When we think of day trips, we usually think of light and fun and happy. We don’t think of concentration camps. When I arrived in Berlin for a few days, visiting a concentration camp was the last thing on my mind but the hostel my friends and I were staying at had an offer for a day trip to Oranienburg, the site of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp during the Holocaust. We knew it wouldn’t be the most pleasant day trip but we thought this was an opportunity that deserved our attention.
We took a 45 minute train ride north of Berlin and immediately found ourselves walking along the same street that prisoners walked along on their way to their captivity in the camp. Stories like these came pouring out of our guide’s mouth as we stopped at particular points within the camp. Our guide made us understand exactly what went on inside the camp at any given day as we peered into the small cells where prisoners slept or stood by wash basins that hundreds of prisoners crowded around in the morning in the rush not to be late for the abusive guards. There were some spots that I just could not take pictures of – places where prisoners had been killed – because it simply was not something I wanted to remember.
The story that had the most impact on me was told while the tour group and I were standing in the roll call area – an outdoor quad-like area that was completely barren. Prisoners would have to stand out there for roll-call and as each name was called by a guard, prisoners would have to respond and if they could not because of illness or some other weakness the guard would start the roll call all over again from the very beginning of the alphabet. This act could go on for up to 16 hours a day while prisoners stood outside in the dead of winter wearing nothing but paper-thin pajamas. I couldn’t imagine withstanding that kind of torture and here I was, in the middle of March, wearing layers, mittens, scarf, and hat, and I was still freezing. The chills I felt were nothing compared to what those prisoners went through.
The point is I would never have thought twice about any of this unless my friends and I made the decision to visit the camp. On a grander scale, we chose to leave California, make ourselves uncomfortable, and realize that there is a corner of the world that isn’t perfect and has faced an indefinable amount of injustice. We know that this camp exists now and I urge everyone to visit this camp if you should happen to be in Berlin because it does deserve attention.
The Sachsenhausen Tour I took is just one of many tours run by Sandemans New Europe tours. They have famous free walking tours in cities such as London, Edinburg, Paris, and Prague and special tours such as the one I described cost a fairly inexpensive fee.