Impressions of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

by James Glazebrook

Sachsenhausen Neutrale Zone

It’s 4am and I’m wide awake, struggling to process the GetYourGuide Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Walking Tour. I’m”suffering” from two things: a nasty cold I picked up wandering around in sub-zero conditions, and a hazy black cloud of half-formed negative emotions that hangs somewhere in the back of my mind. Both leave me feeling pathetic and weak-willed.

Sachsenhausen red rose burned barracks

I got sick after less than four hours in -10°C, wrapped in three layers of weather-resistant clothing. Some of the 30,000 prisoners who passed through Sachsenhausen work camp endured more bitter cold (as low as -20°C) wearing only one layer of thin cotton, and no shoes. Once they stood outside for a roll call of their identification numbers that lasted 26 hours. Listening to this, I wolfed down a sandwich, feeling particularly worthless. Impossibly brave people had survived unimaginably worse conditions, sustained by only one slice of bread per day.

Sachsenhausen frost

As I tried to make sense of our guide’s detail-soaked narrative, I felt a pale shadow of what Germans must, when they think about this part of their history. Hearing about the sheer number of prisoners, and the methods employed to dehumanise, punish and – later in World War Two – kill them, left me numb. Finding it impossible to put myself in their position, I tried to empathise with the citizens of the small town of Oranienburg, some of whom still lived on the borders of Sachsenhausen. I don’t blame them for doing their best to ignore the rumours of what happened inside, insinuated by the chimney stack smoking with the ashes of the Third Reich’s victims. If I can’t process this, generations later, no wonder they couldn’t at the time.

Sachsenhausen executions

Apologies if you were expecting specifics about the GetYourGuide Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp tour. No amount of words, images or facts and figures – although there are many to be found in the careful reconstruction of the camp – can truly represent the horrors that took place there. Go for the price of an ABC BVG ticket (entrance to the site is free), or book a guided tour, and support the invaluable work of the cash-strapped Memorial. But don’t expect to be able to comprehend what happened there.

Sachsenhausen barracks

Sachsenhausen prisoner uniforms

Sachsenhausen watch tower

Sachsenhausen prison

Sachsenhausen hole in the fence

Sachsenhausen morgue

Sachsenhausen barbed wire

Sachsenhausen prison cell

For more photos and another writer’s impressions of the camp, read this guest post about Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.