The visit to Sachsenhausen concentration camp was a humbling, and informative experience.
One of the most remarkable things about it for me was that after being liberated by the Soviet army, the Soviets used it is a prison camp as well. Later, after the closure of the Soviet camp much of the camp was leveled and rebuilt by the Soviets and the East Germans into a memorial that fit their views. Because of this, it can be hard to visualize what the concentration camp was like and the experiences of those interned there feels more distant.
The starkest reminder of the sheer atrocities committed there though, is surely the remains of the crematorium. The entire murder complex off to the side with gas chambers and crematorium was blown up and leveled by the Soviets. Modern attempts to show some idea of what it was like have left little more than the floor plan, which feels less like the gas chambers it once was and more like Roman ruins. The crematorium however was somewhat more intact due to the steel supports used in its construction. The result is twisted steel beams, oven doors, and metal gurneys on what bricks are left. In some ways, this is almost scarier and more powerful than the original structures would have been.
It is worth noting here that Sachsenhausen wasn’t designed or really used for mass murder. It was primarily a location for prisoners to be kept to work for the war effort, with murder buildings attached for killing those unable to work. The other part that really got to me was the morgue where the dead were given an “autopsy” and written off as having died of one of four natural causes.
The basement was an empty white crypt where it was easy to imagine piles of dead bodies filling the musty, dank room.
All in all, I think the visit really put into perspective and made real the things that I learned in history classes about the holocaust.