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Travel / Tours / Berlin / Sachsenhausen
A visit to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen
  Inside the camp
  Further information


An introduction to the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, near Berlin.

  Liebe Mutti: One Man's Struggle to Survive in KZ Sachsenhausen, 1939-1945
Author: Jerzy Pindera
Publisher: University Press of America
Date: March 2004
Inside the Concentration Camps: Eyewitness Accounts of Life in Hitler's Death Camps
Editor: Eugene Aroneanu
Publisher: Greenwood Press
Date: October 1996

A local guide explains about the camp

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In 1933 a concentration camp was set up in an empty factory building in the middle of the town of Oranienburg. The prisoners were mainly people from Berlin who were opposed to the takeover of power by the National Socialists (Nazis). A few of the prisoners escaped - when they returned abroad they published reports about the murders and torture there. The Nazis denied these reports, and used false propoganda to show excellent conditions in the camp. In 1934 the SS took over the camp and decided to close it down.

Following the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as the Chief of the German Police, orders were given to build the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Construction took place during the summer months of 1936, at the same time that the Olympic Games were being staged in Berlin. Prisoners were brought here to do the construction work. The new camp was built further away from the town and the main roads: too many people could see what was happening at the former site. Sachsenhausen was used as a model for other concentration camps, and was also a training centre for the guards. The camp was for male prisoners (a separate camp was used for women). In 1938 the administration centre for all German concentration camps was moved to Oranienburg.

Between 1936 and 1945 over 200,000 prisoners were kept at Sachsenhausen. At first these were mainly political prisoners or trade unionists. Later they were joined by groups which the Nazis decided were "inferior", including Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and religious leaders from Germany and the countries which had been occupied. Prisoners were marked with a triangle which identified why they were there, for example: black triangles for political dissidents, red triangles for communists, double yellow triangles (making a star) for Jews, pink triangles for homosexuals. Tens of thousands of prisoners died. Many died from hunger or disease. Many others were worked to death, or were murdered by the SS. Among the people who were brought to Sachsenhausen were those who were suspected of taking part in the attempt to assassinate Hitler on 20th July 1944.

In 1945 the war was going badly for the Nazis - Soviet soldiers were approaching Berlin. At the end of April that year the SS ordered the camp to be evacuated. Thousands of prisoners were sent on "death marches" to the Baltic Sea to the north. Many were put onto ships which were then sunk, drowning all of those on board. The intention was to kill all of the witnesses who knew what had happened in the camps. However, some sick prisoners (and some doctors) were still at the camp when it was liberated. Many of those who were liberated died soon afterwards, sometimes because their bodies could not adjust quickly to being fed properly.

Instead of destroying the camp or preserving it as a memorial, the Soviets decided to use Sachsenhausen as their own concentration camp. It was put under the control of the NKVD (the Soviet secret service). Former Nazi officials were imprisoned here, together with political prisoners. About 60,000 Germans were imprisoned here between 1945 and 1950, of whom over 12,000 died from hunger and disease. The camp was finally closed in March 1950, after which it was used by the East German army and police. In 1961 the site was turned into a National Memorial: at that time it was used by the communist regime as a symbol of the "victory of anti-fascism over fascism".

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the re-unification of Germany, Sachsenhausen has been administered by a public trust called the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation.

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The entrance gate to the camp has the words "Arbeit macht frei", which means "hard work makes you free". These words were placed at the entrance of many of the German concentration camps. Of course the words were not true: however hard you worked while in the camp, you were not set free. The true policy was "Vernichtung durch Arbeit": extermination through work. New arrivals to the camp were greeted by SS guards with dogs and whips.

Entrance gate: "Arbeit macht frei"

The camp is surrounded by a wall, with an electric fence in front. Prisoners were not allowed to go near the wall: if they did, they were shot by a guard in one of the watch towers. Guards were rewarded for shooting prisoners, especially if they managed to kill with only one bullet.


Prisoners are forbidden
from approaching the wall

Sign warning that you will be shot dead
if you enter this zone

Prisoners lived in barracks such as the one below. Between November 1938 and October 1942, Barracks 38 and 39 were reserved for Jews. There is now a museum on this site, telling the story of the Jewish prisoners and showing what life was like here. November 1938 was the time of the Kristallnacht: the night of broken glass, when From October 1942, on the orders of Himmler, Jewish prisoners were sent to the death camps at Auschwitz.

The "Zellenbau" was a building within the concentration camp which was used as a prison. There were three wings to this building: only one of these remains today. It was used to punish anyone who broke the rules, and to hold important prisoners who had been arrested by the Gestapo. Torture and murder were common here. There is an exhibition inside.

Barrack 38:
used to house Jewish prisoners

This modern sign marks the entrance to the building used as a
special prison by the Gestapo and SS camp authorities

The semi-circular open area inside the camp was the place where prisoners had to assemble twice or three times each day for the roll-call, to check that everybody was there. Prisoners were often forced to wait there for hours in the rain or cold: many suffered from frostbite. Gallows were placed at the side of this area: prisoners were executed here in front of the others.

Station Z was the location of the crematorium, where dead bodies were burnt. The letter "Z" was chosen because it is the last letter of the alphabet: it represents "the end". Local people used to complain about the foul smell of the thick black smoke from the crematorium. There were also extermination facilities here, where techniques for killing were developed. Ashes from the crematorium were buried next to the building. There is an execution trench here where people who were sentenced by the Nazi Special Courts (for example, resistance fighters) were shot and buried.

Gallows: prisoners were hanged in front of
others during the roll-call

Station Z: the site of the crematorium
and extermination facilities

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Sachsenhausen has been preserved as a place to remember those who died there. It is also a reminder of what can happen when a totalitarian regime is allowed to take power. The museum here which aims to inform new generations about what happened here to make sure that the lessons of history are learnt ...

"Death march" memorial stone: thousands
of prisoners were killed before the camp
was liberated by the Soviet army

Memorial inside the camp to those
who died here: the triangles represent the
18 types of prisoner who died here

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Tour to Sachsenshausen starting in Berlin
To book a place on a guided tour to Sachsenhausen starting in Berlin, click here.

Independent travel to Sachsenhausen
The Sachsenhausen camp is to the north of Berlin. To get there by public transport, take S-bahn line S1 to its northern terminus Oranienburg (make sure that your ticket is valid for zone C): from Friedrichstrasse station it takes about 50 minutes. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the station to the camp. Alternatively, there is a bus 804 which leaves from the square outside Oranienburg station (take the bus towards Malz as far as the memorial - Gedenkstätte), but the service is not very frequent (hourly, or every 2 hours on Sundays). Allow at least half a day for this visit (for example, 1 hour 30 minutes to get there, 2 hours to visit and 1 hour 30 minutes to return to central Berlin).

Useful websites:
Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen:

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