At the site of Sachsenhausen concentration camp was a small museum.This post is about our visit there this Friday. It deals with the few items of art exhibited there. Made for commemoration purposes in the aftermath of the unspeakable.
It must have been build, while this part of Germany still was “East Germany” and such associated with everything Soviet. This became clear upon entering. The architecture could easily be identified as “East German”. Starting with the glass window backing the entire wall of the entrance hall. The display reminded me much of other, East German heroic art, celebrating the Soviet people’s efforts to enable their army to free the prisoners here in Sachsenhausen. But one part of the glass display did try to describe, what they found here.
And in the corner of the foyer was this sculpture in pure white (or blackening white, as I’d rather see it).
The museum also featured a room with an exhibition of big and small original items of concentration camp life, such as dishes, cutlery, small personal items of inmates, the striped suits prisoners were made to wear. But also chains, rolls of barbed wire and so on. Same as propaganda material from the time leading up to this darkest chapter of humanity.
Another room contained a work of art, that filled out the entire room. This falling sky made of rusty iron sheets describes oppression really well. The blocks of stone reaching out from the wall each bore witness to those, who never even made it as far as Sachsenhausen. Entire villages killed. Groups of people hoarded up and shot. One stone gave the name of a place, Plostina, the date April 19th, 1945 and said “all 23 villagers burned alive”. The next stone read: “Javoricko, May 5th, 1945 the entire population shot and the village erased because they helped the partisans” There were twenty such stones, the last mentioning the total of 360 000 lifes thus erased in Czechoslovakia alone.
The last room was made to remember the hundreds of Soviet prisoners of war killed in Sachsenhausen. As Sachsenhausen also was a training site for concentration camp wardens and supervisors (the commandant later went on to run Auschwitz), someone was ordered to take photographs of prisoners of war. Three of the images were later used on propaganda posters for the Nazis, showcasing the Russian enemy as inhuman. A total of 70 black and white portraits of soldiers were somehow copied by inmates and survived the war. Those portraits being the last trace of the men. The way, these men were made visible was a stunning work of art. Printed on long, thin, silky see-through flags hanging from the roof made you walk through them like through a hall of ghosts. I thought I could hear them whisper to me. Soft, silent accusations. Longings to go home.
Between the rows were simple tables, giving the facts about these photographs. All the names of the killed, that could be found out. And at the end of the room a quote of a camp survivor talking about the Soviet prisoners of war was written on the wall: “They came in their hundreds. From Bellarus or the Caucasian mountains, some with Asian features, but all of them had good teeth and a strong constitution. They were so exhausted, starved and tattered. And here they were starved further, tortured, beaten, most of them shot in the end. But not once did any of them complain and not ever would they voice any fear.”