As I walked into the main gates of the camp, the enormity of what went on there hit me like ice.
The large semi circular area just inside the gates was where the prisoners were made to stand and be counted at least twice a day. They would have to stand, often for hours at a time in extreme weather. A memorial now sits in view of this area, where the gallows once stood, a place where people were publicly executed during this counting time, as a reminder to follow the rules.
I walked to the left first, towards the infirmary barracks. This is one place that affected me more than others at the camp, purely because it highlighted so much the deception and inhumaneness, the conceived plans of evil that I struggled to get my head round.
The medical barracks were designed to look from the outside, and to visitors, to be hospital like for treatment of the sick and injured. However, deeper within there were disturbing testings of poisonous gas and deliberate infection of diseases. There was one small room where eleven children, brought from another camp, were locked in and infected with hepatitis. They were only let out into the next room for liver punctures and other unimaginable tests. Another room was for compulsory castration. Hard to read stories covered the walls. Stories of people that had the bad luck to be taken to this place, for people taken into the medical barracks very rarely made it out alive.
Next door to these barracks was another building. Upstairs was the tile clad autopsy room with the tables in tact where so many over those few years, lifelessly lay. Below ground was the massive mortuary where the bodies were stored. As I walked down to the vast, cold rooms I could feel death in the air. So many died in fact, that there wasn’t time for the necessary autopsies. The doctors were taught to make the right incisions, remove precious metal and write one of the seven acceptable causes of death on the death certificate. This carried on until they had too many dead to hide and needed to build newer execution areas and a larger crematorium.
I followed the high wall from here to this newer execution area and crematorium. I trod in the footsteps of those from not so many years ago, towards the unspoken and unknown, but probably rumoured, certain death.
It’s hard to describe my feelings, standing where so many were unnecessarily killed, tortured and murdered. The eerie silence. The occasional call of crows, still lingering where they once smelt death. It is almost impossible to believe that one human could do that to another. Yet standing in that place I could feel it, the chill from deep within me, the death, the unfairness, the inhumaneness and mostly pure evil.
In the middle of this area was the memorial to those that had their lives taken in that place. The words of a prisoner were on the wall reading:
“And I know one thing more – that the Europe of the future cannot exist without commemorating all those, regardless of their nationality, who were killed at that time with complete contempt and hate, who were tortured to death, starved, gassed, incinerated and hanged”
This part of the camp lives on to be a stark and haunting reminder of what humankind is capable of doing to each other. A warning for generations to come of what not to be.
I walked next, to the soviet camp and learnt of people locked up on the other side of the walls. Men who were hardly let out, who slept on crowded planks of wood and longed to be outside. Many of them disappearing never to be seen again, others freezing to death in their sleep. The majority of these barracks were still in tact.
The last places I visited were the prison area of the camp and the barracks where most the jews were held. I learnt in school that it was just Jews that found themselves in concentration camps but Sachsenhausen was full of non Jews, political prisoners, war absconders and Christians that spoke out against Nazi teaching. The jews at Sachsenhausen were often shipped out to Auswitch.
The prison buildings, segregated from the rest of the camp, still have the small cells. Many with memorials of prisoners who were locked up, tortured and died there.
I spent a good few hours looking round Sachsenhausen and could have spent longer had I not been so physically and emotionally drained from the experience. As I walked out of the vast, bleak area that once housed so many innocent people, it was hard not to shed a tear for those brave people, that not really so long ago walked in and never left.
In a way I hated my visit. I hated the unfathomable evil that I read about and felt in that place, but I am more than glad I went and feel that those many lives lost were not wasted but live on in the memories to teach us all.
Taking an autistic child to sachsenhausen?
This is an interesting one and possibly down to the individual child, their level of interest and understanding.
The whole place is beyond quiet, even at busy times with tours all around you, it is eearily subdued.
The majority of the camp is outside with some buildings to look around.
The whole site is large and requires a lot of walking. There are flat, wide paths around the site and ramps to get into buildings.
There is no need to join a tour. You can look around with a map or even get a reasonably priced audio tour, this means you can avoid the crowds.
There are areas of very accessible places you aren’t allowed to walk or touch. There are also lots of stones marking out former buildings or memorials. The former gas chambers, execution areas and crematorium remains are all easily accessible even though you are meant to stay on the path around the edge and not step over the line.
The worst part may be the journey there. If you get the bus from or to the station it can be extremely crowded as so many people and tours take the same journey.
Sachsenhausen is a former World War 2 concentration camp just north of Berlin, Germany. To get to Sachsenhausen from Berlin, take the train to Oranienburg (about 25-45 minutes depending on the train). At Oranienburg you get the 804 bus from directly outside the station. The bus journey is around 5-10 minutes. You can also drive and there is parking outside Sachsenhausen.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to follow my blog or like my Facebook page which I keep up to date with new posts as they are written. I also have a closed Facebook group for sharing days out and holiday ideas and tips and anything autism related. You can find me on Twitter @KidsOnTour.