Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

This is an aerial view of the camp, it was opened as a work camp in 1936 and housed all kinds of people. Political prisoners, homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, criminals, gypsies and Jews. The center triangle portion of the camp is where we visited, which is where the inmates were housed. The surrounding areas were where the prisoners were marched daily to fulfill their work duties in a brick factory, aircraft manufacturing, forestry, and even counterfeiting money.

This is where the SS guards were trained for all of Nazi Germany. Before any person could be considered to be a guard in the concentration camp they had to show 5 years of dedication to the Nazi party and then they would enter this facility where contact with the outside community was limited and they were psychologically brainwashed.

In Biology they were taught about the racial hierarchy. They learned about Darwinism and the survival of the fittest, the fittest being the Aryan race. By destroying these lower human beings they would be helping along the life cycle of the earth.

They were also taught courses about how Jews have been the cause of great problems for the last 400 years, wars, famines, pestilence all caused by the Jews.

This is now the training center for the Berlin Police force, a constant reminder about how power can corrupt.

This building was where the SS guards had nightly entertainment. The prisoners called it the green monster.

Prisoners were the bar staff, particularly the Jehovah's Witnesses as an additional slap in the face since they were against such things. Working here was a very dangerous job. SS guards were themselves very harsh, but a drunk SS guard was even worse, so one small slip up would prove to be very grave.

You will also notice that this is built of wood. Hitler had many of his buildings here built with wood as he fully intended to win the war and said that in 20 years there would be no enemies to the Nazi's and that these camps would no longer be needed.....very confident.

The prisoners would arrive at the train station in the town outside the camp and be marched to these gates.

They would be "briefed" which meant stripped naked, dunked in a cold antibiotic bath (no matter what the weather), have their head shaved, receive a cotton uniform and be given a number. All this was meant to demoralize the prisoners and strip them of their identity so they would be easier to control.

Speaking of the cold, today it was windy and about 30 degrees. At one point the tour guide actually turned around and said, "What a nice day", he wasn't joking....I guess it is very commonly hovering around 0 degrees.

They would then line up the prisoners and tell them the rules of the camp and while they were talking the SS guards would be watching the crowd for one person who was looking down or seemed to be not paying attention and bring them to the front of the group and beat them to death as an example to the rest, all part of the routine briefing.

Through these trees just outside the camp you can see the home of the commandant of this camp. He had supreme rule over how this camp was run. The guide told us a little bit about the barbarian of a man running this camp. When it was liberated they searched his house and found a lamp made of human skin, mostly tattooed skin (when he saw a tattoo on someone he indicated that they be taken care of so he could have their skin), Mien Kamph with a cover in human skin and a necklace make out of gold teeth.... Some of the SS guards may have had some humanity left in them and simply been brainwashed, but this guy was certainly working for the devil.

The inscription on the gates reads, "Work will set you free" This is what they were told upon entrance to the "work camp", but once inside it became very obvious that the only way out was through the chimneys. 200,000 people entered these gates and only 100,000 ever came out.
In this main square directly behind the gates is where the prisoners lined up each morning for roll call. They woke up at 4:30 in the summer and 5:30 in the winter. They had exactly one half hour to be out at roll call. You had to use the toilet and wash before coming out since morning and night were the only times you could use the toilet. If you woke up next to a dead person, it was your job to drag the body and pile it in the square to be counted as well. One time they actually had to stand out at attention for 11 hours. They had received orders from the commandant to identify the weak prisoners. After 11 hours of standing in the cold 400 of the weakest prisoners had dropped dead.

These are some of the security measures. the sign reads neutral zone. Any prisoner caught in this zone would be shot immediately, that is followed by an electrical fence of 400 volts ( a popular way of committing suicide was to throw yourself into that), then the huge wall then guards and dogs and then another wall. No one ever escaped from inside these walls.

When the camp was liberated it was left to its ruin, these barracks have been reconstructed using the degenerated materials, the actual walls these people slept in. These were their bunks, two to three in a bunk. The barracks were built for 100 men, but 400 were usually kept in each.

These were the toilets for 400 men to used in a half hour, people would get trampled while trying to get into this room and out for roll call.

Wash basis for your face and for your feet on the right. There are accounts of prisoners being drowned by SS guards in those foot baths as well as in the overflowing toilets. A favorite punishment would also be to cover over the ceiling vents of the barrack so that the stench became stifling.

This walled area inside the camp is where the high security prison is kept and where the torture took place. Most prisoners could not see the torture taking place but they could hear the sounds of the whips and the screams of their comrades. Here is where a prisoner would have their hands tied behind their back then the rope attached to that nail and be standing on a chair. Another prisoner would then be ordered to kick the chair out, dislocating their shoulders. It wasn't fatal immediately but what good are you in a work camp without the use of your arms.

This is the high security prison where well known prisoners and prisoners that could start an uprising among the other prisoners were kept. They lived their whole lives in solitary confinement, and as you can see by those boxes over the windows, often without light. Life expectancy was longer since they were kept indoors.

This grate covers a deep pit that would be filled with a little bit of water and dead corpses. A live prisoner would then be put in that whole with the rotting bodies. If they didn't die of exposure, they most certainly died of some kind of disease.

We then went outside the walls of the camp to where the extermination portion began. Apparently, Hitlers intention was not to kill the Jews. He tried making life hard for them at first by banning other from using their shops, then when that didn't work he tried scaring them and that was "The night of broken glass" where their shops were burned and their people terrorized, but that didn't work well enough he started putting them in concentration camps and ghettos. As his empire grew and he had Jews streaming in from Poland and Italy and Austria and all over he decided to start the genocide.
This was the original method of death in the camp. You would be marched outside of the camp and tied to a pole at one end of this pit, then those two doors would open and an SS firing squad would open fire. It was decided that this was too slow and too traumatic for the SS guards who had to look into the eyes of their victim, so they became more creative.

This is the remnants of the gas chamber. It is very small because it was only used experimentally. This was not the main method of killing in the camp.

These rooms were set up to look like a doctors office. The prisoner would be told that they were going to be examined by the doctor and taken outside the gates of the camp. They would go into a waiting room with a gramophone playing loud classical music. They would go into another room where an SS guard dressed in a doctors coat would have them remove their clothes and weigh them, they would check their mouth and if they had gold teeth they would mark their arm. They would then be led into the last and smallest room that is built with double brick for sound proofing.

This measuring stick would be placed against the wall. The prisoner would stand against this measuring stick and an SS guard in the secret room behind would open a trap door and put a single low caliber shot through the prisoners spinal cord. 22,000 people died in that small room.

The bodies would then be thrown in this oven. Other prisoners would then open the back and shovel out the ash and wheel it out to be dumped in huge open pits. If the prisoner had any family they would be contacted and would be informed that their family member had died of "natural causes" and would be allowed to buy "their" ash for an astronomical price.

Back inside the walls of the camp is the infirmary, or medical testing facility. The testing that took place here was used to improve the war effort.
Many soldiers were dying of gangrene. They would throw grenades at prisoners and if they survived wait for gangrene to set in and then try all sorts of acids and burning to cure it. There is still no cure for gangrene.
Many sailors were dying from hypothermia. Prisoners were put in an ice bath and once hypothermia set in the would do all kinds of test to see how they could be saved. This is how it was learned that it destroys the tissue if the body is rewarmed too quickly.
They also did racial studies. Could a gypsies skin be bleached white? They tried. Could blue dye be injected into the eyes to change eye color....they tried that too.
If you were not shot and burned in the ovens, your body would have been considered to have died of "natural causes". You would have been brought here for an "autopsy" This was all for show. Prisoners would make an autopsy incision in the chest of the corpse and then sew it back up and pick one of the natural causes of death.
The prisoners who worked here came up with their own code. So if someone died of hypothermia their death certificate would say heart attack. So now families members can often find out the true cause of death.
On April 20, 1945 as the Nazi's were losing the war and the soviet soldiers were fast approaching the commandant told the SS guards to get rid of the prisoners. They started on a death march to the northern border of Germany where boats were waiting to be filled with prisoners, sailed into the middle of the sea and then sunk to destroy the evidence. The road quickly became littered with the dead, many were too weak even to leave. The red cross intercepted the march before they reached the sea and told the SS guards that the soviets were hours away and to give them the prisoners which they did and fled. They were then marched to the closest town and the locals there were forced, sometimes at gunpoint to care for the prisoners.
As I saw in first person all the evidence of these atrocities I wasn't quite sure how to deal with it. It felt weird to talk about normal things or to eat my sandwich. I just kept thinking...."Oh Heavenly Father, these are all your children!" What a terrible time it must have been for him and what a sweet release it must have been for these men and women to meet death and their maker. I guess what I take away from my time in berlin is to enjoy the rights that I have. The right to simply be massive that simple thing is!


Fiagle Family said...

so sad it is amazing to hear of the people that survived such a terrible time in history

Danielle said...

I'm sure you must have had so many mixed emotions that day!

Patricia Peterson said...

What an experience to see the actually place and hear the horror stories. Thanks for sharing! I think we need to remember these stories so these things aren't repeated again! Freedom is a wonderful thing!