University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp



The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was built in the summer of 1936 by concentration camp prisoners from the Emsland camps. It was the first new camp to be established after Reichsf├╝hrer-SS Heinrich Himmler was appointed Chief of the German Police in 1936. The design of the grounds was conceived by the SS architects as the ideal concentration camp setting, giving architectural expression to the SS worldview, and symbolically subjugating the prisoners to the absolute power of the SS. As a model for other camps, and in view of its location just outside the Reich capital, Sachsenhausen acquired a special role in the National Socialist concentration camp system. This was reinforced in 1938 when the Concentration Camp Inspection Office, the administrative headquarters for all concentration camps within the German sphere of influence, was transferred from Berlin to Oranienburg.

More than 200,000 people were imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp between 1936 and 1945. At first the prisoners were mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime. However, increasing numbers of members of groups defined by the National Socialists as racially or biologically inferior were later included. By 1939 large numbers of citizens from the occupied European states arrived. Tens of thousands of people died of starvation, disease, forced labor and mistreatment, or were victims of the systematic extermination operations of the SS. Thousands of other prisoners died during the death marches following the evacuation of the camp at the end of April 1945. Approximately 3,000 sick prisoners, along with the doctors and nurses who had stayed behind in the camp, were liberated by the Russian and Polish troops of the Red Army.

Soviet Special Camp (1945-1950)

In August 1945 the Soviet Special Camp No. 7 was moved to the central area of the former concentration camp. Most of the buildings, with the exception of the crematoria and extermination facilities, were still used for the same purposes. Nazi functionaries were held in the camp, as were political undesirables, arbitrarily arrested prisoners and inmates sentenced by Soviet military tribunals. By 1948 Sachsenhausen, now upgraded to Special Camp No. 1, was the largest of three special camps in the Soviet Zone of Occupation. By the closing of the camp in the spring of 1950, there had been approximately 60,000 people imprisoned there, at Least 12,000 of whom died of malnutrition and disease.

Soviet memorial

Soviet Liberation Monument

Sachsenhausen National Memorial (1961-1990)

In 1956, after the grounds and barracks had been used for years by the Soviet Army, the People's Police and the People's National Army of the G.D.R., plans were prepared for the establishment of the Sachsenhausen National Memorial, which was inaugurated on April 22, 1961. Instead of just choosing to preserve the remaining original structures, the planners decided on a memorial site that would symbolize the "victory of anti-fascism over fascism". It was incorporated into the few remaining original buildings and later reconstructions of historical buildings.

Sachsenhausen gate


Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum (since 1993)

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and with German unification, the memorial was placed under the temporary administration of the Brandenburg Ministry of Science, Research and Culture. Since January 1993, the Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum has been part of the Brandenburg Memorials Foundation, which is funded equally by the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Brandenburg. The Museum of the Death Marches in the Belower Forest near Wittstock was established in 1981 and is administratively linked to the Memorial. In these woods, 18,000 prisoners, who had been forced by the SS on a death march in the direction of Schwerin, rested for a number of days in late April and early May of 1945.


Photos: Sachsenhausen 2012. J. Elowitz.

Page updated June 2014.