Friday, May 23, 2008

Day 10: Sachsenhausen

Sachsenhausen. The concentration camp just outside Berlin. I went there today.
It took about an hour to get there on the Metro and once there you have the option of walking 15 minutes or waiting for a bus that runs every two hours which I just missed. Of course, my watch stopped working, so who knows what time it actually was. It has started ticking the seconds backwards. Is that a good sign?
Anyway so I walked. It was 6 miles, and once I got lost that added about another 2 miles to it. I am very tired. You get up at 9 am and go all day to 11 pm for 2 weeks, and I really need some time to sit down. Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin so I plan to rent a bicycle for the day. There's loads of bike trails here. The sidewalks all have two sections, one with cobblestones for walking and then a smooth one for biking. As my feet are killing me I occasionally wander over to the smooth part and then hear a ringing bell as I'm nearly run over so tomorrow I will be the one doing the running over! Ah ha!
Sunday my flights leaves at 9:15 so I have to be at the airport at 7 and luckily the subway runs 24 hours on Saturday. Now I have to get up at 5:45 which is bad but I think my alarm clock is also not keeping proper time so who knows what will happen. I don't think they do wake up calls in a room full of 8 people at 5:45 in the morning. Just a guess.
So I went to the Concentration Camp:

The little sign on the door says "Work makes freedom", same as Auschwitz.
A uniform:

I got a book from the bookstore about this one gay guy who was sent to a concentration camp. It's a very short book as he said his story is one "No one wants to hear". It was published in 1980 and details how he got sent to Sachenhausen and his treatment while there. When he was released by the Red Army he was sent to court where his sentence in the concentration camp was seen as an appropriate punishment and was transferred to his permanent record as a prison sentence meaning he could never get a good job again. After that he was put on a watch list of sexual offenders and many other homosexuals were re-arrested during the next 20 years. He applied for compensation from the German government for being in the concentration camp and was told no. He was not considered a victim of the Nazi's crimes.

It says something like "Hushed the homosexual sacrifice in national socialism". Ironically after the Russians freed the camp they used it for the next 5 years to hold prisoners. Thousands died during this time, including homosexuals, political activists and German people. Their bodies were kept in mass graves next to the ones used for the Jews.
In 1950 it became a training camp for Russian soldiers, and in 1960 the Russians blew up the gas chamber and crematorium on site to turn it into a shooting gallery. People who were in the concentration camp intervened and now the foundation still remains, covered by a plastic tarp.

In 1992 the camp was fire-bombed by an arsonist.
I consider myself lucky to have seen these places, they will not be around forever. A lot of the buildings are wood.
Here is the German officer's quarters:

Just left to rot.
There is a monument:

Unlike Auschwitz, there was nothing here when the German Government intervened in the early 1960's and designated this a monument. It had still been used for the past 15 years, repainted and totally changed around. So they filled most spaces with a museum collection of artifacts and stories.
When you walked into the medical section, you saw this:

The camp was originally used to house prisoners of war and later everyone else. Autopsies were carried out on all of the dead, although later it was only for show and the numbers were covered up. Very little killing went on here, the people were made to work on a cup of coffee in the morning and cabbage soup (watered down) at night. In winter they had only a thin uniform and many died of TB, others lack of food or exhaustion.
The audio guide mentioned a story where 10 children were imported to the medical unit for testing from Auschwitz. These 10 boys, about 10 years old, were all tested to make sure they were fit and then given a dose of hepatitis to see how long the infection would take. One Jew who was working as an aide was there the following week when they tested the boy's liver and he told him to keep a brave face through the pain of the incision and then walked him back to his bed, where the boy lay there, facing the wall, with tears running down his face.
When I heard this story I cried and cried. I sat down outside the medical unit and cried and couldn't stop. I'd catch my breath and be okay for a minute and then start to walk again and start to cry again. I'm crying now, it was a very emotional experience being in the same building as this boy was and hearing his story and seeing the monuments, like this one:

Which says:
"In reminder of my mother.
Because of her love for my father, the French forced laborer Marcel Sebbah, she was kidnapped by the SS and died in the dispensary of the SS Sachenhausen, living weeks after being freed, as a consequence of her detention."

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