Posts Tagged ‘Oranienburg’

A year ago I took one of the most transformative journeys of my life, with 24 fellow educators, to study the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance to it, in Washington, DC, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland. I kept an extensive diary and took tons of photographs. And contrary to many assumptions, it was a journey that led to profound understandings about life, not death.  For the next several days, I have decided to go back and retrace my steps and try to process what unfolded for me. Not weighty tomes, but maybe a picture and a note from the diary.


We followed our visit to Ravensbruck with a visit to Sachsenhausen, though Sachsenhausen was known earlier by the name of the nearby town as Oranienburg,  the model SS camp built between 1936 and 1938, an SS military training facility. Here also was the headquarters for the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps, the closest to the center of power, about 40 km outside Berlin.

Classroom at Sachenhausen.

Classroom at Sachsenhausen.


Our historian/guide at Sachsenhausen, Martin S.

Our historian/guide at Sachsenhausen, Martin S.

We have another passionate young German historian-Martin S. In March 1933, Oranienburg became one of the first KZ-Konzentrationslager, or concentration camp. Due to its proximity to the capital of the Reich, local political opponents were held here. As a simple matter of natural progression, the Gestapo would also shoot political prisoners here in the “shooting pit.”

The shooting pit at Sachsenhausen.

The shooting pit at Sachsenhausen.

After the invasion of the USSR, Sachsenhausen was used to murder Soviet POWs as well. In the infamous”neck shot facility”, over 10,000 were murdered in ten weeks in 1941.

Shooting barracks at Sachsenhausen, for Soviet POWs.

Shooting barracks at Sachsenhausen, for Soviet POWs.


Here, crematoria were developed, and vast shipments of stolen property from the East were later unloaded and warehoused. A brick factory was opened, making bricks for “GERMANIA” to be used in the new Reich construction in Berlin. Life expectancy there was six to eight weeks.

Here, also, scientists and engineers tested gassing vans and facilities. Doctors experimented on live subjects. Always testing. And as we know, major corporations had their hands in it as well, profiting from the slave labor that left the camp each day and were paraded through the surrounding community.

After 1936, authorities toned down the visibility/profile of the camp, due to the sinister application of state policy. But again, nearly 200,000 persons passed through the camp gates. Is it hiding in plain sight?


Or do we, as neighbors, simply turn away?

And, nearly eighty years on, why do American educators spend a good chunk of their “vacation” absorbing such new knowledge?

The persons on this trip know why.




Read Full Post »