Hiram College

By Holly Wilkens ’18

This post is from the Fall 3-week trip to Germany with Professors Megan Altman and Dawn Sonntag.

Today we went to Oranienburg to visit one of the first concentration camps, Sachenhausen. I will not lie this is my second time going to a concentration camp. The first one that I visited was Dachau in 2013. This past experience prepped me to know what to expect. There was a lot more information about this camp than what I remember in Dachau. Then again, Dachau was started as a political camp, where as Sachenhausen was started with actual people that were Jewish, disabled, homosexuals, Gypsies, and prisoners of war (mostly Soviets because of location). It was later used by the Soviets as a camp that did the same thing only with those that opposed them. I will be referring to those that have suffered, died, and possibly survived victims of the camp as prisoners, for they were imprisoned there.

One of the barracks that was still standing had a sign by the bathrooms of how some nights the SS would come in and drag someone to the fountain in one of the bathrooms and drown them. The rest were sitting in their bunks waiting and wondering if they, too, were going to die that night. There were also stories about the people going onto the death march. The death march was when the people would have to walk a specific route almost everyday and people died during them from starvation and exhaustion. There were stories of how the Nazis would have the prisoners test out shoes to see if they would be the most effective on all terrain for the soldiers. Unfortunately they did not care if they fit the prisoners or not. Most of the prisoners’ feet were deformed because of it.

The prisoners were used for slave labor. They had to expand the camp for they were running out of room. They also had to build the place, where the ovens were located. This was where the bodies would be burned once someone died. It was depressing to think that they were forced to create a place where they would end up as they died.

Some of the worst and interesting stories were found in the infirmary. This was where people would go to when they were sick. However, all of the prisoners avoided the infirmary. The doctors there would experiment on them. After the surgery, the doctors would send the prisoners back out to work. They even called one of the doctors, “Dr. Cruel,” for he did the most experimentation on the prisoners. Many were sent there for tuberculosis. They, too, were used for experimentation. The Soviet soldiers were killed at the camps by lethal injections, which were being tested at the time. There were some artifacts that were left behind in the infirmary. One of them was a bottle that said Gift, which means poison in German. There was a story about people that just finished medical school and were sent to help at the camps. It was also mentioned in that room that there would be secret concerts that the prisoners would perform in. This was very dangerous for they could have been killed for doing so. They were brave to continue to play music that they could remember.

After going through the actual camp itself, I saw and read about some of the survivors’ stories and about some that did not survive, but were able to leave notes. It was astonishing to relive the question of how evil a person could become. It is so far beyond the radar of how heartless people were just because people were different. I also had to remember that we Americans did something similar to the Asian population over on the west coast, during the same time period. The subject of the U.S.A having concentration camps is not discussed often. I began to wonder if we were as bad as the Germans. To look at a different perspective, the Americans were considered the good guys or even the heroes to other countries, but we too placed a group of people because of their nationality into camps and stripped them of their basic human rights.