Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

Oranienburg, Germany

Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD special camp until 1950. The remaining buildings and grounds are now open to the public as a museum.

The SS established the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as the principal concentration camp for the Berlin area. Located near Oranienburg, north of Berlin, the Sachsenhausen camp opened on July 12, 1936, when the SS transferred 50 prisoners from the Esterwegen concentration camp to begin construction of the camp.

In the early stage of the camp"s existence the SS and police incarcerated mainly political opponents and real or perceived criminal offenders in Sachsenhausen. By the end of 1936, the camp held 1,600 prisoners. Between 1936 and 1945, however, Sachsenhausen also held Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah"s Witnesses, 'asocials', and, later, Soviet civilians. Prominent figures interned in Sachsenhausen included Pastor Martin Niemöller, former Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, Georg Elser, Herschel Grynszpan, and Joseph Stalin"s son, Iakov Dzhugashvili.

The number of Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen varied over the course of the camp"s existence, but ranged from 21 at the beginning of 1937 to 11,100 at the beginning of 1945. During the nationwide Kristallnacht ('Night of Broken Glass') pogrom of November 1938, Reichsführer SS (SS chief) and Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler ordered the arrest of up to 30,000 Jews. The SS transported those arrested to Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald concentration camps. Almost 6,000 Jews arrived in Sachsenhausen in the days following the Kristallnacht riots.

In the following months, the number of Jews at Sachsenhausen steadily decreased, as SS authorities released Jewish prisoners, often in exchange for a stated intent to emigrate. By the end of 1938, Sachsenhausen held 1,345 Jews.

There was another marked increase in the number of Jewish prisoners when, in mid-September 1939, shortly after World War II began, German authorities arrested Jews holding Polish citizenship and stateless Jews, most of whom were living in the greater Berlin area, and incarcerated them in Sachsenhausen. Thereafter, the number of Jewish prisoners decreased again, as SS authorities deported them from Sachsenhausen to other concentration camps in occupied Poland, most often Auschwitz, in an effort to make the so-called German Reich 'free of Jews' (judenfrei).

By autumn of 1942 there were few Jewish prisoners still in Sachsenhausen, and their numbers remained low until 1944. In the spring of 1944, SS authorities began to bring thousands of Hungarian and Polish Jews from ghettos and other concentration camps to Sachsenhausen as the need for forced laborers in Sachsenhausen and its subcamps increased. Many of these new Jewish prisoners were women. By the beginning of 1945 the number of Jewish prisoners had risen to 11,100.

Following anti-German demonstrations in Prague in November 1939, German authorities incarcerated some 1,200 Czech university students in Sachsenhausen. In total, German authorities deported over 6,000 people from the annexed Czech provinces to Sachsenhausen.

German forces in Poland shot or deported to concentration camps thousands of Poles, especially teachers, priests, government officials, and other national and community leaders, in an attempt to eliminate the Polish educated elite and thereby prevent organized resistance to German rule in Poland. The German authorities sent some of these Poles to Sachsenhausen. On May 3, 1940, for example, 1,200 Polish prisoners arrived in Sachsenhausen from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw. The prisoners included many juveniles, Catholic priests, army officers, professors, teachers, doctors, and minor government officials.

The first group of Soviet prisoners of war arrived in Sachsenhausen at the end of August 1941. By the end of October 1941, the SS had deported about 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war to Sachsenhausen. Camp authorities shot thousands of the Soviet POWs shortly after they arrived in the camp. Estimates of Soviet POWs killed at Sachsenhausen range from 11,000-18,000.

In August 1945 the Soviet Special Camp No. 7 was moved to the area of the former concentration camp. Nazi functionaries were held in the camp, as were political prisoners and inmates sentenced by Soviet Military Tribunals. By 1948, Sachsenhausen, now renamed 'Special Camp No. 1', was the largest of three special camps in the Soviet Occupation Zone. The 60,000 people interned over five years included 6,000 German officers transferred from Western Allied camps. Others were Nazi functionaries, anti-Communists and Russians, including Nazi collaborators.

One of the camp"s commandants was Roman Rudenko, the Soviet Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. By the time the camp was closed in the spring of 1950, at least 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease. By the time the camp was closed in the spring of 1950, at least 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease. With the fall of the communist East Germany it was possible to do excavations in the former camps. At Sachsenhausen, the bodies of 12,500 victims were found, most were children, adolescents and elderly people.

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Founded: 1936
Category:
Historical period: Nazi Germany (Germany)

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User Reviews

Basi Kassama (2 months ago)
It's place with a lot of history and feelings, it was a very good guided visit!
Karen Mendoza (2 months ago)
A really unsettling place that shows you the extreme levels of cruelty humanity can reach. Very interesting to see that part of history in person. I would recommend to experience this and learn from it, to hopefully never repeat something as horrifying as this again.
thano 1912 (3 months ago)
Everyone on the planet must visit a concentration camp. You will realize and understand a lot… Shocked.
Angela Buckley (7 months ago)
Very informative, difficult to mentally deal with what you're reading and seeing sometimes, but this is an essential part of history that must never be forgotten, so that it can never be repeated again. I would recommend people take it slow and set aside a day here, in order to pay respects. Although this is one of the smaller concentration camps, it was still big enough to occupy our day until closing time.
Hellem Jocz (15 months ago)
I believe it is important to visit those places. We can learn a lot about the Holocaust. It's very informative with pictures, letters, newspaper pieces and many more original things that truly help you understand what happened during that time.
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