Established in 1936 as a Nazi concentration camp for political prisoners, Sachsenhausen (“Saxon’s House”) is situated near the town of Oranienburg to the north of Berlin. It served as an administrative center for concentration camps across Germany, with Schutzstaffel (SS) officers being trained here before being posted elsewhere.
Initially Sachsenhausen was not intended as an extermination camp, with executions of Soviet prisoners of war done primarily by hanging or shooting. However, a gas chamber and ovens were constructed by Anton Kaindl in March 1943, giving Sachsenhausen the means to kill prisoners on a much larger scale.
Prison labor was used in the nearby brickworks to meet Albert Speer’s vision of rebuilding Berlin into Welthauptstadt Germania and to construct He 177 bombers for the aircraft manufacturer Heinkel. It was also the site of Operation Bernhard, one of the largest currency counterfeiting operations ever known, with inmates forced to forge American and British currency to undermine Allied economies.
At the end of World War II, the Soviet Special Camp No. 7 was moved to Sachsenhausen and 60,000 people were interned here, including Nazi functionaries, collaborators and anti-communists. When the camp finally closed in 1950, around 12,000 people were believed to have died of malnutrition and disease.
In 1961, the former concentration camp was inaugurated as the 'Sachsenhausen National Memorial”, with its first director being Christian Mahler, a former inmate. Many of the original buildings were removed and an obelisk featuring red triangles (the symbol given by Nazis to political prisoners) was established.
In 2015, the Sachsenhausen camp opened to the public as a museum and memorial, with numerous buildings reconstructed, including the camp entrance, barracks, guard towers and crematory ovens. Artwork created by inmates and a pile of gold teeth extracted from prisoners are on display in the museum, together with artifacts and documents detailing the horrors of life here.