To the day exactly 72 years ago the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was liberated by Polish and Soviet Forces advancing from the east. They encountered about 3,000 survivors and some nurses and doctors who were left behind by the Nazis who evacuated the camp shortly before, taking with them the prisoners who could walk. Thousands of those did not survive the death march.
What happened in Sachsenhausen is not different from what happened in other camps: Hard labor, pseudo scientific medical experimentation, random torture and executions, and of course the usual sadistic and perverse show of power and brutality over helpless and innocent inmates. What made this camp different from others was its status as the administrative headquarters of all concentration camps. Also, it was designed as being the ideal camp, a model for others to be established. The triangular shape and the layout of the barracks was supposedly perfect for total supervision and control. Needless to say that the arrangement also intended to crush every mind, soul and psyche. The proximity of the camp to Berlin was convenient for inspection and visits of high-ranking officials for show and propaganda purposes.
The following pictures were taken on a recent visit to the Memorial and Museum. What really got to me during the visit was the absurd smugness and banality around the Memorial. Family homes, snack bars and the clean and shiny evidence of urban infrastructure (Oranienburg). I suppose life goes on in a town, even when unspeakable horror unfolded itself within viewing and hearing distance. But strange it is. I am convinced back then everyone knew everything, there was nothing like innocence and ignorance. Oranienburg had a huge industrial and labor infrastructure around the camp that was maintained by the prisoners. The no see-no hear-no speak doctrine doesn´t count in my view. Most Germans were Nazis, most Germans knew all, most Germans raised their right arm with enthusiasm and ecstasy. Very very few exeptions. This is important to understand, to acknowledge and to spread in times of growing efforts to make neo-nazism, populism and nationalism seem like part of normality. The Nazi crimes were everything but banal and are absolutely not comparable to other atrocities commited by other terror regimes. The Nazi reign of 1933 - 1945 was the single-most horrific catastrophe that humans ever cast on themselves. There is no way around it. That´s why it´s so important to keep the memory alive, to keep the facts together and to show how the camp-terror worked. That´s why it´s so important to visit the Memorials in Germany and other parts of Europe.
I´m glad to have grown up into a post-war prosperousness, Germany came a long way since 1945. And even though there is so much pessimism and personal frustration nowadays that finds its vents in political blindness and convenient mind patterns, I´m convinced that the road ahead is safe because most people are willing to keep on learning what the past was about, and what our chances are today. German society moves on a strong platform of democracy that made remarkable progress, and has become a role model for others.
The infamous slogan drawn into cynical mockery.
A glimpse into the death-strip with barbed wire.
Most of the barracks have been demolished. Framed pebble stone fields outline the spaces where they once stood.
A group gets some information before entering the central Memorial site,
where some of the ovens of the crematorium remain.
The sub-terranean firing trench where prisoners were shot. The cenotaph in the background.
The medical barracks and the pathology.
The "neutral zone", also called the death strip. The sign reads: "Neutral Zone - shooting live ammunition without warning".
The barbed wire fence was electrically charged.
Interested in learning more? See my blogpost about Buchenwald.