28th Dec 2010 - Berlin and Budapest
Stark and sobering - Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
Took a taxi to the meeting place for this walking tour. Two different groups were meeting and my group was taken by metro to meet our guide Nikolai - a Bulgarian American. This place was nearer to my hotel than the original meeting point but there you go. We got on an s-bahn - suburban train as opposed to the metro and it took about 45 minutes to get to Orien........... which is the stop for the Sachsenhausen camp. A quick walk thru snow and then onto a crowded bus for 10-15 mins (better than a long walk thru the snow). Arrived at the camp entrance about 1130 and left about 1430. It was absolutely freezing. A bit of wind which whipped thru our layers and I cant say I have been as cold since the yurt in Krygzstan (?sp) last August. No shelter outside from the elements. I cannot imagine how the people here with thin clothing coped with the cold let alone the other miseries they endured.
Sachsenhausen was a labour camp rather than a Prisoner of War Camp which opened in 1936 and continued after WW2 ended for a time. At differing times it held differing people from Jews to Russians to germans. I guess there is an official difference between a forced labour camp and a POW camp but it seems to me they were all prisoners no matter where they came from and were treated horrifically. Nikolai did a lot of talking and explaining and these are just some of the things i remember several days later.
The neutral zone wasnt neutral - it was the bit just inside the walls and barbed wire where if you were seen you were shot and left to die. There were guard houses all along the walls. There were some successful escape attempts but most died. The barracks were each meant to house 150 people but often there was up to 300 - so 2-3 people to a narrow bunk - mattress was sacking full of straw. if you got up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night you often lost your bed as some had to sleep on the wooden floor. You had 45mins from getting up to roll call. There were exacting ways to make the bunks up and if they werent done properly then you got punished. To do this properly meant you often missed breakfast or using the bathroom. Now I saw 6 toilets and 6 urinals for upwards of 300 men. Breakfast was bread if you got it. Lunch was hot water with vegetables added - those who wernt new let the newbies go first as the vegetables sunk to the bottom so if you were nearer the end you got the best bits. As the war went on they put rotten vegetables in the soup. Dinner was soup and bread. It was a forced labour camp so everyone had to work. It was a mens camp - occassionally during the war women were brought here before being taken elsewhere and they were often raped. the SAS had their training ground here also. At roll call everyone had to be there even the dead so prisoners had to take their dead friends so they could be counted. If the numbers didnt add up everyone stayed there until they did - must have been hell in the extremes of the weather. There was a prison block as well - with an underground cell where people froze to death in the dark and a place where they hung people up and left them to die. They did do some experiments here in the hospital. Also they did exterminate people - mainly by shooting them although they did gas some people. When men arrived they thought they were taking their clothes off for a medical examination and a shower. Those with gold teeth were marked so when they were dead the soldiers knew whose teeth to extract. they were led from one room to the next. Those who were shot thought their height was being measured but didnt realise there was a shooting hole which enabled guards to shoot them thru the neck - evidently this was less messy than gas and easier. There was a mass graveyard just outside.
Anyway it was quite sobering as you can imagine. 3 hours was enough for me. Back onto the bus and then train to Berlin. I was slightly worried that i would be late getting back as I had my flight to catch to Budaest but I was back in plenty of time. decided to walk from the station back to the hotel but went the wrong way so had to double back. got out to the airport 21/4 hrs before my flight but they didnt open checkin for another 45 mins so they were big queues. i was first in line for one which then they decided would be business class but then managed to get into a new queue first anyway - not that it mattered but just such a waste of time. security was easy - no passport control at either end and a reasonable flight on Malev Airlines.
Took a shuttle bus from Budapest airport (took ages to arrive) - hotel was the Mecure Buda and was there just after midnight. The woman at the front desk expressed surprise at the cheap rate I was paying as well as having an included breakfast and then decided as I was single she would upgrade me to a privilege room and that i would get free wi-fi as well so i was quite happy. The room is great and the bed is amazing.
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