The Horror of Hatred – Berlin, Germany

Yesterday, I took a half hour train to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. It was very large and I found out while I was doing the self-guided audio tour, that this was a `model` that they used during the war to build other camps from. There were barely any tourists on this hot sunny day as I passed through the gates that over 220,000 people once entered to endure this horrific place.

There were two barracks still standing which housed extensive information of what it was like living there during the war. They also had an original set up of what the people had to live in. There were stories from prisoners explaining the terrors the the SS put them through. I learned that the windows were nailed shut and many died of suffocation, a form of death that wouldn`t have occurred to me. Standing there during a semi hot day, I was sweltering and the musty odor forced me to leave for fresh air more than once.

I tried to imagine over 500 people packed into these rooms (they were only built to house 148) without any ventilation and without proper sanitation. The waterclosets (“closet” is generous) were tiny and they had only 45 mins between waking and roll call to wash, dress, eat, and carry out any necessary chores leaving the barracks just so for inspection.

These people were also without proper clothing or footwear. There were several blue and white striped prison outfits displayed throughout the exhibits…I noticed blood still left on the leg of one. They were dirty and ripped with stars and color patches (everyone was coded) on them sewn on them. I couldn’t imagine working in these heavy clothes. Heat exhaustion must have been rampant but I guess they must not have had a summer/winter wardrobe. The uniforms certainly wouldn`t have been sufficient for the harsh winters.

They slept on beds of straw and some had no bed at all. They ate a soup made of water, old potatoes or turnips and they received 200~500 grams of bread (which was composed of many unbreadlike ingredients one being 10% straw and/or leaves). The caloric intake was not even enough to sustain a person completely at rest. It was not even half that amount.

As I was looking at the pictures of the starving, a picture of a little boy not more than 8 stood out to me. He was so thin that you could see his entire skeleton and his big empty eyes were sunken into his pale face. I wondered what he would look like with a smile…we will never know.

There was a prison within the concentration camp…which I found a little ironic. I found it very difficult to listen to the first hand accounts of the tortures that the SS would inflict on the prisoners. Animalistic, horrific, gruesome and barbaric were some words that came to mind. On many occasions, the guards would torture someone as a punishment for not obeying the rules (which would change daily) for hours before actually killing them. Some of the things they did made me feel physically ill.

There were ovens that were installed in 1942 and the area was called Station Z. Himmler found it fitting that they should enter through Tower A and leave through Station Z…dead. I wondered how they could fit bodies through the small oven doors. There was a room where there was a scale and measuring stick where they would trick prisoners thinking they were undergoing a medical examination only to be shot in the back of the head by an SS guard aiming his gun through a slit in the wall. Next to the crematorium, I stood over a trench where people were shot in large groups. By now I was feeling pretty sick and I tried to hurry through the rest of the camp as I was feeling close to saturation.

I had to sit down when I listened to the medical experiments performed on prisoners in the infirmary. One in particular was of a group of 11 mostly Polish children between 8 and 15 which were in perfectly good health. The were used for a hepatitis experiment and all I can say is that it was far from painless. Their little bodies were exposed to some of the most cruel procedures I have ever heard of, including the youngest being stabbed in the back several times in order to rupture the enlarged liver…`to see what would happen`.

I am not sure if the odors I smelled were in my head or actually there (how could they be after so long?) but I have never experienced and hope never to again, the ominous feeling of death that surrounded me. Over 100,000 people died at Sachsenhausen. I walked out five hours after I had walked in and I have never felt like that in my life. The sun beamed down as I wiped the sweat from my brow but I was numb and cold. I felt grateful to be walking out, as many before me could not.

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