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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Home > Berlin > Escape the City | Exhibitions | Memorials | Museums | Travel
by Leong Qi Tyng (subscribe)
I write for Trident Media, Venus Views and Eksentrika. Follow me on Twitter @TyngQi and Instagram @qityng
Published March 29th 2017
The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was built to be the first prototype of a concentration camp. Everything horrendous done to prisoners would be the standard emulated by other camps. It is located in Oranienburg, Germany, in the midst of a housing area. When I first arrived at the lot, I noticed that it was very silent. There were only a few tourists milling about. It was from the model showing the whole campsite that I found out the houses I passed by earlier used to be homes to SS officers.

sachsenhausen, germany, concentration camp, nazi, ss officer, torture, abuse
Triangular campsite

The camp was designed in the form of an equilateral triangle so that it was easier for the SS officers to monitor the prisoners. There were not many signs to lead the way so I followed a small group of tourists on a long stretch of road flanked by trees on either side. We passed by sentry towers along the way. I tried imagining how it must have felt being marched into camp.

sachsenhausen, germany, concentration camp, nazi, ss officer, torture, abuse
Main Gate

sachsenhausen, germany, concentration camp, nazi, ss officer, torture, abuse
Arbeit Macht Frei

At the end of the long walk was the main gate into the campsite. The main gate is a white building with a clock at the very top. Right in the middle of the building is a black gate with the words 'ARBEIT MACHT FREI,' meaning 'work makes you free.' Imagine the sense of doom once you cross that gate!

Once I was inside, the first thing I noticed was the scale of the camp. Although the old buildings weren't there anymore, it was still a vast space. Turning back to look at the main gate again, I noticed that the bottom of the walls on the inside were lined with two rows of barbed wires. The walls were also lined with electrical fences.

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Barbed wires and electrical fences

Inside the triangular campsite, there is a semi-circular patch where the roll calls were held. It was also where public executions and punishments took place. Prisoners were made to stand still in the cold for hours or to march around in wooden clogs, and even test out military footwear over various surfaces. While being measured for a uniform, prisoners could be shot in the neck through a hidden hole in the wall. Even crueller was when I discovered that the gas chambers were right across where prisoners slept. It was recorded that prisoners could smell and hear the screams of new prisoners being gassed the minute they arrived at camp.

Right beside the gas chambers were what I called the collection point. This was where the new prisoners were stripped of their belongings. Current prisoners were ordered to sort through the belongings and turn in any valuables to the officers. Some of the valuables included engagement rings and gold jewellery. To further strip down the identity of prisoners, each prisoner was given a series of numbers as their names. Coloured inverted triangles were used to distinguish the reason for their imprisonment, making it easier for the soldiers to choose someone to torment. Among the colours were red for political prisoners, pink for homosexuals, and purple for Jehovah Witnesses.

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Uniform, serial number and inverted triangles

I almost got a taste of being locked in the concentration camp. This was because it was near closing time but I was too intrigued with the museum displays in one of the buildings in the camp. I was downstairs looking at the camp kitchen (I could still smell the sweat and stench) when I heard security knocking on the doors upstairs. He almost left me behind because I wasn't fast enough going up the stairs. Luckily, before cycling off he turned to look one more time. He pretended to ponder whether he should let me out!

Visiting this concentration camp and the other museums in Germany has made me more critical against racial issues and any form of discrimination. Although it was a long journey to Oranienburg, it was a journey well worth it.
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Why? To learn from history and spot the signs
Phone: 49-(0)3301-200-200
Where: Oranienburg, Germany
Cost: Free
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