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One day in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

In my life, I have visited two concentration camps: Auschwitz (which I decided at the time not to post my pictures) and Dachau (which I decided not to blog about at all). I have always believed, however, that if you are in the area, you really should make an effort to go to them. So, being stationed in Berlin for the time being, I knew I had to go to Sachsenhausen.

I don’t want to say very much in this post. Jeff and I spent six hours at the camp, and walked out of there drained. So I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

This I will speak about, because this is such rivetting history, and new things are being discovered all the time at these places. In 2003, a construction worker at the Sachsenhausen visitors centre was taking down a partition wall when he heard a crinkle and a smash within the wall. Inside the wall, he found a bottle hanging from a wire, with a note inside. As he had smashed through the wall, he had smashed the bottle, so the note was now accessible. It had been written and left there in 1944 by two Sachsenhausen inmates! They had probably been able to leave this message in a bottle because, in all likelihood, they had been assigned to build the wall. The note was written by two guys who were both political prisoners and had been there for years, even before the war started. One guy, Anton Engermann, was from Cologne and lived on Severinstrasse! I know that street! He wrote  that he had been there since 1937 and said “When will I see my love in Frechen, Cologne once more? But my spirit is unbroken.  Things must get better soon.”

The great thing about this story is both men survived the camp and the war. Engermann lived to the ripe old age of 82, but died in 1983, well before this note was found. The other man, Tadeusz Witkowski, supposedly emigrated to Canada, but no one knows of his whereabouts or if he’s still living, they haven’t tracked him down. If he’s still alive (unlikely but possible), it would be cool to ask him questions about how and why the men left this note.

As a final note, if any of you have seen the Oscar-winning film The Counterfeiters, it takes place at Sachsenhausen. I saw the film earlier this year and had forgotten this is where it takes place. Upon visiting Sachsenhausen, and being able to see some of the forged British pound notes they created, it really brought the whole thing together. Highly recommend you watch the film.

8 responses

  1. Thanks for sharing. You did a really good job with the photos. They conveyed the mood well – I feel quite down now! Thanks for sharing the story of the bottle too. I’m glad those guys made it out. I tried to go to Sachsenhausen with my program when I was in Berlin for four weeks but unfortunately the excursion filled up so I couldn’t, which was disappointing. Next time. I think you’re right that people should make an effort to go to this and places like it in Germany and in other parts of the world as well.

    July 16, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    • Fanks Leah. I would say, however, don’t go with an “excursion.” Don’t join a tour group. Go by yourself, or with a friend, like I did. Entrance is free and they have audio guides. I did Auschwitz with a tour and I massively regretted it because they rush you in and out of that place after a couple of hours because they’re on a schedule. I was able to take my time and spend 6 hours there and go at my own pace, taking breaks when I needed to, but also seeing as much as I wanted without being ushered through. Hope you make it back to Berlin one day!

      July 16, 2014 at 5:54 PM

      • That’s definitely good advice, and something I try to do whenever possible anyway (avoiding tours). This was so long ago that I honestly can’t remember if we were all going there together and then going through on our own or if they had a tour arranged though. I was on a study abroad program and was a lot younger so things were certainly a bit stricter and planned out. But regardless, I agree, especially for places like this. It’s a bit of a different set-up of course, but I went to the genocide museum in Rwanda and I can’t imagine doing that on a tour.

        I’ll make it back one day! 🙂 We’ll just see how soon, haha.

        July 16, 2014 at 5:59 PM

  2. Thanks for sharing! I have always wanted to visit both of these concentration camps and I an hoping to do so within the next few years. I can only imagine how you felt walking around the properties..

    July 17, 2014 at 1:01 PM

    • Fanks marcus. Yeah, each visit to a concentration camp has always been the worst day of my life. You should only go once you’re prepared.

      July 17, 2014 at 1:29 PM

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