I took a day trip to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp one of my first weekends here in Berlin. It was a very incredible experience. (Especially for someone who tends to be very empathic! UGH) My flat mate Shannon and I went together; it was nice to have someone else there to share the experience with, and while we are usually two very chatty ladies, this day we were particularly quiet and subdued.
I took some photos, but I couldn’t bear to post them on Instagram- I felt like they deserved more respect than that somehow- so they are all in this post only. Also- I am not sure what kind of post this will be. It’s difficult to describe how you feel and what you saw- even though a lot of it is “just plain facts” but there is sooo much more to it than that… so bear with me and I will do my best in this post.
Sachsenhausen was one of the centers of the concentration camp system in Eastern Europe. Even though it was not considered a death camp, there was by the very nature of the concentration camp system, death and destruction of the human spirit everywhere.
One of the things that really struck me was what an absolutely gorgeous sunny day it was. And I was standing in the middle of a concentration camp. And thousands of people had stood there before me, in the worst place and under the worst conditions of their lives. Death was constantly around the corner. And yet the sun still shined. There were beautiful sunny days. I wonder if it made them sad, or it was a beautiful thing to experience, to know of the constancy of nature? I cannot even imagine which of those things (if those are even the only two choices) I would feel under those circumstances.
It was interesting to hear the stories. Most of the information I more or less knew from both history classes and school and all the reading that I do. But to hear them, while at the same time walk around the place where they actually happened? It adds a level of reality that was truthfully, a bit startling.
It got especially difficult for me when we walked over to the “Industrial yard” where they had the gas chamber, death pit, and crematorium. The “empath” in me found it very hard to manage my own feelings, along with all the feelings of the people around me. I was on the verge of tears for the next hour or so. (I will probably go to visit Auschwitz next month- I’m going to have to do some practice zipping myself up from all that stuff before I go!)
Our guide was good. She was politically aware of both the historical times that allowed these atrocities to happen as well as the political climate of the times we live in now. The similarities to the things that are happening today to how and when they happened then? It’s terrifying. (I have a blog post about that rumbling around in my head- but we’ll see.) Let’s just say for now- that we must look outside ourselves at the bigger world and stop being afraid of other people/nations etc.
There was a man imprisoned there at Sachsenhausen- Pastor Martin Niemöller who wrote this after surviving the camps.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
You can learn more about the German Concentration Camp System by clicking on those words. Also, check out the foreign film “The Counterfeiters.” It is based on the true story of the largest counterfeit operation in the world, ever. Run by the Nazis from this concentration camp. Very interesting story.
Have you ever visited one of the concentration camps, or death camps? Was it difficult to talk about after?