During my short trip to Berlin last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit Sachsenhausen concentration camp, the first concentration camp established in Prussia.
Heinrich Himmler called Sachsenhausen, a “thoroughly modern concentration camp”. If “modern” meant that the prisoners had to suffer through brutal beatings, inhumane medical experimentations, and live with intolerable humiliation under the pressure of the omnipresent terror, Sachsenhausen truly was a modern camp designed to be a prison of hell for its prisoners.
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp has had a long history: First, the SA (Sturmabteilung) built this camp from a brewery in 1933. It was then taken over and rebuilt by the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel) in 1934 where brutality was the name of the game for over 12 years.
After the Soviets took over in 1945, it was used as the Soviet Special Camp for five years where inhumane treatments were continued under the rule of Joseph Stalin. In 1950, it was given to the German Democratic Republic (GDR) Army. In the course of the military rule, the GDR Army did their best to erase all traces of Stalinism on the Sachsenhausen grounds to emphasize the cruelty of the Nazis. Only from 1993 to the present, it was reopened as a memorial museum, commemorating victims of both the SS and the Soviets.
Unlike the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in Poland, Sachsenhausen was not an extermination camp. The Sachsenhausen concentration camp was catered to political prisoners, those accused of treason, Soviet POW, society misfits (eg. homosexuals), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and after November 1938, German Jews.
>> To be continued in Part II…