Arbeit Macht Frei

Trip Start Aug 29, 2010
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16
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Trip End Oct 04, 2010


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Flag of Germany  , Brandenburg,
Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today, we took a train up north outside the Berlin city limits to visit the Sachenhausen concentration camp, about 35km north. To begin with, the train ride itself was momentous for two reasons. First, as it began in East Berlin, went through West Berlin, and ended up in East Germany, the trip itself would've been impossible twenty years ago. Second, we arrived at the very same train station that prisoners were brought to starting in 1936. And the walk we took from the station to the camp was also the same walk taken all those years ago.

The entire experience was a profoundly sad one, not one that most tourists would take in Berlin, but one that we were glad to have taken. We learned about how the prisoners were treated: how they were deliberately given boots one or two sizes too small and shot if they tried to change them, how they were severely malnourished and unclothed and perpetually hungry, how they lived over 300 to a barracks designed to accommodate 120 men. The men were brought out for roll call twice a day, which could last hours, and in the winter several would freeze to death by the end.

We learned of the brutal efficiency in which prisoners were killed here. Sachenhausen was not a death camp, but it was a training ground for methods used elsewhere. At first, prisoners were simply led down a trench and mowed down with a machine gun. But this was first a waste of bullets, and second a great psychological strain on the SS officers as they had to see those they had to kill as humans. And so they redesigned the system so that the SS never had to make eye contact with their victims. Brutal efficiency. Over 50,000 people were murdered here during the Nazi era.

Sadly the story doesn't even end there, as the Soviets also used the camp from 1945 to 1950, killing thousands more. There is a large monument erected onsite to the Communists killed at Sachenhausen, erected by the East Germans in 1961, a monument that is largely frowned upon as it ignores all the other people killed here. There is another monument, built more recently, that commemorates all the victims and depicts two prisoners dragging a third into the crematorium (as they had to do). It was very moving.

Our guide was excellent, and as we later learned had a very personal connection to the camp. He was German, and members of his father's family were SS guards elsewhere, and members of his mother's family were killed at Sachenhausen. It must take great strength to be able to give this tour three times a week.

Like I said earlier, it was a profoundly sad experience for all of us (Tina especially because she got stung by a Nazi bee, but she's alive, don't worry). One we won't soon forget.
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Comments

trc on

I could not have written it better. I felt this way when I went to Dachau

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