Today marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Sachsenhausen, the concentration camp that lies in the German town of Oranienburg, just 35km north of Berlin. Sachsenhausen is always a popular addition to our school history trips to the German capital, as it helps students better understand the horrors of the Holocaust and the division of Germany during the Cold War.
Sachsenhausen had a reputation for being incredibly secure and was designed as the perfect concentration camp. It was used primarily to house political prisoners and this was the case both during the Nazi regime and after the war, when the Soviets took control of the area around the camp and used Sachsenhausen to accommodate their own political prisoners.
Although executions were carried out at Sachsenhausen, the Nazis did not intend it to be an extermination camp, with the systematic murder of ‘undesirables’ taking place at camps in the east, such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Belzec. However, after large numbers of Jewish prisoners began to arrive at the camp in 1942, camp commandant Anton Kaindl had a gas chamber and ovens built (which were completed the following year) to facilitate the murder of much larger numbers of them.
It is estimated that around 200,000 people passed through Sachsenhausen. Tens of thousands died, either murdered by their imprisoners or weakened by the malnutrition and disease caused by the terrible conditions inside the camp.
In April 1945, Soviet and Polish soldiers were on their way to Oranienburg to liberate the camp. As happened at many concentration camps, an effort was made to hide some of the evidence of the Holocaust, with the SS forcing thousands of already weakened prisoners to march to camps further from the front. This also happened at Sachsenhausen where 33,000 prisoners were forcibly evacuated on the night of 20th-21st April 1945. Any prisoners who could not keep up with the pace were shot and these marches resulted in the deaths of thousands. Sick prisoners were left at the camp, where 3,000 were liberated on 22nd April 1945.
A visit to Sachsenhausen will certainly leave your students with unforgettable memories and a greater empathy for the victims of the Holocaust. It will also help them to better understand how the concentration camps worked and how the Soviets used some of them to house suspected Nazis and other political prisoners.
Contact our History Tours Specialist today to find out how we can tailor-make a school history trip to Berlin for your group, including a visit to Sachsenhausen.