Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Place of Grisly Terror: Sachsenhausen

Entrance to the Camp: "Arbeit Macht Frei"  (Work Makes You Free).
An ironic greeting for those entering Sachsenhausen.
I wasn't sure whether I should visit the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, a town not far from Berlin. As a college student, I visited the Dachau camp in southern Germany, and those memories are still very vivid. For years now, I've taken efforts to avoid disturbing places. There's too much evil in world. Why see it up close? Nevertheless, people urged me to go, if only to see Oranienburg, a small town famous for its Prussian Palace.

With some reluctance, I made the trip, and I'm glad it did. Oranienburg is a beautiful town with some wonderful sites, including the Schloss-und Kreismuseum; and although the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site is very disturbing, it's a reminder that genocide is still with us today (Serbia, Rwanda, and Cambodia). 

It was at Sachsenhausen that the first experiments in industrial mass murder were started by the Nazis. After the fall of the Nazis, Sachsenhausen became "Camp 7," a site run by the Russian secret police for the "rehabilitation" of political criminals (anyone opposed to the Communist regime). It remained a "detention" camp until the 1950s. After the fall of East Germany in 1989, mass graves were discovered, containing the remains of 10,000 political prisoners. 

Although not for everyone, Sachsenhausen is a worthy memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and all political prisoners. Sachsenhausen is an easy trip from Berlin via the S1 (Oranienburg) and takes about 40 minutes (6€ round trip). The entrance is free.

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