And so on Thursday, I think, we arose and headed to the train that would take us to the train that would take us to train that would take us to the small German town just outside Berlin, and just adjacent to the forced-labor concentration camp at Sachsenhausen.
I found it deeply ironic that the train lines stopped just shy of the camp, forcing visitors to detrain and seek the bus for the last few kilometers to the camp itself.
And the bus only runs once an hour. We missed the one we needed to take, in order to make it to the camp in time for the English-language guided tour run by our friend Anja, with whom we in fact stayed for our entire week-and-a-half stint in Berlin. And the helpful woman at the little café we stopped off at told us the camp was twenty minutes at a slow walk.
After ten minutes, we saw a sign that indicated 2.5 more km to go. And did I mention that my shoes had pretty much crapped out on me two days before, leaving me with bleeding blisters?
So, a fun walk…
And how ridiculous and pathetic is it to complain about a blister or two, and about a walk of a couple of miles, to go to a concentration camp? Quite.
At any rate, Sachsenhausen is yet another fascinating glimpse into a history that cries out to be forgotten and to be remembered. And walking there, however hastily, was a good thing, as it makes you wonder: What must it be like to live in a house half a block from a concentration camp? And to know that the previous occupant likely worked there, working prisoners to death?
Sachsenhausen was a concentration camp, and a death camp, but not an extermination camp. It was a place in which prisoners were forced to work—“Arbeit Macht Frei,” nicht wahr?—and in which the techniques later applied in the death camps were tested and refined.
A fact I did not know, but which I learned: Jews with artistic talent were put to work in Sachsenhausen forging millions of pounds’ worth of British bank notes, in order to destabilize the currency.
Sachsenhausen is a camp that is located in what became East Germany, and thus the memorial erected there focuses on the Communist anti-fascists, who are largely ignored by West German memorials. Books have been written about this phenomenon, but to see the Western willful ignorance of politics and the Soviet willful ignorance of race so intimately juxtaposed is striking. The museum established by the DDR in one of the barracks buildings is still there, as built by the Communists, for now. But Anja says that this display is a thorn in the side of the director, who wants to see it dismantled.
An interesting move in a place devoted to the mission of remembering history.