equipment and boots for wear, marching between 16 and 25 miles per day. In 1943, gas chambers and ovens were added to the camp to facilitate mass killings. Mobile crematoria were brought in to dispose of the bodies, many of which remain on the camp grounds today. After the camp’s liberation, the Soviets put it into use as a prison camp until 1950, with an estimated additional 12,000 additional deaths added to camp’s toll from malnutrition and disease.
The weather on the day I visited the camp was cold and rainy, a seemingly suitable environment for the gravity of the site. I took the S7 from the Berlin Ostbahnhof to Ostkreuz, where I transferred to the RB12 (Templin) and took that until Sachsenhausen (Nord). From there, it’s an easy one mile walk to the camp. Just go towards the large gray tower.
The main entrance to the camp contains an indoor museum area. The gate bears the infamous phrase, “Arbeit macht frei,” (Work will set you free).
It is at this point that words began to fail to describe the magnitude of the camp. It seems to drip with echoes and ghosts of the evil that walked here seven decades ago. The pit formerly containing the gas chamber is indescribable. No words can do justice the overwhelming feeling of sorrow and pain that exists there.
Many of the other buildings on the grounds contain audio and video commentary on the events of the camp. One, in particular, focuses on the townspeople during the war. Many claimed ignorance of what went on inside the camp despite living within a few hundred meters of the camp. This is a key part of the exhibit and is vital in beginning to understand the political and social climate in Germany during World War II.
When inside the camp, remember to be respectful at all times. Yelling, running, and going to out-of-bounds areas is strictly forbidden and shows deep disrespect for the site. Remember that the camp is the graveyard and place of death of over 40,000 men and women. The grounds are literally scattered in their ashes.