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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Details

Founded: 1936
Category: Miscellaneous historic sites in Germany
Historical period: Nazi Germany (Germany)

Rating

4.6/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Clare Smith (14 months ago)
Very emotional place. We hired the audio guides which gave loads of detail of the camp & life there. It was about 45 minutes out of the city on the train & 20 minute walk but well worth the journey. I would definitely recommend visiting.
Benjamin Nurmi (16 months ago)
Probably could have picked a better day, but the sheer scale and size is simply breathtaking… can be a bit icy and slippery in winter, but highly recommend the audio tour so you can understand the various buildings (some demolished), as well as gain some perspective on the lives of those who were interned here. Its mind blowing to consider that in the timeline of history, this wasn’t actually that long ago..
kirthika vishwanath (2 years ago)
Loved my experience at this memorial! The place was filled with history and if you're someone who's looking to visit one of the biggest concentration camps in Berlin, don't miss out on this spot.
Lorena Rubí Herrera (2 years ago)
The place is vast with files and information in detail about the activities within the camp. I spent 6 hours there and I was only able to read the things that caught my attention the most. If you're planning to visit, wear comfortable shoes and make sure to grab a snack before entering the memorial. Also, keep in mind that you'll spent the whole day there (4-6 hours) to walk and explore the camp properly.
Shannon Bridges (2 years ago)
Probably the most disturbing places I have ever been. I walked in not knowing what to expect and it didn't seem that exciting upon arrival. BUT then you grab your headphones and are completely immersed into the past and transported to a time it is hard to believe existed. You walk through the massive grounds and duck into different buildings that just explode with well laid out information. You can spend an entire day there without even realizing it if your stomach can stand it. I kept staring at the big oak trees and wondering, what oh what have you witnessed in your long life. Devastating but brilliant. Thank you for sharing your history. I pray it never repeats itself.
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