Most people, when asked about Nazi camps, would point East – to the extermination camps that gained notoriety through the Holocaust: to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek etc.
The truth is, however, that these camps came relatively late in the history of the Third Reich. Their predecessors, the concentration camps, such as Sachsenhausen, were constructed within Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
Devised as a so-called ‘protective custody camp’ to house political prisoners, Sachsenhausen grew to become an SS training centre, a prison to many notable figures, and the site of numerous bizarre developments in Nazi research and military strategy.
Constructed by the Nazis, inherited by the Soviet forces, and eventually opened as a memorial by the East German government; Sachsenhausen is a startling example of how different regimes chose to use the same land for purposes of punishment and propaganda.
Writer Hannah Arendt referred to the concentration camp as the ‘true central institution of totalitarian organizational power’ – designed for the systematised dehumanisation and destruction of human personality. A thought-provoking and often uncomfortable journey – Sachsenhausen stands as a warning from the past and a recommended excursion from Berlin to all interested in learning more about the conditions where gratuitous cruelty flourished and experiments to cultivate inhumanity succeeded – – the ‘theory and practice of hell’.