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April 2, 2010

Sachsenhausen — “Camp of Silence”

Filed under: Germany, World War II — Tags: , , , , , — furtherglory @ 9:39 am

During World War II, Sachsenhausen was a Nazi concentration camp, located in the town of Oranienburg, near Berlin.  It was a camp for political prisoners, mostly Communists, who were the enemies of the Nazis; they wore badges with a red triangle to denote their classification. 

Special Camp No. 7 for German citizens at Sachsenhausen

The “Camp of Silence” was Special Camp No. 7, a camp for German citizens which was set up outside the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp after World War II by the victorious Soviet Union, whose soldiers of the Red Army had liberated Sachsenhausen.  The inmates were German citizens in Communist East Germany who were imprisoned without charges and without a trial. They were held in a camp of silence where they were forbidden to have any form of contact with the outside world. For years, their families did not know if they were dead or alive.

When Sachsenhausen was a Nazi camp for Communists, the prisoners were allowed to send and receive letters. The prisoners could receive packages from home, and some of the important prisoners, like the Reverend Martin Niemoeller, could even receive visitors at the camp. The Red Cross was allowed to inspect the camp and to send packages to the prisoners.  The Soviet camp for German citizens at Sachsenhausen was set up strictly for revenge and the inmates had none of the privileges that the Nazis gave their prisoners.

After Special Camp No. 7 was closed in 1950, it was forbidden in the German Democratic Republic (Communist East Germany) to speak of the camp. Even in the western zones of occupied Germany, and later in the Federal Republic of Germany, the camps that were set up by the victors were not spoken about.  Organizations like the “Fighting Group Against Inhumanity” and the “East Offices” of the SPD and CDU tried to procure and spread information about the “Camps of Silence” but nobody wanted to hear about how the Germans were treated after the war.

German prisoners in Special Camp No. 7 scratched their names on the bricks

German prisoners in Special Camp No. 7 scratched their names on the bricks

It was only after the fall of Communism in the G.D.R. in 1989 that three mass graves of the Sachsenhausen Special Camp No. 7 were discovered and finally German citizens were allowed to talk about the “Camp of Silence.”  Former prisoners began to speak openly about their imprisonment, and  a memorial stone was placed on the northeast camp wall in 1990.

According to the files released by the Soviet Union, a total of approximately 60,000 German prisoners were held in the Sachsenhausen Special Camp No. 7 after World War II ended. The bodies of approximately 12,000 prisoners who died of starvation and disease were buried in unmarked mass graves in three locations: the Commandant’s Yard in the front of the north exit of the Memorial Site, on the dunes on Schmachtenhagener Street, and in the Schmachtenhagener Forest on highway B 273 between Oranienburg and Schmachtenhagen. The photograph below shows the mass graves near the north exit of the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site.

Mass graves of German citizens who died in Soviet camp at Sachsenhausen

Graves of German citizens who died in Special Camp No. 7

Special Camp No. 7 for German citizens was located in a separate area at Sachsenhausen that the Nazis had used as a camp for Allied Prisoners of War.  After World War II ended, this section was initially converted into Zone II for Soviet citizens who were awaiting return to the Soviet Union. Some of them were former concentration camp prisoners who were looked upon as traitors to Communism; they were waiting to be sent to the gulags in Siberia.  In August 1945, the brick barracks, shown in the photo below, were used by the occupation forces of the Soviet Union as part of their prison camp for German citizens who had been arrested without charges.

Brick buildings where German citizens were imprisoned

The Sachsenhausen Memorial Site has been owned and administered by the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation since 1993. In 1995, the Memorial at Sachsenhausen was expanded to include the area of a former special camp which was built by the Nazis in 1940 outside the original triangular prison enclosure; 15 of the original brick barrack buildings in this area have been preserved.  These are the buildings which were part of Special Camp No. 7.

Roof of Museum with monument to political prisoners in background

When I visited Sachsenhausen for the first time in 1999, I completely missed the Special Camp No. 7 section because it is located outside the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site and there was no sign pointing to it.  In 2001, I visited the former special camp and the Museum that is devoted to the story of the Germans who were imprisoned by the Communists.  The Museum building is black and the interior was dark, almost pitch black.  The information about Special Camp No. 7 was all in German in 2001.  From what I could understand, with my limited ability to read German, the Museum information was heavily slanted toward the attitude that the German people are evil and they deserved everything thing they got during and after World War II.  This attitude becomes more prevalent with each passing year, so I doubt that the Museum for Special Camp No. 7 has changed.

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for a very good, eye-opening blog. I think you should inform your readers who actually runs this memorial. Or should I say “owns?”

    Comment by sceptic — April 3, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

    • I don’t know who really controls or owns the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site, but it still shows a definite Communist slant. When I was there, the Museum was calling Sachsenhausen a Todeslager not a Vernichtungslager, which is the term made up by the western Allies for a “death camp.” The number of deaths, according to the Museum, was 100,000 which would be a 50% death rate, far higher than Dachau and Buchenwald, which were comparable camps. Still you have to give them credit for putting up something about Special Camp No. 7. Dachau has nothing about War Crimes Enclosure No. 1 which was the camp for Germans at Dachau after World War II, and there is nothing at Dachau about where the bodies of the German soldiers who were killed by the American liberators are buried.

      Comment by furtherglory — April 3, 2010 @ 10:58 pm


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