Sachsenhausen concentration camp, just outside of Berlin. I wondered
if there was any other weather that would've been more appropriate for
what we were about to see. Sachsenhausen was built in 1936, one of the
earliest constructed camps in Germany, it housed 200,000 prisoners
until it was liberated April 22, 1945.
Our guide explained to us that while the camp was liberated in 1945,
it was quickly in use again until 1961, occupying German perpetrators,
Soviet spies, and others awaiting trials for their crimes. While death
presumed, it was out of starvation and old age, not the
individually-executed and meticulously planned extermination that was
performed years earlier against the Jews, Gypsies, and homosexuals.
As we walked the grounds, little remained of the original structures.
The camp was first bombed by East German policemen in the 1980s and
then again in 1992 by Neo Nazis from surrounding towns. Little was
done to rebuild the effects of either arson-- Bunker 38, which housed
over 800 Jews at any one time, was half destroyed by fire and what
remained was marred by singed wood and peeling paint.
Our guide gathered us where daily roll call occurred some 60 odd years
earlier. He continued to provide us with a factual narration of the
camp's history. The still air was biting and while dressed
appropriately for the cold, I felt chills up my spine. My hands were
clenched and dug deeply into my pockets, my scarf rewrapped to cover
my ears, and yet I could not get warm. How could I complain knowing
very well that my Ziedi stood in worse conditions wearing nothing but
thin, paper cloth pajamas? Was this the point? To replicate the
feeling of sheer helplessness? We were outside for an extended period,
standing still and I couldn't fight the cold anymore. I quietly
separated from the group to return to the memorial museum and quickly
became disoriented. I walked along the rubbled paths and was met by a
dead end. There was a way out for me, but not for so many others.
I turned around and walked in the other direction.