top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Sachsenhausen Memorial: On the site of a former concentration camp

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp and later a special camp.
A place where memories overlap

The Sachsenhausen Memorial is located on the sites of the former Hitler concentration camp and the former Soviet special camp. The themes are tough and a visit is not something to be taken lightly. Join me on a guided tour of the memorial!

The Sachsenhausen Memorial is worth a visit.

The concentration camp system was not on the periphery of Hitler's regime but one of its founding elements. The camps of the first generation (1933-1935) were gradually replaced by new complexes, designed to be instruments of physical and psychological destruction. At the centre of this new constellation, the Sachsenhausen camp served as an experimental site for the SS. Between 1936 and 1945, more than 200,000 deportees from all over Europe passed through the camp.

After liberation, the Soviets transformed the former concentration camp into a special camp for the internment of political opponents, be they fascists, democrats or simply those who resisted the emerging East German regime. In the 1960s, the GDR inaugurated a first memorial, the Memorial of Anti-Fascism, which was remodelled after German reunification to honour the victims of National Socialism as well as those of the Soviet occupation.

An obscure heritage trapped by tourism issues

The preserved site is gigantic and quickly makes one aware of the extent of the drama that took place there. Very few of the original buildings have been preserved, but an intelligent marking on the ground gives a good idea of the configuration at the time. Some areas have been reconstructed for the purposes of the Memorial... which is also partly a museum.

Each freely accessible building houses an exhibition devoted to a specific theme: anti-Semitism in Barrack 38, medical experiments in one of the Revier barracks, SS personnel in the camp commander's house, etc. If some repetitions are inevitable, the whole is rich in information. Above all, the possibility for the visitor to appropriate the memory of the place by visiting the buildings according to his curiosity makes the experience strangely playful.

Alongside some dubious staging, which is rather regrettable given the sobriety of the place, we deplore the control of tourist companies that make the Memorial a privileged destination. Nevertheless, the fact that they have been able to do so and can continue to do so underlines the outsourcing of educational requirements to third parties. What some would not call an educational drain is a choice and not an inevitability linked to the development of tourism. By way of comparison only, the Stasi Prison Memorial in Berlin has chosen the opposite approach: only groups on tours organised by its educational teams have access to the original sites. Systematic control and guidance - the duty of education.

A guided tour is required

The Sachsenhausen Memorial is difficult to get to from Berlin and requires a time commitment. This time is necessary to get to grips with the place and to discover it without rushing. The layout of the site and the concept of a decentralised exhibition in the authentic or reconstructed buildings invite the visitor to take the initiative, pushing him to take responsibility.

However, the wish to learn and understand is hampered by the exhaustiveness of an audio guide that is too complete, the absence of any qualified contact person on the entire site and the sometimes lack of information. Pedagogical support is necessary to maximise the tour, to feel the intensity of the site, and to understand the meaning of the work of remembrance undertaken in Germany.

Reasons to go

  • The possibility of discovering for yourself and entering certain buildings

  • The surprising collusion of the memories of the victims of two different regimes

  • The gigantism of the site and its perspective

Reasons to avoid

  • Little information on the authenticity of the buildings

  • The indecent rush caused on some occasions

  • Very poor bus connections (one per hour)

11 views0 comments
bottom of page