Arbeit Macht Frei

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 21, 2011

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Flag of Germany  , Brandenburg,
Friday, April 1, 2011

Jess and I couldn't quite decide what to do with our last day in Berlin: either go to down to Potsdam where many palaces lie or head up to Oranienburg where a Nazi concentration camp. One of our friends suggested that if we haven’t seen a concentration camp then we should definitely head that way.  Most of the palaces in Europe are of equal caliber anyway so once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all!  So we packed up and traveled north on the S-bahn for about an hour to Oranienburg where the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp stands.

After a short walk from the train station through town, we arrived at the camp.  The area is fairly well preserved, and they’ve added an information center near the entrance.  The best thing is that everything was free here.  At least in Berlin, many of the WWII related museums were free of charge, probably to encourage visitors.  Sachsenhausen was used mostly as a labor camp to produce items such as boots and gas masks for the German solders; however, mid-way through the war, gas chambers and ovens were built to facilitate the murder of thousands of prisoners.  Over 200,000 people came through Sachsenhausen before it was liberated by the Red Army.  In the aftermath of the war, the Russians continued to use the camp to house prisoners of war until 1950 when it finally closed.

The camp’s walls form a large triangle around the compound with semi-circles of barracks around a large open space.  Almost all of the barracks have since been destroyed, only their foundations remain alongside a concrete memorial that states the number of the barrack. The barracks, of course, were a horrible place to live.  The bathrooms and washrooms were to be shared over hundreds of inmates and were constantly the sight of torture and abuse.

Just outside the walls of the camp, in an extension, lie the execution trench and the building that housed the gas chambers and crematorium. This whole area is now sheltered under an air-conditioned canopy to protect it from the elements.  The building itself has not survived, but the foundation still remains along with the steel portions of the furnaces.  A little plaque explained what each room was for and the path one would take as a prisoner entering the facility.  The doctor would expect the prisoner and decide whether they be sent to the crematorium or the gas chamber or be spared to work, all while listening to a good record on the gramophone so as not to be distracted by the tortured cries coming from the neighboring rooms.

It was a bit strange visiting such a place.  It’s truly hard to believe all of the horrible acts that were committed on the grounds, especially on a sunny, beautiful spring day.  Visiting a concentration camp is a sobering experience, to say the least, but it can be a bit, understandably, overwhelming at times.
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