Coordinates: 52°45′57″N 13°15′51″E / 52.76583°N 13.26417°E / 52.76583; 13.26417

Nazi concentration camp
Prisoners of Sachsenhausen, 19 December 1938.
LocationOranienburg, Germany
Operated bySchutzstaffel
CommandantSee list
OperationalJuly 1936–22 April 1945
InmatesPolitical prisoners, Jehovah's Witnesses, Soviet POWs, Poles, Jews, Homosexuals and Freemasons[1]
Number of inmates200,000
Liberated byPolish Army's 2nd Infantry Division
Notable inmatesList of prisoners of Sachsenhausen

Sachsenhausen (German pronunciation: [zaksn̩ˈhaʊzn̩]) or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a German Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. It mainly held political prisoners throughout World War II. Prominent prisoners included Joseph Stalin's oldest son Yakov Dzhugashvili, assassin Herschel Grynszpan, Paul Reynaud the penultimate Prime Minister of France, Francisco Largo Caballero Prime Minister of the Second Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War, the wife and children of the Crown Prince of Bavaria, Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera, and several enemy soldiers and political dissidents.

Sachsenhausen was a labor camp outfitted with several subcamps, a gas chamber, and a medical experimentation area. Prisoners were treated harshly, fed sparingly, and killed openly. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used by the NKVD as NKVD special camp Nr. 7. Today, Sachsenhausen is open to the public as a memorial.

Sachsenhausen under Nazi Germany

Forced labor at the clay pit, February 1941[2]: 38–39 
Forced labor at the clay pit, February 1941[2]: 38–39 

The camp was established in 1936. It was located 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Berlin, which gave it a primary position among the German concentration camps: the administrative centre of all concentration camps was located in Oranienburg, and Sachsenhausen became a training centre for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers (who would often be sent to oversee other camps afterwards). Initially, the camp was used to perfect the most efficient and effective execution method for use in the death camps. Given this, executions obviously took place at Sachsenhausen, especially of Soviet prisoners of war. During the earlier stages of the camp's existence the executions were done by placing the prisoners in a small room, often even with music playing, called the Genickschussbaracke and told they were to have their height and weight measured but were instead shot in the back of the neck through a sliding door located behind the neck.[3] This was found to be far too time-consuming so they then trialled a trench, killing either by shooting or by hanging. While this more easily enabled group executions, it created too much initial panic among the prisoners, making them harder to control. Then small scale trials of what would go on to become the large scale, death camp gas chambers were designed and carried out. These trials showed the authorities that this method facilitated the means to kill the largest number of prisoners, without "excessive" initial panic. So by September 1941, when they were conducting the first trials of this method at Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen had already been the scene of "some gassings in conjunction with the development of gas vans".[4]

The prisoners were also used as a workforce, with a large task force of prisoners from the camp sent to work in the nearby brickworks to meet Albert Speer's vision of rebuilding Berlin.[5]

Camp layout

Main entrance
Main entrance

In July 1936, the Esterwegen concentration camp and Columbia concentration camp were closed and those prisoners moved to the Oranienburg concentration camp. That summer, those prisoners began clearing an 80 hectares (200 acres) triangular forested area. By 1937, the prisoners had erected prisoners' barracks and SS guards' quarters, and SS officers' families housing. The "protective custody" internment camp was laid out in an isosceles triangle with sides 600 m (2,000 ft) long. Tower A was at its central control point, linked to the SS troop camp outside along the central axis. The entire camp could be viewed by the SS command staff from Tower A. Initially 18 hectares (44 acres) in area, the camp eventually grew to cover 400 hectares (990 acres). Designed by Bernhard Kuiper, Himmler called Sachsenhausen a "completely new concentration camp for the modern age, which can be extended at any time." In practice though, extending the design proved impractical.[2]

There was an infirmary inside the southern angle of the perimeter and a camp prison within the eastern angle. There was also a camp kitchen and a camp laundry. The camp's capacity became inadequate and the camp was expanded in 1938 by a new rectangular area (the "small camp") northeast of the entrance gate and the perimeter wall was altered to enclose it. There was an additional area (Sonderlager) outside the main camp perimeter to the north; this consisted of two huts Sonderlager 'A' and 'B' built in 1941 for special prisoners that the regime wished to isolate.[6]

Neutral zone

If a prisoner stepped inside or beyond the neutral zone they were immediately executed.
If a prisoner stepped inside or beyond the neutral zone they were immediately executed.

The neutral zone was located between the camp wall and the prisoners' camp. Between the zone and the wall was a trip wire, Cheval de frise, barbed-wire obstacles, an electrified barbed-wire fence, and a sentry path.[2]: 25, 58 

Slave labour

Brickworks prisoners, 1940[2]: 69 
Brickworks prisoners, 1940[2]: 69 

Sachsenhausen was the site of Operation Bernhard, one of the largest currency counterfeiting operations ever recorded. The Germans forced inmate artisans to produce forged American and British currency, as part of a plan to undermine the British and American economies, courtesy of Sicherheitsdienst (SD) chief Reinhard Heydrich. The Germans introduced fake British £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes into circulation in 1943: the Bank of England never found them. Plans had been made to drop British pounds over London by plane.[7] Today, these notes are considered very valuable by collectors.

An industrial area, outside the western camp perimeter, contained SS workshops in which prisoners were forced to work; those unable to work had to stand at attention for the duration of the working day. Heinkel, the aircraft manufacturer, was a major user of Sachsenhausen labour, using between 6,000 and 8,000 prisoners on their He 177 bomber. Although official German reports claimed the prisoners were "working without fault", some of these aircraft crashed unexpectedly around Stalingrad and it is suspected that prisoners had sabotaged them.[8] Other firms included AEG and Siemens. Prisoners also worked in a brick factory.[2]: 38–43, 85 

Prisoner abuses

Overall, at least 30,000 inmates died in Sachsenhausen from causes such as exhaustion, disease, malnutrition and pneumonia, as a result of the poor living conditions. Many were executed or died as the result of brutal medical experimentation.

In 1937, the SS constructed a Cell Block for the punishment, interrogation, and torture of prisoners. Important people confined there including Martin Niemöller and Georg Elser.[2]: 30–32 

From 1939 until 1943, over 600 homosexual prisoners were killed.[2]: 34, 110 

In November 1940, the SS executed 33 Polish prisoners by firing squad. In April 1941, over 550 prisoners were killed under Action 14f13. In the autumn of 1941, over 10,000 Soviet prisoners of war were shot.[2]: 84, 94–96 

In May 1942, the first hangings commenced from gallows in the roll-call area. These continued until 1945.[2]: 106–107 

In May 1942, 71 Dutch resistance fighters and 250 Jewish hostages were executed.[2]: rp 

In May 1942, "Station Z" was completed in an industrial yard outside the camp walls. It included prisoner killing rooms, four crematoria, and a gas chamber after 1943. In 1941, an adjacent sand pit was enlarged and made into an "execution trench".[2]: 104 

Camp punishments could be harsh. Some would be required to assume the "Sachsenhausen salute" where a prisoner would squat with his arms outstretched in front. There was a marching strip around the perimeter of the roll call ground, where prisoners had to march over a variety of surfaces, to test military footwear; between 25 and 40 kilometres (16 and 25 mi) were covered each day. Prisoners assigned to the camp prison would be kept in isolation on poor rations and some would be suspended from posts by their wrists tied behind their backs (strappado). In cases such as attempted escape, there would be a public hanging in front of the assembled prisoners. Prisoners of war were made to run up to 40 km (25 mi) a day with heavy packs, sometimes after being given performance-boosting drugs like cocaine, to trial military boots in tests commissioned by shoe factories.[9]

Wolfgang Wirth [de] did experiments using the lethal sulfur mustard gas.[10][11]

Clothing stolen from prisoners
Clothing stolen from prisoners

There have also been allegations of an experimental drug tested upon unwilling inmates in 1944 designated "D-IX"[12] at the Sachsenhausen facility. Designed to increase stamina and endurance, this drug, supposedly consisting of a cocktail of cocaine, methamphetamine (Pervitin), and oxycodone (Eukodal),[13] was designed to see use from members of the Wehrmacht, Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe to enhance mission performance where longevity and exhaustion become pertinent issues. While these drugs were used in their individual forms by all branches of the German military, the nature and use there of D-IX specifically (especially experimentation upon Sachsenhausen prisoners) lacks enough substantiation to be considered credible, though experiments by the Nazis upon unwilling prisoners utilizing psychoactive compounds is far from myth, and could hardly be ruled outside the realm of plausibility.

Prisoners held or executed at Sachsenhausen

Seven men of the British Army's No. 2 Commando, captured after the highly successful Operation Musketoon, were executed at Sachsenhausen. They were shot on 23 October 1942, five days after Adolf Hitler issued his commando order calling for the killing of all captured members of commando units.

Four SOE agents led by Lt Cdr Mike Cumberlege RNR, who took part in the 1943 Operation Locksmith in Greece intended to blow up the Corinth Canal and were captured in May 1943, were held in Sachsenhausen's Zellenbau isolation cells for more than a year before being executed in February/March 1945.[14]

Survivors of Operation Checkmate, a 1942 commando anti-shipping operation in Norway, including their leader, John Godwin, RN, were held at Sachsenhausen until February 1945, when they were executed. Godwin managed to wrestle the pistol of the firing party commander from his belt and shot him dead before being himself shot.

The Zellenbau of about 80 cells held some of World War II's most persistent Allied escapees as well as German dissidents, Nazi deserters and nationalists from East Europe such as the Ukrainian leader Taras Bulba-Borovets whom the Nazis hoped to persuade to change sides and fight the Soviets.[15]

Over the course of its operation, over 100 Dutch resistance fighters were executed at Sachsenhausen. Dutch Freemasons were also sent to the camp including the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of the Netherlands, Hermannus van Tongeren sr. [nl], who died there in March 1941, after being arrested by Klaus Barbie.[16]


At the end of 1944, Himmler ordered the execution of every prisoner. Sick inmates were executed in the industrial yard, including at least 2,000, or transferred to death camps. In February 1945, more than 1,300 prisoners were executed during the evacuation of the Lieberose forced labor camp, a subsidiary of Sachsenhausen. With the advance of the Red Army in the spring of 1945, Sachsenhausen was prepared for evacuation. On 21 April, the camp's SS staff ordered 33,000 inmates on a forced march northwest. Most of the prisoners were physically exhausted and thousands did not survive this death march; those who collapsed en route were shot by the SS. The march ended near Raben Steinfeld in early May, after liberation by the Red Army and US Army. On 22 April 1945, the camp's remaining 3,400 inmates were liberated by the 1st Belorussian Front and the Polish 2nd Infantry Division.[2]: 126–143 

According to an article published on 13 December 2001 in The New York Times: "In the early years of the war the SS practiced methods of mass killing there that were later used in the Nazi death camps. Of the roughly 30,000 wartime victims at Sachsenhausen, most were Russian prisoners of war".[17][18]

Recreation of the security perimeter at Sachsenhausen
Recreation of the security perimeter at Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen gate Arbeit macht frei
Sachsenhausen gate Arbeit macht frei

NKVD special camp Nr. 7

In August 1945, NKVD special camp Nr. 7 was moved to the area of the former concentration camp. Nazi functionaries were held in the camp, as were political prisoners and inmates sentenced by Soviet Military Tribunals.[19] By 1948, Sachsenhausen, now renamed "Special Camp No. 1", was the largest of three special camps in the Soviet Occupation Zone. The 60,000 people interned over five years included 6,000 German officers transferred from Western Allied camps.[20] Others were Nazi functionaries, anti-Communists and Russians, including Nazi collaborators.

By the time the camp was closed in the spring of 1950, at least 12,000 had died of malnutrition and disease.[19]

Camp staff



Many women were among the inmates of Sachsenhausen and its subcamps. According to SS files, more than 2,000 women lived in Sachsenhausen, guarded by female SS staff (Aufseherin). Camp records show that there was one male SS soldier for every ten inmates and for every ten male SS there was a woman SS. Several subcamps for women were established in Berlin, including in Neukölln.

Sachsenhausen female guards included Ilse Koch, and later Hilde Schlusser. Anna Klein is also known to have worked at the camp.

War crimes trial

Fifteen of the concentration camp's officials, including Anton Kaindl, the former commandant, the SS camp doctor Heinz Baumkötter, and two former prisoner kapos, including Paul Sakowski who had served as an executioner, were brought to trial on 23 October 1947 before a Soviet Military Tribunal in Berlin. On 1 November 1947, all seventeen were found guilty. Fourteen were given life sentences with hard labor, including Kaindl, Baumkötter and Sakowski, and two were sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment with hard labor.[21]

The Dutch sought the extradition from Czechoslovakia of Antonín Zápotocký,[when?] who became President of Czechoslovakia, for his alleged role in the murder of Dutch prisoners during his time as a kapo at the camp.

Plaque to honour Dutch resistance fighters executed at Sachsenhausen
Plaque to honour Dutch resistance fighters executed at Sachsenhausen

East Germany

Soviet concentration camp

The Soviets took over Sachsenhausen and continued using it as a concentration camp (see below).[22]

East German barracks

After the Soviets vacated the site, it was used for some years by East Germany's "Kasernierte Volkspolizei", notionally a police division and in reality a precursor of the country's own National People's Army, which was formally established in 1956.[22]


In 1956, planning began for the adaptation of the concentration camp site as a national memorial. This was inaugurated four years later on 23 April 1961. The first director of the renamed "Sachsenhausen National Memorial Site" ("Nationale Mahn- u. Gedenkstätte Sachsenhausen") was Christian Mahler, at one time a senior police officer, who back in the Nazi period had been an inmate at Sachsenhausen between 1938 and 1943.[22] The plans involved the removal of most of the original buildings and the construction of an obelisk, statue and meeting area, reflecting the outlook of the government of East Germany of that time.

The government of East Germany emphasised the suffering of political prisoners over that of the other groups detained at Sachsenhausen. The memorial obelisk contains eighteen red triangles, the symbol the Nazis gave to political prisoners, usually communists. There is a plaque in Sachsenhausen built in memory of the Death March. This plaque has a picture of malnourished male prisoners marching, all of whom are wearing the red triangle of a political prisoner.

Unified Germany


After German reunification, the camp was entrusted to a foundation that opened a museum on the site. The museum features artwork created by inmates and a 30-centimetre (12 in) high pile of gold teeth (extracted by the Nazis from the prisoners), scale models of the camp, pictures, documents and other artifacts illustrating life in the camp. The administrative buildings from which the entire German concentration camp network was run have been preserved and can also be seen.

As of 2015, the site of the Sachsenhausen camp, at 22, Strasse der Nationen in Oranienburg, is open to the public as a museum and a memorial. Several buildings and structures survive or have been reconstructed, including guard towers, the camp entrance, crematory ovens and the camp barracks.


With the fall of communist East Germany, it was possible to conduct excavations in the former camps. At Sachsenhausen, the bodies of 12,500 victims were found; most were children, adolescents and elderly people.[23]

Soviet-era crimes

Following the discovery in 1990 of mass graves from the Soviet period, a separate museum was opened documenting the camp's Soviet-era history.[citation needed] Between 1945 and 1950, 12,000 people died of hunger and disease in the so-called Speziallager.[24]

Neo-Nazi vandalism

Arson damage caused to this barrack building has been covered in glass to protect it, whilst still showing the damage to those visiting the camp
Arson damage caused to this barrack building has been covered in glass to protect it, whilst still showing the damage to those visiting the camp

The compound has been vandalized by Neo-Nazis several times. In September 1992, barracks 38 and 39 of the Jewish Museum were severely damaged in an arson attack. The perpetrators were arrested, and the barracks were reconstructed by 1997. However, it is important to note that the decision was taken that no buildings built during the Nazi regime will be rebuilt on the site. The destroyed section of the huts are now a Jewish museum with the surviving section left as it was immediately after the fire with the paint still blistered from the flames.[25]

Video game scandal

Sites within Sachsenhausen and Dachau which had been approved for inclusion in the augmented reality smartphone game Ingress were removed in July 2015; Gabriele Hammerman, director of the memorial site at Dachau, told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur that Google's actions were a humiliation for victims and relatives of the Nazi camps, and Niantic Labs' founder John Hanke stated that "we apologize that this has happened."[26]

See also


  1. ^ Cuerda-Galindo, Esther; López-Muñoz, Francisco; Krischel, Matthis; Ley, Astrid (2017). "Study of deaths by suicide of homosexual prisoners in Nazi Sachsenhausen concentration camp". PLOS ONE. 12 (4): e0176007. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1276007C. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0176007. PMC 5398659. PMID 28426734.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Morsch, Gunter; Ley, Astrid, eds. (2011). Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp: 1936-1945 Events and Developments. Berlin: Metropol Verlag. pp. 7, 18–23, 56–57, 186–187. ISBN 9783938690994.
  3. ^ "The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE by Robin Knight ISBN 978-1-78155-732-7
  4. ^ "The gas Chamber at Sachsenhauden"
  5. ^ Niven, Bill (2002). Facing the Nazi Past (1st ed.). Routledge. p. 11.
  6. ^ Wachsmann, Nikolaus (3 March 2016). KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps. ISBN 978-1-4087-0774-6.
  7. ^ Lebor, Adam; Boyes, Roger (2000). Surviving Hitler (1st ed.). Simon & Schuster. p. 230.
  8. ^ "Use of Prisoners in the aircraft industry (translated)". Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression Volume IV. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. 1996–2007. Retrieved 25 February 2008.
  9. ^ Philip Ball. Naming the victims of Nazi medicine, NEJM Volume 389, No. 10085, p2182–2183, 3 June 2017 03 June 2017, DOI: Info
  10. ^ Ernst Klee: the person lexicon to the Third Reich. Who was what before and after 1945 S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2003, p. 681.
  11. ^ Florian Schmalz: Weapon research in Nazi Germany. The cooperation of the Kaiser Wilhelm companies, military and industry. Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89244-880-9. Available online: Weapon research
  12. ^ Vasagar, Jeevan (19 November 2002). "Nazis tested cocaine on camp inmates". The Guardian – via
  13. ^ D-IX
  14. ^ Knight, Robin (2018). The Extraordinary Life of Mike Cumberlege SOE. Fonthill Media. ISBN 978-1-78155-732-7.
  15. ^ T. Bulba-Borovets, 'Armiia bez derzhavy (Memoriial)' (tr. Army Without a State: a Memoir) (Winnipeg, 1981) (Poklyk sumlinnia, 1 Jan. 1993 ISBN 978-5869000231)
  16. ^ Cooper, Robert (2011). The Red Triangle – A History of Anti-Masonry. p. 97. ISBN 9780853183327.
  17. ^ At his war crimes trial in 1947 the last camp commandant, Anton Kaindl, acknowledged 42,000 deaths during his time in charge 1942-45. The exact figure will never be known as all camp records were destroyed before Soviet forces liberated Sachsenhausen in April 1945. "Title unknown". Archived from the original on 22 January 2015.
  18. ^ Evans, Richard J (2006). The Third Reich in Power. London: Penguin Books. pp. 255–256. ISBN 978-0-14-100976-6.
  19. ^ a b "The Soviet special camp No.7 / No. 1 1945 - 1950". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  20. ^ Butler, Desmond (17 December 2001). "Ex-Death Camp Tells Story of Nazi and Soviet Horrors". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  21. ^ "Nazi War Crimes Trials: Sachsenhausen Trial". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  22. ^ a b c Bernd-Rainer Barth. "Mahler, Christian * 12.11.1905, † 30.5.1966 Direktor der Nationalen Mahn- u. Gedenkstätte Sachsenhausen". Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung der SED-Diktatur: Biographische Datenbanken. Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  23. ^ Kinzer, Stephen (24 September 1992). "Germans Find Mass Graves at an Ex-Soviet Camp". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  24. ^ 1945-1950 Sowjetisches Speziallager ()
  25. ^ Mangasarian, Leon (29 August 1993). "Swastikas desecrate Sachsenhausen concentration camp memorial". United Press International. Retrieved 24 August 2012.
  26. ^ "Google Subsidiary Sorry For Including Death Camps in Phone Game". NBC News.


Further reading