It was the first time, I have been to such a site. And it is much likely going to be the last time, too. As it is unbearable.
Twenty minutes up the road from where we live, is Sachsenhausen concentration camp. I have driven past the road sign on the motorway countless times, yet never went to the site to visit. What with my friend and her teenage kids visiting, my sweetheart thought, this might be an interesting and educational thing to see for everybody. Which it was, no doubt.
Here in Germany, everybody is well educated on Holocaust and the atrocities against humanity caused by the Nazi regime during that time. We all have seen countless documetaries, some have met witnesses or camp survivors, many have been to memorial sites in Berlin or the Jüdisches Museum Berlin (jewish museum in Berlin – which is excellent). But it is a different story, to be at such a site of organised mass murder and cruelty in person.
We went up the camp road enclosed by a wall, which later turned out to be just the outer wall, next to which the guards quarters, or better the murderers quaters were situated. The houses were left as a showcase, the windows blinded and everything locked up. A blind building just like a never-ending accusation. Along the wall, citings from people, who survived the camp, were quoted, talking about their experiences here. This was enough to make my entire body tighten up and wanting to leave again.
We went through the opening to see in an instant the gate to the camp proper. A building behind a courtyard sided by a small museum on one and a patch of wooded area on the other side. The building beeing part of the inner wall circumeferencing the camp site completely, only interrupted by the occasional watchtower. And there it was, leading through the middle of the watch house: the gate, reading Arbeit macht frei (work frees you). This horrible phrase located on most camp entrances.
I actually found myself unable to enter, so after visiting the museum, I turned to the patch of wood on the other side instead. Turns out, it was a memorial wood with stones and other works commemorating various inmates of the camp murdered on site. Opposing politicians, prisoners of war from various nations, labour union members, conscientious objectors and, of course, jews of many nationalities. The works of art to remember the dead moved me very much.
There also was this unmarked, huge stone, with four steel bolders fixed into it. The cold has left some sparkling ice bits on it and it lay there just in front of a fallen and splintered tree. This was a very strong symbol, I thought.
Also a polish memorial, a big block of stone with the negative image of a cross cut out of it stood high and towering. The positive of the cross lay behind it, many polish names engraved on it. At the end of the list, the stone just said: They died in Sachsenhausen.
Leaving the wood, I felt so obliged to all the names I have read, that I made myself enter the camp site proper. The sheer size of the location is frightening. Only very few of the buildings have been left standing for historical and educational purposes. Two prisoner barracks, the hospital building and morgue, the kitchen barrack. The rest has been flattened and erased. So one overlooks a vast, triangular ground, where only the layout of the 50 plus prisoner barracks is marked in steel filled with gravel. Two round steel inlets marked the position of the gallows, where folks were hanged for everyone to see.
At the back center a huge monument of the Soviet military marks the army, that freed this camp.
To its left, there was an extra wall, behind which what I’d call the killing field is situated, as I found out. A shooting trench with a broad ramp leading down that pitch. The barrack, where soviet POWs were lead to receive a “medical examination”, consisting of measuring their height against a wall, through which they then were shot in the neck through the wall from the neighbouring room. Who thinks those procedures up, builds an according barrack, complete with waiting room, undressing room, execution room and adjoining room for the corpses, I ask you. What monsters are we?
Right next to the shooting trench was a white cube. Stone benches marked the site as burial ground, still containing ashes of the victims. On these benches, visitors have left small stones to express their feelings. As I walked round, I faced a wall with anoter quote of a survivor on it.
And then I walked into the cube. To see the most suffocating thing I have ever seen. The ovens. I can not begin to describe, what this sickening sight makes one feel like. I needed out, desperately. And could not believe, there was a sun still shining.
It should not shine on any of us, anymore. If it does, humans certainly have to take it as a grace. Because in no way do we deserve it, none of us. There is no beast on earth that is able to do, what we are capable of.