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September 28, 2014

Sachsenhausen was an “experimental” camp, says student who toured the camp

Monument at Sachsenhausen Memorial Site

Monument at Sachsenhausen Memorial Site (Click to enlarge)

The photo above was taken by me in 2001; it shows one of the Sachsenhausen cremation ovens in the background. This statue might have been moved, by now, to another spot at the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site. The gas chamber at Sachsenhausen was located to the right of this statue.

Floor of the Sachsenhausen gas chamber which has been torn down

Floor of the Sachsenhausen gas chamber which has been torn down

Old photo of the Sachsenhausen gas chamber which was equipped with shower heads

Old photo of the Sachsenhausen gas chamber which was equipped with shower heads and had a window to let in natural light

This quote is from a news article, about a tour taken by York College students, which you can read in full here:

The first stop on their [student tour] itinerary was Berlin where they visited the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen.

For York College student Trey Sokolik, it was Sachsenhausen that made the biggest impact on his experience.

“It was an experimental camp so people didn’t know how they were going to die,” Sokolik explained. “The torture methods they used there were actually what brought the Sachsenhausen commander [Rudolf Höss] to Auschwitz.”

“They would hang people from their hands,” he continued. “Just thinking about what that felt like is horrible.”

The “hanging from their hands” was the practice of “baum hanging,” which is illustrated in the photo below. This torture is officially called Strappado.

Still shot from a Soviet movie shows "baum hanging"

Still shot from a Soviet movie shows “baum hanging”

I visited the Sachsenhausen camp twice, once in 1999 and again in 2001.  I had to go back a second time because I completely missed the gas chamber the first time that I was there. The gas chamber, which is quite small, is located in the area of the cremation ovens. (The gas chamber has a floor drain, and could have been used also as a shower room.)

Sachsenhausen is actually located in the town of Oranienburg, which is close to Berlin, and only a short train ride away.

What kind of an “experimental camp” was Sachsenhausen? Maybe this student is referring to the medical experiments, which were done at Sachsenhausen.

According to a brochure, which I purchased at the Sachsenhausen Memorial Site in 2002, there was a total of five infirmary (hospital) barracks in the Nazi Sachsenhausen concentration camp. (After the camp was liberated by Soviet troops, the camp was turned into a camp for German prisoners for the next ten years.)

The brochure says that the infirmary barracks at Sachsenhausen were used for presentation to high ranking visitors, foreign delegations and journalists. At the same time, medical experiments on prisoners, murders and selection for mass executions took place in the infirmary, according to the brochure.

Two of these infirmary barracks have been preserved at the camp Memorial Site. Nearby is the small building used by the Pathology Department. This is where autopsies were done to determine the cause of death or to see the results of the medical experiments on the subjects who died. The photograph below shows the autopsy room with the tile-covered tables where the autopsies was performed.

Autopsy tables at Sachsenhausen Memorial Site

Autopsy tables at Sachsenhausen Memorial Site

Doctor at Sachsenhausen camp

Doctor  at Sachsenhausen camp

Heinz Baumkötter, whose photograph, shown above, hangs in the Pathology Lab at Sachsenhausen, was prosecuted as a war criminal by a Soviet Union Military Tribunal in October 1947; he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In 1956, he was released by the Soviets, but was then put on trial again in a West Germany court, and convicted of murder.

According to Rudolf Höss, who was an adjutant at Sachsenhausen before he became the first Commandant of Auschwitz, “Arbeit Macht Frei” means that works liberates one in the spiritual sense. Sachsenhausen was the first concentration camp to have the Arbeit Macht Frei sign.

Höss was himself a prisoner at one time and he complained about having to sit all alone in a prison cell without having any work to occupy his time. When Höss was transferred to Auschwitz, he had this same slogan put over the entrance gate to the Auschwitz main camp, called Auschwitz I. When the Sachsenhausen camp was turned into a Communist prison for German citizens, the Arbeit Macht Frei sign was removed and the prisoners had nothing to occupy their time.

Sachenhausen was the first camp to have the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign

Sachenhausen was the first camp to have the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign

Immediately in front of the Sachsenhausen gate house is the roll call area (Appellplatz), which is shown in the center of the photograph above. According to a museum pamphlet, the SS constructed a shoe testing track here in 1940 where prisoners of the penal commando had to test the soles of army boots by marching for days. The civilian director of the shoe-testing operation was Ernst Brennscheidt, who was sentenced to 15 years of forced labor after he was convicted of Crimes against Humanity by a Soviet Union Military Tribunal in October 1947.

Is this why Sachsenhausen was called “an experimental camp?”  Because of the experiments done on the shoes?

The photo below is from this website.

The location of the shoe testing track at Sachsenhausen

The location of the shoe testing track at Sachsenhausen (Click for larger size)

My photo below shows a reconstruction of the alleged shoe testing track, which is in front of a wall that shows the location of the former barracks at Sachsenhausen

Monument at Sachsenhausen represents the barracks

Monument at Sachsenhausen represents the barracks which have been torn down

1 Comment »

  1. Being close to Berlin, Sachsenhausen was indeed a/the camp at which procedures for other labor and transfer camps were tested out, and from which they were promulgated.

    Several of the procedures involved the use of Zyklon B and other poisons – for disinfesting clothing, housing, transportation containers, and persons, including prisoners and guards.

    Comment by Jett Rucker — September 28, 2014 @ 2:21 pm


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