May 24, 2018

Oranienburg - Former concentration camp Sachsenhausen

18 May 2018

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp  was opened on July 12, 1936, after being built by prisoners. Located in Oranienburg, Germany, near Berlin, it was initially used by the Nazi Party to imprison political prisoners. Soon enough, “asocials,” homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews,  many of whom were arrested during Kristallnacht. After the camp was liberated and the war was over, the Soviet Union utilized the camp as a gulag detainment camp for its own prisoners, including German ones. It’s important to point out that the camp’s main role was to be a work camp, not a death camp -- Jewish victims were typically relocated to the east, to auschwitz, to be killed. It was also originally designed as a model for all camps, in a shape of a triangle, but it was quickly realized that the triangular shape was not practical, as nothing cannot be added on to the camp without ruining the design. As a result, the model was not repeated in other camps. Between 1936 and 1945, around 200,000 people total passed through the camp. In the front, the words “Arbeit Macht Frei, “ or “Work sets you free,” are displayed on the front gate.

The camp presents a perspective that focuses on the victims and survivors. There is a small museum in a partially reconstructed barrack that is filled with photos and possessions of victims, in addition to a projector displaying people’s faces one by one. There are also execution sites, remnants of a gas chamber and crematoriums, the “death strip,” a prohibited area for prisoners, and prison cells, designed for torturing the victims. We listened to personal videos of individual victims, including Stalin’s son.

We also saw a monument that the Soviets built after they took over the camp. It bears several red triangles at the very top, symbolizing the red triangles communist prisoners had to wear. It’s interesting that there are 18 triangles in the front of the monument alone, and they are all red-- there is not any representation or acknowledgement of other colored stars, of the other victims. Additionally, at the base of the monument, there is a statue of several communist prisoners being liberated by a Soviet soldier. The prisoners, however, are depicted to be much healthier than in reality, apparently because the Soviet Union did not want to depict its  people as weak in any way.

The day we went to Sachsenhausen, the weather was extraordinarily cold, and I was not prepared for that. Because most of the tour was outside, I had to brave the weather, but everytime I started complaining to myself, I remembered where I was, and thought of how the inmates were once forced to stand outside for 36 hours in the freezing, bitter winter, because the head of the camp knew that there would be more prisoners coming soon and wanted an easy way to kill off a good number of the current ones to make more space within the camp. It’s always incredibly humbling to learn about the Holocaust, and it made me take a moment to think about my circumstances and be appreciative -- as a result, I thought less about being cold and more about the history I was surrounded by, which was one of the numerous personal learning moments I had over the course of this trip. 


Group 4: Lulu Feldman, Daniel Vozza, Kally Xu (Author: Kally Xu)