While African-American sprinter Jesse Owens was kicking dust in the face of Hitler’s master race at Berlin’s 1936 Summer Olympics, slave labourers were building their own concentration camp roughly 35km north of the cheering international spectators.
The Sachsenhausen concentration camp, in the town of Oranienburg, held prisoners from 18 nations throughout the war years then continued as an inhumane prison under the Soviets from 1945-1950.
The camp was first used to hold political opponents of the Nazis, mostly German communists and anti-socials (criminals and homosexuals). Jews only became a specific target after Kristallnacht in 1938, when 6,000 Jewish Berliners were brought to the camp. Sachsenhausen became the headquarters for the Concentration Camp Inspectorate in 1938 and all SS guards who worked in concentration camps were trained here.
In 1939 Poles were added to the swelling population that would eventually include Roma and Sinti (Gypsy) people, Norwegians, Luxembourgians, Belgians, British military officers, Stalin’s son Yakov, and high-profile anti-Fascists, among others. The Nazis attempted to get as much labour - be it forgery, metalwork, or fatally hard manual labour in the brickworks - out of the prisoners as possible.
To get there from Berlin, take S-Bahn N°1 or the regional train bound for Rostock (one leaves from Zoologischer Garten, platform 3, at 10:30am) to Oranienburg. From Oranienburg’s station, you can catch bus N°804 to the camp (Gedenkstätte stop), or walk for 25 minutes. Turn right onto Stralsunder Straße, right onto Bernauer Straße, left onto Straße der Einheit, and right onto Straße der Nationen. Call ahead to see if a tour can be arranged, or join a guided tour from Berlin.
Sachsenhausen Memorial & Museum, Straße der Nationen 22, Oranienburg, S Oranienburg, tel. +49 3301 20 02 00, www.gedenkstaette-sachsenhausen.de. Open 08:30-18:00, mid-Oct-mid-Mar 08:30-16:30. Museums closed Mon. Admission free.