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Visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp in Germany

By Rodrigo Mazón |

The former Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp in Germany invites us to consider new horizons based on understanding. It is a place where life is honored.

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW TO GET TO AND VISIT SACHSENHAUSEN-ORANIENBURG

If you plan to travel to Germany, you will surely like to learn about the most important historical events that occurred in that country. Today, DINKtravelers invites you to visit an ideal place for reflection. It’s located 35 km north of Berlin, and it’s the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg.The fastest and cheapest way to get there is to take the direct train from Berlin Central Station to Oranienburg. Once there, the first thing you will perceive will be the strong and cold winds that make the tall pine trees sway.

Maybe you’ll wonder what could be so important about visiting a plain where the only thing you can see in the distance are long rows of barbed wire engulfing a few buildings and barracks. The answer is not in what you see, but in what happened in that place in the mid-twentieth century, and it represents nowadays for Germans and for humanity. What you will have before you is the Museum of Memory, the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg.

A GUIDED TOUR NEAR BERLIN AT AN AFFORDABLE PRICE

Before starting this tour, we recommend you to bring snacks and water, since the trip lasts around 5.5 hours including the time you’ll spend on the train. Admission is free, and it opens daily from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. except on Thursdays when it’s closed. Consider the possibility of getting an audioguide in Spanish and, being the responsible and sensitive traveler you are, think about the events that happened there and avoid taking selfies or photos in playful poses.

BRIEF HISTORY OF SACHSENHAUSEN AND OTHER CONCENTRATION CAMPS

Concentration camps such as Sachsenhausen were first built in Germany a few years before World War II. They were established by the Nazi regime that had gained power and its function was to suppress and eliminate all kinds of political opposition that rose after the riots and the burning of the Reichstag that took place after Hitler seized power.

These places were controlled by the SS (Schutzstaffel), and depending on the camp it served different purposes. There were, for example, forced labor camps, extermination camps and sites of containment of prisoners of war. Several were built near large clusters of houses as a warning for people who might not be loyal to the national-socialist party, and precisely, two of them were Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, located near Berlin, and Dachau, in Munich. Unlike these, others were established in isolated places such as the marshes in northeastern Germany.

When you go around the fence to go through the main entrance of Sachsenhausen camp, you will notice there are demolished barracks and small buildings, so you’ll have to really pay attention to the details in order to understand the scope of these spaces that are now completely empty. You will need to use and exercise your empathy; the purpose is that as you walk along the wall-paneled buildings, you get an idea of what life was like in concentration camps.

First you will visit the barracks where there are still some bunks. That’s where prisoners would rest after exhausting days of work in adverse conditions including cold weather, ragged clothes and using almost useless tools. To heat up, they lay against each other on the long wooden planks where they slept, trying to preserve as much heat as their bodies could generate after having eaten a very reduced food ratio, regularly consisting on soup and a piece of bread.

When the war worsened, the expansion of German borders required the construction of concentration camps in recently conquered territories such as Auschwitz in Poland; Drancy, in Paris, or Fossoli, in Italy. Concentration camps were crowded with foreign deportees: Poles, Russians, French, Spaniards, Czechs, etc., and homosexuals, but definitely the majority of the group was made up by Jews who began to be expelled from German territory. Thus, when you are there, think about your country of origin, about the people you love and about your beliefs. You will see that the humans who suffered in concentration camps are not so different from any of us. It’s quite the opposite; traveling to places like this allows us to realize that hate crimes continue to be caused by race, religion and sexual preference.

THE EXPERIENCE OF VISITING SACHSENHAUSEN-ORANIENBURG

You are likely to be overwhelmed by the gloomy atmosphere of Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg concentration camp; but even though the negative aspects of humanity were a constant in this place, so were the search for freedom and the feelings of solidarity among those who suffered the war. Thus, some inmates joined the resistance and organized riots to help some people escape extermination camps. Also, many Germans protected and hid their Jewish neighbors despite the risks implied. Similarly, countries such as Finland, Sweden and Bulgaria opposed the deportations of Jews to the camps, and in the case of Nazi Denmark, the resistance helped several persecuted people to escape.

Think about this situation and look carefully at the shelled walls and the moth-eaten furniture. Identify the messages that are carved on walls and through which some of those who were imprisoned in Sachsenhausen camp sought to leave a testimony of their last days of life. Take advantage of your journey to pay homage to those who died there.

When events changed and war stopped favoring the Nazis, they intensified their operations of extermination in order not to leave alive anyone who could remember what had happened in concentration camps. But in their hasty retreat, they left ruins as silent witnesses of the destruction and death that they had caused.

After your visit to the barracks, the infirmary and the confinement areas at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, take a break and stop for a moment in the courtyards. Stand close to those fences that the Jews could not approach, and look at the horizon… You will see the pine trees swaying in the wind and you will hear the birds chirp. There is a new life in the present and traveling allows us to learn through past mistakes; mistakes that we should not repeat.

CONSIDERATIONS AFTER VISITING A CONCENTRATION CAMP: GIVING MEANING TO LIFE AND RESIGNIFYING SPACES

Survivors of concentration camps had to reconstruct their lives. This could not have been easy. Many of their loved ones had ceased to exist, most of their possessions had been confiscated, and memories of all that had happened haunted their minds. Therefore, in order to try to give meaning to their lives, many of them wrote and talked about everything they had suffered. Many testimonies were collected, while people like Victor Frankl concentrated on valuing life through the search of meaning. After surviving Auschwitz, he tried to find his loved ones, missing pieces of his life, but he soon understood that they would never return. Therefore, he continued to work on the only thing that would help him move on: a manuscript with the foundations of logotherapy. In them he concluded that people, even in the most adverse conditions, have the ability to choose to preserve their humanity or succumb to the environment; everything depends on the meaning you give your life.

Not all the historical sites we visit while traveling represent a glorious past.Some, such as Sachsenhausen concentration camp, remind us that humanity is capable of committing the greatest atrocities. However, they are still worth visiting because they also invite us to fight for a life with new horizons based on understanding. In that sense, what was once a concentration camp, is now an in situ museum dedicated to memory, and far from being an extermination site, it is a place where life is honored.