It was our last full day in Berlin. And our third day of rain. My sneakers were the kind of wet where if you wiggle your toes water sloshes and everything is squishy. It wasn’t a fine time. On our free walking tour, we had booked a tour to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp because we were planning to visit Auschwitz in Krakow and why not see another part of history? Nick and I got up and layered up with all our clothes to stay dry. It had been pouring 85% of our time in Berlin. We had both bought umbrellas, and on this day I bought a poncho. It was SO wet and SO cold!
But it almost felt like nothing, when our tour guide Rochelle (I hope I spelled that right) started telling us the history of Sachsenhausen. It wasn’t built for the purpose of a death camp. It was a work camp. But although Sachsenhausen wasn’t an extermination camp, 35,000 people still died while imprisoned in its walls. It was home to Station Z, a efficient kill-shot facility. This was murder in a different way then gas chambers. It was a very systematic and gruesome way to death, I won’t get into the details but feel free to research at your discretion. I literally could not understand that someone or a group of people planned an entire scenario that would kill a group of people without panic. Like what! Not only that. If that was the fate chosen for you, you were lucky. The past of Sachsenhausen gets darker with brutal work tasks such as the boot trial run. Prisoners were given combat boots (regardless of size) and ordered to alternate jogging and running in the boots with a soldier backpack. The longest someone survived in that work force was 2 weeks. Could you even imagine? I felt numb.
There is a building within Sachsenhausen which is a replica of Jewish sleeping quarters of prisoners once the Jewish extermination was a priority in Hitler’s regime. It truly is something you need to experience. I couldn’t imagine living that way, or ordering anyone else to live that way. Part of the replica was actually ruined to arson in 1992 as an act of anti-semitism (news article here). I couldn’t believe it!
Visiting a concentration camp is a life changing experience. I felt angry. I felt enlightened. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug Nick. I didn’t know what to feel. I think it’s hard to grasp the actual magnitude of the Holocaust. It’s hard to grasp that the underlying themes of hatred and racism and fear that LEAD to Holocaust are still so prominent today to a whole different population. It was bone chilling thinking that something to the magnitude such as the Holocaust could happen again if we let it.
Sachsenhausen has left an imprint on my mind and outlook on life completely. I would truly recommend if you have the chance to visit and pay respect to a concentration camp – do it. I believe everyone should. We would all be humbler humans.