On Tuesday morning Fi and Vic offered to take us to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and then to Wannsee where the highest ranking members of the SS met on 20 January 1942 to discuss the ‘Final Solution’; the plan to murder all European Jews.
Fi had visited Berlin last year with a school group of students and we started the day with a detour to a dis-used railway station. She led us to the edge of the platform where steel grids had been laid side by side on both sides of the platform, and which stretched off way into the distance . Each grid provided a date, a number of Jews and the name of a concentration camp. In total over 100,000 jews had left from that station to concentration camps throughout Germany and Poland. Today it was a very quiet space with no fanfare signage encouraging tourists to visit, but it set the tone for the day.
Sachsenhausen Concentration camp was the first new camp to be established after the appointment of Heinrich Himmler as Chief of the German Police in 1936 and many top officials from other nations were invited to observe what work was being undertaken there.
More than 200,000 people were imprisoned here between 1936 and 1945. At first mostly political opponents were imprisoned here but soon they were joined by members of groups defined as racially or biologically inferior. Tens of thousands of them were systematically humiliated and died of starvation, disease, forced labour and maltreatment or were murdered en-masse by the SS. The prisoners were subject to the almost unrestricted power of the 100 to 250 SS command staff employed there and these included compulsory sterilisation and castration, as well as many other experiments on humans in the name of science.
Thousands of other prisoners died on death marches after the evacuation of the camp. In August 1945, The Soviet Secret Service took over the camp where the facilities were used for the same purposes as before and by the time the camp was closed in March 1950, 60,000 people had been imprisoned there, of whom 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease.
The camp apparently is one of the smaller ones, but there was still too much information to take in in one day and after lunch we left and headed to Wannsee.
The beautiful setting for the building, on the edge of the lake, masks the horror of what took place there in 1942.