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Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

A former concentration camp used during the Third Reich to hold political prisoners.

Saxon's House

Sachsenhausen - 'Saxon's Houses' - is in Orianenburg, a town 35 kilometres north of Berlin. Orianenburg was the administrative centre for all Nazi concentration camps, and it was here that one of the first camps was built in 1933; this was taken over by the SS in 1934, who closed it down and replaced it with Sachsenhausen.

Sachsenhausen was used as a training ground for SS officers, many of whom would go on to oversee other camps. Although it was not constructed as an extermination camp, many executions took place here: prisoners were initially shot or hanged in a trench, but many more were later killed after the camp commandant installed a gas chamber and ovens in 1943.

Prisoners were placed in a descending hierarchy of criminals, Communists, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews, differentiated by labelling them with differently coloured triangles. This was a grimly effective camp, intended as a template for others: very few prisoners escaped, and around 50,000 died here, either executed or due to the poor living conditions. Over 10,000 Red Army prisoners of war were executed in the camp in a device called a 'Genickschussanlage' - they were shot in the back of the neck through a hidden aperture while being measured for a uniform.


Nazi nerve centre

This was also the site of Operation Bernhard, an enormous counterfeiting operation whereby inmates were forced to manufacture fake American and British currency as part of a mission to undermine the British and United States' economies - the Germans planned to drop forged British pounds over London by plane. Prisoners were also forced to march miles a day over a variety of surfaces to test military footwear.

The camp was evacuated as the Soviets approached in 1945, and the remaining inmates were liberated by the Red Army and the Polish Army's 2nd Infantry Division. The Soviets held many senior Nazi prisoners here over the following years. It was then used as a police training centre by East Germany, before it was inaugurated as a national memorial in 1961. After German Reunification, the camp was opened as a museum: the exhibits include documents, artifacts and photographs, artwork by inmates, and a chilling 30-centimetre high pile of gold teeth extracted from prisoners. Long hidden behind the Iron Curtain, Sachsenhausen is less well known than Auschwitz or Dachau, but visiting is a valuable experience for anyone who wants to understand the atrocities that took place.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in Berlin
Berlin Wall
Along the East Side Gallery, this iconic moment between Brezhnev and Honecker is now one of the most visited parts of what remains of the Berlin Wall.
Charlottenburg Palace Garden
Spanning 33 hectares, the Charlottenburg Palace Garden was designed by Siméon Godeau, a pupil of the famous French landscape architect André Le Notre.
Charlottenburg Palace Mausoleum
A 1810 neoclassical Mausoleum, where various royals, including Emperor Wilhelm I and his wife, are entombed in ornate marble sarcophagi.
Sachsenhausen Memorial
The memorial obelisk contains eighteen red triangles representing the symbol the Nazi's gave to political prisoners.
Sachsenhausen Museum
The museum features a 30cm high pile of gold teeth extracted from the prisoners, scale models of the camp, pictures, documents and other artefacts illustrating life in the camp.
Barracks
The standard barrack layout had a central washing area, a separate room with toilet bowls and a right and left wing for the overcrowded sleeping rooms.

Related Tours

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Private Tour from Berlin
Explore the harrowing Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp on this sobering private tour of one of the infamous Nazi concentration camps, situated in Oranienburg, just forty-five minutes from Berlin by train with a short bus ride. On your private tour you will:

  • Enjoy the personal attention and expertise of your private guide.
  • Tour the remains of the camp, the barracks, the museum exhibits, and the burial ground with ashes of the victims killed inside the camp. 
  • Experience the harrowing reality of Sachsenhausen, the former concentration camp used during the Third Reich for political, ethnic, and religious prisoners.
  • Learn about the terrible hardships the prisoners faced at the camp, and the appalling methods and experiments conducted on prisoners, to formulate a perfect ‘Aryan’ race. 
  • Hear how the Soviets adopted the camp after the War, to house 60,000 political prisoners.
  • Pay your respects at the "National Memorial" inside the camp
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp was built in 1936 by internees from other camps and was the first to be built under the New Chief of Police, the infamous SS Leader Heinrich Himmler. It was designed to be the standard for other camps – both in its escape-proof layout, and its abusive treatment of prisoners. Over 200,000 people were imprisoned there between 1936-45. Prisoners included opponents of the Nazis, peoples who the Nazis considered racially inferior like the Jews, Sinti and Roma, homosexuals, and “anti-socials”. 

Thousands of prisoners died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp as a result of disease, forced labour, hunger, brutal medical experiments, mistreatment and torture, or were the victims of systematic extermination by the SS troops. You will tour the camp, and see the entrance called Tower A; later your guide will show you the extermination unit and crematorium built in 1943, chillingly dubbed Station Z by the SS guards. 

You will learn about the horrifying treatment of prisoners, the disgusting experiments and torture conducted on them, and the shocking ‘Sachsenhausen salute,’ the death strip, and the ‘shoe running detail’ where prisoners were forced to march around a parade ground for days, with full backpacks, in order to test the durability of various boot soles.  You will hear some harrowing stories about the real horrors of the Holocaust conducted at Sachsenhausen concentration camp and its satellite camps, including the death marches. On an emotional tour, you will be able to pay your respects at the National Memorial created in 1961 inside the camp, before returning to Berlin. 
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