Visiting the Sachsenhausen concentration camp is one of the most impactful experiences in my life thus far. The grounds’ entrance before the camp looks and feels like any other museum. After briefly looking over the entrance exhibit, I began walking on the main road of the camp, one that eventually would lead me to the front gate. At this point in the tour, I was “museumed out” so to speak, so on the two-minute walk to the front gate, I was mostly just taking in the beautiful nature surrounding the camp. At this point, I was lost in thought when I rounded the corner and saw the front gate for the very first time. Instantly, the air turned heavy. The gate stood before me and you could feel what had happened at this place. As I walked into the camp and turned, I became aware that that gate could be seen from all sides of the camp. As the Audio-guide explained in the next thirty seconds, everything in the camp was designed to terrify and beat down those imprisoned there.
The Germans used their gift of engineering in the most perverted way possible. The camp is designed in an equilateral triangle walled in with concrete, with the main gate exactly in the middle. Starting on the sides of the gate, there was an electrified barbed wire fence and a gravel pathway before the barbed wire fence. Sachsenhausen guards would be rewarded with a bonus and leave they were able to shoot any prisoner who stepped on the pathway. Because of this, desperate prisoners that had given up would race to a relatively quick death on the barbed wire, only to be shot by a guard who saw them as a payday – one of the many sick games played by the SS at Sachsenhausen.
Seeing the medical experiments inflicted on some of the prisoners outlined how the Nazis felt about those who were, to quote the SS, “undeserving of life.” One of the plaques from the medical center explained that the SS doctors did not see anyone in the camp as human, but merely the closest animal substitute for humans. The SS felt no shame in injecting children as young as seven with hepatitis and performing a liver biopsy, all done without anesthesia. But the most impactful part of the concentration camp was the crematorium. This is where the air felt the heaviest and brought up a cocktail of emotions all at once: anger, confusion, and sadness. As I worked through those, I came to a true realization as to why everything is preserved. It is to make sure that something like this never happens again. I recommend everyone reading this who gets a chance to go to Europe to put a concentration camp at the top of their list. It isn’t fun or something to post on your Facebook. But it is the most impactful historical site that you will visit.
“If you tell a lie big enough, and keep repeating it, people will come to believe it.” – Joseph Goebbels – Chief Propagandist for the Nazi Regime