University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Preservation and Redesign


A commission of experts convened by the government of the state of Brandenburg presented their recommendations in 1992 for the new design of the Sachsenhausen Memorial. They determined that the most urgent tasks were to be the preservation of remnants; extensive documentation and differentiated presentation of the historical events in each of the two camps; promotion of a critical confrontation with history; and a critical evaluation and accurate reworking of the GDR Memorial design.

The original buildings and structural remains of the concentration camp are "guarantors of the memory." Therefore, their preservation and restoration are of utmost priority. Because for decades only the facades of most of the historical buildings were attended to, and with the continued existence of almost all the buildings being in danger, their preservation requires considerable expenditure.

After the buildings have been restored, small permanent exhibitions which address the significant aspects of the history of those sites will be installed inside the structures. For example, the exhibition in Barracks R I and R II of the former infirmary will focus on medicine and racism under National Socialism. The history of the Soviet Special Camp is documented both in the new Museum opposite to the massgrave in the commanders yard, as well as in two historic stone barracks of the "Zone II".

The precondition of a permanent exhibition are the established facts about all phases and aspects of the history of the location. In the GDR scientific research on the history of National Socialism was limited and tainted by narrowly defined ideological concerns. Research on the postwar history of the site took place only after the reunification of Germany. The memorial, therefore, is making a concerted effort to quickly fill the gaps in historical knowledge by conducting its own research and working in cooperation with university sponsored research projects.

The memorial perceives itself as a "site available for learning" and offers its visitors a multitude of opportunities to become engaged in the history of the site. Visitors are invited to use the various information materials and media, to work alone or in groups, independently or with a guide, and to probe general questions or conduct intensive research.

Traces and Relics: Guide

Map of Sachsenhausen

  1. Commandant's Area
  2. Commandants House
  3. Original Entrance on Lager Street: Because the neighboring SS troop camp was used by the National People's Army of the GDR for military purposes, a new entrance was created in 1961 when the memorial was established.
  4. Casino of the SS troop camp ("Green Monster')
  5. Hew Museum
  6. Tower A: Entrance to the prisoner camp and headquarters of the SS camp directors with the mail censorship office, an orderly room, and a heavy machine gun emplacement manned by tower guards.
  7. Roll Call Area: Site of prisoner roll call count, also used to impose punishment. On the shoe testing track, constructed in 1940 with different floor coverings, prisoners of the penal commando had to test the soles of army boots by marching for days. As part of the memorial design in 1961, a circular wait made of crossshaped cement segments, in which the gables of the first ring of barracks are represented, was placed along the roll call area.
  8. Site of the Gallows: Executions in front of prisoners in the mill call area were used as intimidation (for example, after escape attempts). At Christmas, the SS had a Christmas tree set up here.
  9. Small Camp: A barrack complex erected in 1938, in which mostly Jewish prisoners were held until their deportation to Auschwitz in October 1942.
  10. Barracks 38/39: In September 1992, a few days after Israeli Prime Minister Jitzhak Rabin visited the Sachsenhausen memorial, the "Jewish barracks," which had been reconstructed from original elements in 1961 were partially destroyed in an arson attack by rightwing extremists. By 1997 they were rebuilt, or rather remodeled as a museum in which permanent exhibitions are shown.
  11. Prison: The T-shaped building, built in 1936 with 80 cells, was used for solitary confinement  often in total darkness and for mass imprisonment as the camp jail and a special prison of the Gestapo. Only the foundations and one wing, which was rebuilt in 1961 with original cell doors and barred windows, remain. In the prison yard, isolated from the rest of the camp, was an underground bunker and a "hanging stake" facility for implementing exceptionally brutal punishments.
  12. Prisoner Kitchen
  13. Prisoner Laundry Room
  14. Monument with stone sculpture "Liberation" by Rene Graetz, ands speaker's platform: By choosing only red triangles for the top of the monument erected at the opening of the memorial in 1961, the communist government of the GDR commemorated only the political prisoners who were identified with this mark
  15. Crematorium and Extermination Site "Station Z": Beginning in the fall 1939, this area, which was part of the industrial yard and separated from the prisoners' compound by the camp watt, became the site of extermination operations and a provisional crematorium. At least 12.000 Soviet prisoners of war were murdered here in fall 1941. In spring 1942 a new structure was built including a crematorium and a site for shooting prisoners in the neck. In 1943 a gas chamber was added. After the building was blown up in 1953, a massive memorial hall was built over the remaining foundation and was incorporated into the memorial site by repositioning the camp wall.
  16. Execution Trenches with "Bullet Catch" and Automatic Gallows (partially reconstructed)
  17. Industry yard: The SS's own workshop and production facilities in which prisoners performed forced labour, was situated here.
  18. Stone Barracks: Part of the "Sonderlager B" (19411945); part of the "Zone 11" of the Soviet Special Camp (19451950). The initial area of the barracks is part of the permanent exhibition on the history of the Soviet Special Camp; barracks 23 and 25 are open to the public.
  19. Special Camp No. 7/ No. 1 Museum (19451950), and passageway to the cemetery, created in 1994, at the site of a mass grave of victims of the Soviet Special Camp.
  20. Infirmary Barracks RI and RII. Out of originally five infirmary barracks, the two remaining here were those used for the presentation to high ranking visitors, foreign delegations and journalists. Medical experiments on prisoners, murders and selections for mass executions took place here.
  21. Pathology Building with its cellar for corpses
  22. Field of Graves: At least 300 prisoners who died in the infirmary during the weeks following the liberation of tile camp are buried here.
  23. Weapon production shop, armory and radio station in the Commandant's area
  24. "The National Socialist Genocide of the Sinti and Roma" is shown in the main western building of the SSworkshops in the industrial yard, constructed in 1937-38.

History of the Site

The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (1936-1945)

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 Reichsführer-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.

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 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.

Former Prisoners

Former concentration camp prisoners at the 50th anniversary of the liberation on April 22, 1995

Text: Courtesy of the Sachsenhausen State Museum of the German Federal Republic

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