Date: Thursday, July 10, 2014 (for Sunday, July 6, 2014)
Time: 8:39 am local time (2:39 am EST)
Place: Train from Paris to Leiden (just a few minutes out of Paris)
Good morning all!
Sunday morning we had to be out and about by about 8:30 or so, and we went to the Berlin Hauptbahnhoff where we met a tour guide named Kevin. He took us on another train to the town of Orianburg (sp?) where we took a 15 or 20 minute walk to the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen.
Sachsenhausen was the first concentration camp, and the model for all those that came after it. It was the one that was spruced up and shown to dignitaries and the Red Cross in order to get the approval of the international community.
We walked through the gate of the camp, and, like Dachau, the words Arbeit Macht Frei greeted us. Works Brings Freedom. This was twofold. The first part was to give a sense of false hope to the prisoners. The second was to justify themselves to themselves. They had come from a tradition of hard workers, and they wanted to keep themselves tied to this good, honest time in their history.
Kevin showed us a lot of the sights of the camp. There was a barrack still set up like it would have been. We saw the “no man’s land” between the edge of the grass and the wall. If they walked into it, they would be shot.
We were taken through solitary confinement, which seemed nicer than in Dachau. The cells were a decent size, with plenty of room for a bed, and a washbowl. Nothing fancy, but I have imagined much worse. A friend of Dietrich Bohoeffer was held for years in solitary.
Another man held in solitary confinement was Martin Nemuellor, who was originally a part of the Nazi party. When he saw what was wrong and objected he was arrested. After the war he was very big in the reconciliation movement. He said, “At first they came for the socialists, and I did not speak up because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. And then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.”
He took us to Station Z, which was a fake hospital/extermination area of Sachsenhausen. Early in the war, when prisoners were to be exterminated they were taken into a pit and shot. As the war continued, however, that got to be too much on the guards. They needed to look at the faces of their victims. So they set up Station Z as a hospital. Prisoners were taken into the hospital for a checkup, and when they were measured for height, they were shot in the back of the head by a guard who never saw their faces. It was much more humane for the guards, and even for the prisoners in a way. Instead of being herded into a pit and being terrified, you are taken to the hospital for a routine checkup. There isn’t the same sort of fear in a doctor’s appointment. I need to be clear that they weren’t doing it that way to be humane to the victims, but to save the emotional damage done to the guards.
Outside Station Z is a quote by Andrzej Szczyplorski (and I’m not even going to attempt a pronunciation for his name) which very eloquently sums up how I think the Germans feel about the importance of having these Gedänkenstätte (memorials, but I always see something closer to “Holy Ground” in the word). “And I know one thing more—that the Europe of the future cannot exist without commemorating all those, regardless of their nationality, who were killed at that time with complete contempt and hate, who were tortured to death, starved, gassed, incinerated and hanged…” We must remember what happened, for if we don’t, it will happen again.
Sachsenhausen was a very good experience, but I think that I preferred the camp and museum at Dachau. Our Sachsenhausen guide was an Englishman named Kevin who, in my opinion, didn’t stay neutral enough in his teaching. He got very accusatory at times, and had a definite bias. I appreciated that our guide in Dachau was more neutral. He was a German graduate student, but he was not apologetic. He didn’t have to be. He didn’t hunt down any Jews. I appreciated the demeanor of the German more than the Brit.
After we finished at Sachsenhausen we walked, very quickly, over a mile to the train station to get back to the Hauptbahnhoff. We were told to meet at the train station at about 6 o’clock to go up to the top of the Reichstag (which is their equivalent of the Capitol building).
I went back to the hotel and took a nap for about an hour or so. Then I headed back to the train station with both Laughlins and Kathy. I decided to leave my backpack (with passport) in the room because I didn’t want to carry it around anymore. That proved to be slightly difficult, because we needed ID to get into the Reichstag. Luckily for me, Dr. Wohlers is amazing and thinks of everything. He had student ID cards printed for us all, which he keeps in his bag. He handed me mine, and it worked wonders. This man needs to be sainted.
We went to the top of the Reichstag and had a wonderful view of Berlin. We got to see all sorts of wonderful buildings, including the Sony Center (where Dad and I went to see the new Star Trek movie last year), the Philharmonie (where the Musical Instrument Museum is), and the Brandenburg Gate (which was right up against the Wall).
We went back down and walked around a little bit. We walked to the Brandenburg Gate and the beginning of Unter den Linden Strasse (Under the Linden Tree Street, one of the most famous streets in Berlin. We were surrounded by embassies, and I got to see the (rebuilt) Adlon Hotel, which is where Murphy lives in Vienna Prelude. It was bombed to smithereens in WWII, but was rebuilt after the fall of the wall.
From Unter den Linden we went home and went to bed.
Love to all!
I'm a Classical musician, a growing Christian, and a world traveler. I'm learning, exploring, and trying to understand this wonderful world I live in.