The most prominent Nazi concentration and death camps of World War II were built in Poland. That said, there were still many atrocities carried out against the Jewish people and other marginalized groups in camps on German soil. One such camp is Sachsenhausen, located about one hour outside of Berlin in Oranienburg, Germany.
A brief history
Sachsenhausen was opened in 1936 and primarily housed political prisoners until its liberation by Soviet troops in May 1945. Despite its large population of political prisoners, the camp also held Soviet prisoners of war, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, communists, homosexuals and violent criminals.
Prisoners were forced to engage in labor designed to benefit the German Reich. Among the tasks prisoners were assigned was the counterfeiting of the currencies of the United States and United Kingdom. Camp prisoners were also employed by private businesses involved in the production of war materials. Among these businesses were AEG, Heinkel and Siemens. While the camp was never designed to be an extermination camp, a gas chamber was constructed in March 1943.
In total, 200,000 prisoners passed through Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. Prior to the U.S.S.R.’s advance into Oranienburg, the majority of the remaining prisoners were evacuated in the death marches. The sick and elderly prisoners, numbering around 3,000, remained in the camp until the 1945 liberation.
Structures of note
While many parts of the camp were destroyed during and after the war, much remains. The following map, found on the Sachsenhausen Memorial website, illustrates the layout and what remains standing. A description of each structure is available at the link.
Visitors to the camp will not want to miss the following exhibits. Add these buildings to your “must see” list:
- 1 — Entrance to memorial site, visitors’ center, audio guide rental
- 10 — Original entrance/gate to the camp, Tower “A”
- 17 — Prison with intact cells
- 22 — Prisoners’ Kitchen – with exhibits and a 30-minute video history
- 33 — Site of the first crematorium
- 36 — Mass graves of Concentration Camp victims
Approximately 90% of the camp, buildings and exhibits offer step-free access to wheelchairs. Many of the camp walkways, including those leading from the Commandant’s House (#7 on the map) to Tower “A” (#10), are made of cobblestone. It will be a bumpy ride, but the camp experience is worth the trouble and sore bottom.
Building entrances feature wheelchair ramps. Wheelchairs will need to cross an approximately 2-inch lip inside some buildings at the door threshold or to reach the (slightly) elevated walkway. Some smaller openings, such as into individual cells in the prison building, may be too narrow to pass through. All of the primary exhibits inside the buildings are wheelchair friendly.
A wheelchair accessible bathroom facility is available inside the Prisoners’ Kitchen, building 22. The accessible restroom is located on the basement level, reached by elevator.
Building 22, on the ground level, also houses the historical video documentary. Wheelchair users can access the theatre and use the headphones provided to listen to the video in English.
Transportation: Getting to the camp
Detailed information on traveling inside and around Berlin is available in the Berlin travel guide. Accessible public transportation is available. Use the following services and route from Berlin:
S-Bahn (S1) or RE5 train to Oranienburg Station.
Then, walk/roll 1.7 kilometers (~1 mile) to Sachsenhausen. This takes roughly 20 minutes.
OR, take bus route 804 or 821 from the Oranienburg train station to the camp. The buses do not come very frequently, so you may be forced to wait up to one hour for a bus to arrive.
If you have a collapsible wheelchair and can transfer into the seat of a normal taxi, the memorial and camp is approximately 35 kilometers from the central train station in Berlin, Berlin Hauptbahnhof.
Between March 15th and October 14th, the camp’s opening hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. From October 15th to March 14th, the camp is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free to all and available 7 days per week. For more information on visiting the camp, consult its official website.
Have you been to Sachsenhausen?
Share your experience in the comments below!